“Make sure that my mortal remains are buried with my mother's.“
Last letter, Bronisława Czubakowska
“As a last wish I have asked that my 'material substance' be left to you. If possible, bury me in a beautiful place amidst sunny nature.“
Last letter, Libertas Schulze-Boysen
“I want her, if possible, to take me home, so that I can at least be with her in death.“
Last letter, Herta Lindner
Research on the history of anatomy in the Third Reich has often concentrated on the influence of the National Socialist (NS) regime on anatomists and their consequent unethical activities. Only recently, the focus has shifted to NS victims whose bodies were used for anatomical purposes. As a first approach to learning more about the victims, this study investigated the persons whose names Hermann Stieve, chairman of the Anatomical Department at the University of Berlin, had listed after using their bodies for his research. The study draws a group portrait and recounts selected biographies of the 174 women and eight men on the list. Most women were of reproductive age, two-thirds were German and a majority was executed for political reasons. Among the executed were at least two pregnant women. The corrected names, biographical data, and nationalities of all persons on the list are published here. None of them volunteered to be dissected, nor were the anatomists at the time interested in the victims' personal background. Future work will have to focus on the investigation of further biographies so that numbers can be turned back into people. This history is a reminder to modern anatomy that ethical body procurement and the anatomists' caring about the body donor is of the utmost importance in a discipline that introduces students to professional ethics in the medical teaching curriculum. Clin. Anat. 26:3–21, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Bronisława Czubakowska, Herta Lindner, and Libertas Schulze-Boysen, all had one last wish on the day of their execution: they wanted their bodies to be returned to their mothers. Instead, they became subjects of anatomical research and were denied a grave of their own.
Research on the history of anatomy in the Third Reich has often focused on the anatomists and their activities during this time, much less on the victims of the National Socialist (NS) regime, whose bodies were used for anatomical dissection and research. This is especially true for the events that took place in the Anatomical Department of the University of Berlin. Much has been written about its chairman Hermann Stieve, but relatively little about the executed NS victims whose tissues he used for research (Aly, 1987, 1994; Oleschinski, 1992; Klee, 2004; Schagen, 2005; Noack, 2007; Zimmermann 2007; Winkelmann and Schagen, 2007; Winkelmann, 2008; Wischmann, 2008, 2011). This is all the more surprising as this subset of the executed belongs to the best-documented ones among thousands of NS victims whose bodies were delivered to German anatomical departments during the Third Reich (Hildebrandt, 2009b). In general, persons who were executed following legal verdicts of capital punishment in a civilian or military trial hold the highest likelihood of historic documentation (Hildebrandt and Redies, 2012). Their fate can be traced through various archival sources that include contemporary body registers, court documents, municipal records, federal archives, and university archives (Viebig, 2012). In the Berlin case, Hermann Stieve presented a numbered list with the names of women whose bodies he had used for research purposes to the authorities after the war. This document is held at the Federal Archives in Berlin (Zimmermann, 2007). The anatomical department in Berlin received bodies from the execution sites in Plötzensee and Brandenburg Görden (Waltenbacher, 2008), and documentation on the executed prisoners is held at the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (Memorial Site for the German Resistance) in Berlin.
While anecdotal evidence on individual fates of executed men and women can be found in various sources, few systematic attempts have yet been undertaken towards the identification of the different groups of victims and individuals' fates throughout Germany. The example of Lang's identification of all 86 persons who fell victim to the anatomist August Hirt's infamous research plans has proven that names and biographies can be traced successfully even more than 60 years after the events (Lang, 2004). There are still families who are looking for the final resting place of their relatives and are glad about any new information (Viebig, 2012). The identification of victims is necessary to restore their individuality, to aid the realization of their humanity, to honor their memory, and to acknowledge the iniquities committed against them (Weindling, 2010; Oehler-Klein et al., 2012).
This study, which is based on archival materials, is another step toward the systematic identification of executed persons whose bodies were used for anatomical purposes. It presents a group portrait of the women—and few men—on Stieve's list and describes their ages, their nationalities, and the reasons for their execution. Individual women's stories illustrate the range of personalities behind Stieve's numbers. “It is for us scholars, to seek these numbers and put them into perspective. It is for us humanists to turn the numbers back into people“ (Snyder, 2010, p 408).
