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Keywords:

  • anatomy;
  • National socialism;
  • third Reich;
  • bodies of the executed;
  • ethics in anatomy

Abstract

Although it is known that anatomists working in Germany during the Third Reich have used bodies of victims of the National Socialist (NS) regime for dissection and research, a comprehensive history of the anatomy in the Third Reich has not yet been written. Recent studies of the history of German anatomy departments during this time period provide material for a first outline of the subject matter. A historical review can help with the formulation of ethical foundations in modern anatomy. From the outset, the NS regime sought to reorganize German universities according to NS leadership principles and political goals. Many German academics, especially physicians and among them anatomists, followed these intentions with a voluntary “self-alignment” that encompassed their professional actions as well as their ethics. Currently, political information is available for 111 of 178 anatomists. Thirty-eight of the anatomists were dismissed for racial or political reasons, among them 10 chairmen of anatomy, whereas 35 of the anatomists were politically active members of one of the NS organizations. Over 70% of the chairmen of anatomical departments in the time period from 1941 to 1944 were members of NS organizations. Anatomists, as so many other physicians and academics, belonged both, to the group of victims of the regime, i.e., those being dismissed from their positions for racial and political reasons, and to the group of supporters and sometimes active perpetrators of NS policies. Clin. Anat. 22:883–893, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.