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Keywords:

  • ovary;
  • menstrual cycle;
  • histology;
  • capital punishment;
  • national socialism;
  • ethics of anatomical research

Abstract

Hermann Stieve (1886–1952) was Director of the Berlin Institute of Anatomy from 1935 to 1952. His research on the female reproductive system is controversial, as some of his scientific insights derived from histological investigations on the genital organs of executed women. These investigations were made possible by the sharp increase in executions during the “Third Reich.” Stieve's research was methodologically accurate and contributed significantly to contemporary scientific debates. Nevertheless, his use of the organs of execution victims, some of them resistance fighters, benefited from the Nazi justice system. He thus indirectly supported this system of injustice. The allegation, however, that Stieve “ordered” the death of prison inmates according to their menstrual cycle, appears to be incorrect. An appraisal of Stieve's research should avoid traditional black-and-white classifications of research during Nazi times. In our opinion, Stieve was neither a murderer nor a fervent Nazi. Nevertheless, his research results were flawed by their ethical and political context. Stieve will remain a somber footnote in the biographies of many execution victims. Clin. Anat. 22:163–171, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.