This study is based on a copy of Stieve's list located in file BA Ministerium der Justiz DP1/6490 from the Bundesarchiv in Berlin (Archival sources: BA Ministerium der Justiz DP1/6490; Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand: Bestand GDW/P: family name, first name (name of the executed person) University of Würzburg archives: UWü ZV PA Herrlinger). This copy was typewritten and amended with handwritten entries (see below).
Personal files of executed NS victims
The Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (Memorial Site for the German Resistance) in Berlin holds personal files on all NS victims who were killed at the Berlin execution sites in Plötzensee and Brandenburg Görden in the file category Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand Bestand GDW/P, followed by the family name and first name of the executed person. Files were studied for correct spelling of names, exact dates of birth and death, nationality, reason for execution, and any other biographical information. Some of the GDW/P files also hold the death certificates from Standesamt (registry) Berlin-Charlottenburg. Those documents are referred to as StA.Chbg.Reg.Nr.
Standard works on the executed from the Plötzensee execution site were consulted, especially Perk and Desch, 1974: “Ehrenbuch der Opfer von Berlin- Plötzensee“; Gostomski and Loch, 1993: “Der Tod von Plötzensee“ and Kraushaar, 1970a and 1970b: “Deutsche Widerstandkämpfer 1933-1945.“ Additional biographical information on the victims was collected from publications on the history of anatomy in the Third Reich, biographies, contemporary and modern newspaper reports, collections of letters, and other relevant writings. Also, Stieve's publications on research based on “material“ from bodies of executed women were studied (Stieve, 1942a,b,c, 1943, 1944a,b, 1946, 1951, 1952a,b,c, 1953).
Naming Individual Victims
The naming of NS victims names in the context of research in the history of psychiatry and anatomy during the Third Reich has been discussed controversially in the past (see Zimmermann, 2007; Weindling, 2010). Especially a potential additional suffering of surviving members of victims' families was brought forward as an argument against the naming of names. Conversely, it seems important to put a story and a name to all the victims who have remained anonymous since their bodies were used for anatomical teaching and research during the Third Reich. Only with a story and a name is it possible to make these persons visible as individuals with full lives and hopes for a future that was denied them. Thus, Forsbach has named all 191 executed NS victims who had been delivered to the anatomical institute in Bonn from 1933 to 1944 (Forsbach, 2006). Different authors concerned with the victims of Stieve's activities have come to diverse solutions concerning this problem. Oleschinski (1992) named Mildred Harnack, Libertas Schulze-Boysen, Hilde Coppi, Liane Berkowitz, Cato Bontjes van Beek, Ursula Goetze, Ingeborg Kummerow, Rose Schlösinger, Oda Schottmüller, Marie Terwiel, Marianne Baum, Hildegard Jadamowitz, Elfriede Scholz, Emmi Zehden, and Hella Hirsch, as well as Elisabeth von Thadden, who was not on the list. Conversely, Zimmermann (2007) refrained from directly naming victims (with the exception of Marianne Baum and Hella Hirsch), only alluding to life histories, thereby following wishes expressed by surviving family members. The problem is compounded in the case of persons who had been convicted of activities considered criminal and worthy of the death penalty by the NS regime. While it is nowadays seen as highly honorable to have died as a member of oppositional groups such as the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra), family members of other victims might not want to know or have it published that their loved ones had been accused and convicted for murder or arson and thus ended up on Stieve's list. To solve this dilemma, it has been decided to not summarily publish the names on Stieve's list in connection with the reasons for the death penalty. Rather, the full list of names is published solely with biographical dates and nationalities (see Appendix). However, a complete list that also includes the reasons for conviction can be made available for scholarly purposes by the author.
The use of the terms “victim of the National Socialist regime“ and human “material“ is discussed in Hildebrandt, 2012a. In short, all persons executed following court proceedings in the time period from 1933 to 1945 are referred to as NS victims, regardless of the reason for the death verdict. This decision follows practices developed by several of the memorial centers at former NS execution sites in Germany (Keller, 2011), which are based on the modern German perception that all capital punishment is inhumane. The term “material“ for tissues from humans is put in quotation marks to distance the usage of this term from an undue objectification of the persons from whom the tissues were procured.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON STIEVE'S LIST
Hermann Stieve was one of the leading anatomists of his time and chairman of the anatomical department of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität of Berlin (after 1945: Charité) from 1935 until his death in 1952. A special focus of his research since the 1920s was the influence of the nervous system on the reproductive system, which he explored in animals and humans (Noack, 2007). He saw the situation of a prisoner condemned to death as a scenario that allowed him to explore the influence of chronic stress—in the form of imprisonment—and acute stress—elicited by the pronouncement of the time of execution—on the reproductive organs. His work on this topic focused on males before 1933, because women were not executed during the Weimar Republic years. Later, he used the increasing number of executed women during the Third Reich for further exploration of his theories (detailed report on this in Winkelmann and Schagen, 2009). While the politically conservative Stieve was probably not a convinced National Socialist, he used the professional opportunities offered to him by the NS regime without compunction and was rather convinced of the ethical righteousness of his work (Oleschinski, 1992; Noack, 2007; Schagen, 2007; Hildebrandt, 2009c). After the war, he was questioned among others by the Soviet occupying forces and the university administration about his activities during the Third Reich but was not prosecuted and was ultimately exonerated (Schagen, 2007; Winkelmann and Schagen, 2009). In 1992, Brigitte Oleschinski was the first to report on a list of names of NS victims that Stieve had prepared for the Soviet military authorities (Oleschinski, 1992). Oleschinski had been able to access archival materials of the Deutsche Zentralverwaltung für Justiz (DJV) in der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone (German central justice administration in the Soviet occupying zone) held at the federal archives in Potsdam and had found an interesting postwar note by Harald Poelchau, a Protestant minister who had given pastoral care to the prisoners in Plötzensee during the war and worked as an official for the DJV searching for information on executed victims of the NS regime in 1946 (Oleschinski, 1992: archival signature DJV JV A 1663/46, 4.12.1946, BA Potsdam, P-1/Nr.2). Poelchau reported on a conversation he had had with Stieve on 30 November 1946, during which Stieve had handed him a typed list of names of persons whose bodies he had used for his research, mentioning that his original documents, in which he had noted all names that were known to him, had been burned (presumably during the bombing of the institute). It seems most likely that Stieve had reconstructed this new list after the war from his scientific notes (Oleschinski, 1992), as the body registers of the anatomical department, which would have been the only complete document of names, had vanished in 1945. The absence of these registers is one of the reasons why it has to be assumed that Stieve's list from 1946 was incomplete. A second reason is that it contains mostly names of women while it is known from Stieve's publications (e.g., Stieve, 1946) that he had also used the bodies of male NS victims for his research. Finally, more than 174 women were executed at Plötzensee (see below) and Stieve himself mentioned in his writings the names of additional women that were not on the list (Oleschinski, 1992). Susanne Zimmermann reported in 2007 that copies of the typed list and Poelchau's statement could also be found in the archives of the Staatssicherheitsdienst der DDR (state security service of the German Democratic Republic) under the signature Zentral-archiv 102/52, Einzelvorgang Nr. 67/51 “Nordlicht“ and in the federal archives under the signature Bundesarchiv Berlin, Ministerium der Justiz, Akte DP1, III-114 (Zimmermann, 2007). It is unclear whether the latter document is an additional copy of the list in the federal archives or whether it is possibly the same as the one Oleschinski mentioned. A search at the federal archives in Berlin for this study revealed that the file quoted by Zimmermann as Bundesarchiv Berlin (BA) Ministerium der Justiz file DP 1, III-114, is now referred to as DP1/30200. However, this file holds only a copy of the original list. The original, according to information from the federal archives administration, is located in a file with the signature BA Ministerium der Justiz DP1/6490. The original list is typewritten and amended with several handwritten additions (printed, not longhand). The author of these additions is not identified.
Data on Stieve's List and Additional Information
As described by Oleschinski (1992) and Zimmermann (2007), Stieve listed the names, ages, dates of birth and execution of women and men under continuous numbers from 1 to 182. The names were sometimes misspelled or, in two cases, exchanged for other names, and some dates were incorrect. The original of the typed list used in this study had handwritten additions of names and other data (BA Ministerium der Justiz DP1/6490). This document was compared with information from the various archival sources, and names and biographical data were corrected and completed accordingly (see Appendix).
Judging from the personal histories that Stieve reported about the persons whose bodies served as “material“ for his publications (see Methods), it seems that he was mostly interested in the collection of biological data from these women, such as status of menstruation, length of amenorrhea, and number of children. Biographical data were mentioned only in so far as they related to marriage, psychological background of the person, duration of imprisonment, and time of announcement of the execution date. Generally, he referred to the reasons for the death verdict as “serious crimes“ except for some cases of murder, which he explicitly mentioned, and never noted the nationality of a person. There is also no indication that he ever differentiated between a person of so-called “Jewish descent“ and others. All these informations were potentially available through court and prison records that were accessible to him (Winkelmann, 2008).
After the war, Stieve reported that he had been indirectly in communication (through his technician Pachaly) with the staff and prison physician at the Women's Prison Barnimstrasse concerning data on the menstrual cycle of the women (Oleschinski, 1992; Schagen, 2005; Winkelmann, 2008). Regardless of the reason for the death verdict, most women were incarcerated at Barnimstrasse before their final destination, the execution site at Plötzensee prison (Gélieu, 1994). Some of them were transported to Barnimstrasse after longer incarceration in other countries, others were held there for all of their prison time. The prisoner cards from Plötzensee documented in the personal victim files at the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (GDW/P) often contained notes on individual prisoners and stem from personnel at Barnimstrasse (compare Gélieu, 1994, p 197–199). The notes included observations on the prisoner's appearance and their state of mind in the face of a death verdict. For example, the 22-year-old Herta Lindner, convicted for treason, was described as “A delicate blonde, modest, warm-hearted, intelligent, helpful … convinced … brave… in spite of heartbreak“ (GDW/P: Lindner, Herta), while an older woman, also convicted for treason, was described as “Old, seemingly primitive woman. Not responsive due to inhuman fear. Clutched the prison guard. Became an animal. Only case of its kind.“ (Gélieu, 1994, p 197). Stieve had access to this kind of information, as some of his more detailed case histories show (e.g. Stieve, 1952, p 49).
Additional data came to Stieve with the official correspondence that informed the anatomical department of an impending execution. The Oberreichsanwalt beim Volksgerichtshof (Senior Reich prosecutor of the People's Court) sent a letter to the director of the anatomical department informing him of the name, sometimes profession, reason for execution, and its date. These letters were pretyped standard documents, in which the individual-specific information was filled in by hand, at least in 1938 and 1940 (see GDW/P: Funke, Ewald; Vorlage Oberreichsanwalt beim Volksgerichtshof an den Herrn Leiter des anatomisch-biologischen Instituts der Universität Berlin 1938 and GDW/P: Diecker, Marie; Vorlage Oberreichsanwalt beim Volksgerichtshof an den Herrn Leiter des anatomisch-biologischen Instituts der Universität Berlin 16. Juli 1940). Interestingly, the letters also contained a paragraph reminding the anatomists that it was forbidden to hand over the body to relatives or to divulge any information about it to outsiders. The anatomists were sworn to secrecy. The Oberreichsanwalt offered and Stieve received additional documentation on executed persons he was specifically interested in (Schagen, 2005). Also, Stieve was aware of the identity of some of the more prominent women, as demonstrated by the fact that he saved the urns with their ashes until after the war, when he returned them to the families (Noack, 2007).
Finally, as previous authors have pointed out, executions were announced by posters in public spaces all over Berlin, and Stieve, his colleagues, and students were well aware of them (Ditfurth, 1993; Schagen, 2005). In the case of Marie Diecker, the poster, signed by the Oberreichsanwalt, declared that she had been executed for treason and lost all rights of a citizen on 20 July 1940. Her place of birth and age were also given. The prisoners seemed to have been aware of the practice of publicizing executions, as Marie Diecker sent a note to the Volksgerichtshof expressly begging to refrain from publishing her execution in newspapers in order to spare her parents' feelings (GDW/P: Diecker, Marie; letter to the Volksgerichtshof Berlin).
Numbers and Gender
Stieve's list was revealed to contain information on 174 women and eight men. The male victims were listed as numbers 2, 3, 6, 8, 10, 11, 156, and 168. No information other than names and dates could be found for four of the women, numbers 32, 78, 82, and 99. All of their bodies had been transported from Plötzensee to the anatomical institute between 1935 and 1944, with one each in 1935 and 1936, two in 1937, five in 1938, two in 1939, one in 1940, three in 1941, 23 in 1942 and most of them in 1943 and 1944, with 72 bodies in each year (see Tables 1 and 2). Data from the Memorial Site Plötzensee show that the majority of all executions took place between 1942 and 1944 (Gedenkstätte Plötzensee, 2012a), the same is true for executions at the Vienna assize courts and the Schießstätte (shooting range) Wien-Kagran (Angetter, 1998). It should be noted that Stieve's list represented only a fraction of the overall number of bodies delivered from Plötzensee to the anatomical department, which is estimated at potentially close to 3,000, which were used for research and teaching purposes (Winkelmann, 2008). Stieve had listed data of those 182 persons whose tissues he had used in his research. This list was put together after the war and may not contain all his research subjects (see above). Directly after the war in 1945, he reported to have used the bodies of altogether 269 women during NS times (Winkelmann, 2008) and may have included women whose bodies were used for teaching. Thus, Stieve accepted a majority of the estimated more than 300 executed women (Gélieu, 1994; Frauengefängnis Barnimstrasse, 2012) for anatomical purposes. Compared to Plötzensee the execution site Roter Ochse in Halle had a similarly high percentage of women among the executed with 73 of 549 (Scherrieble, 2008), while there were only three women among the 191 executed used for anatomical dissection in Bonn (Forsbach, 2006). Among those executed at Plötzensee were also married couples. Only in one case husband and wife were listed by Stieve, Georg and Anna Schwitzer with list numbers 8 and 9. In all other cases, Stieve seems to have used exclusively the wife's body for his research, e.g., Veronika Augustinak (number 16), Elise Hampel (number 62), and all the married women of the Rote Kapelle and Baum-Gruppe (a German-Jewish resistance group).
|Year||Total||Murder||Treason espionage||Theft, black market fraud, looting||Subversion of military, aiding the enemy||Arson||Other||Unknown|
Age, Reason for Death Verdict, Nationality
The ages of the persons on the list ranged from 18 to 68 years, with a preponderance of women of childbearing age, i.e., 18 to 45 years (see Fig. 1). A majority of 87 persons had received death verdicts because of treason and espionage, followed by 45 convicted for theft, black marketing, fraud, or looting, 21 for subversion of the military or aiding the enemy, 15 for murder or attempted murder, eight for arson, one for refusal of military oath, and one for providing abortions (see Table 1). It is of interest to note that while in 1942 and 1943 treason and espionage were the most common reasons for conviction with 14 of 23 and 47 of 72, respectively, this changed in 1944 when women were more commonly convicted for property crimes with 28 of 72, and verdicts for subversion of the military as well as aiding the enemy became nearly as frequent as treason and espionage with 18 out of 72. Reasons for death verdicts were similar for persons executed in Vienna and delivered to the anatomical department there, with treason most common between 1942 and 1944, followed by property crimes (Angetter, 1998). The same is true for Dresden, where half of all executions at the execution site Münchner Platz followed death verdicts for political “crimes“ (Sack, personal communication via electronic mail, 7 June 2011).
Hundred and fifteen persons on Stieve's list were German, 15 French, six Belgian, 14 Czech, five Austrian, 20 Polish, one US-American, and one Soviet (see Table 2). These numbers roughly reflect the overall population of persons executed at Plötzensee, half of which were German, with further strong contingents of Czech, Polish, and French citizens (Gedenkstätte Plötzensee, 2012b). Interestingly, the situation was quite different in Dresden, where more than 800 of the about 1,400 executed persons were Czech and only about 350 German and about 110 Polish (Sack, personal communication via electronic mail, 7 June 2011).
As was to be expected in a population of women prisoners of childbearing age, some of them were pregnant at the time of their incarceration. This was in so far significant for the judicial process, as pregnant women were not to be executed according to regulations by the secretary of justice from 19 February 1939 (Massnahmen aus Anlass von Todesurteilen, Reichsminsiter der Justiz 447-III.a 4 318.39, 19. Februar 1939, information from Michael Viebig, personal communication via electronic mail, 18 August 2012). Stieve's list held the names of five women who were known to be pregnant or possibly pregnant during imprisonment. From the evidence in these five cases, it seems that the NS judicial system reacted inconsistently in its decisions concerning pregnant prisoners.
For both, the 34-year-old Hilde Coppi and the 20-year-old Liane Berkowitz, members of the Rote Kapelle, the executions were postponed until after the delivery of their children and some time for breastfeeding (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, 2012a,b). The decision in the case of Charlotte Jünemann was very different. The 33-year-old Jünemann, number 1 on Stieve's list, was executed on 26 August 1935 for murder/manslaughter, despite the fact that she was pregnant. Her story had gained some notoriety even in the United States, because three of her children had died due to neglect by Jünemann, whose husband was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital (Time, 1935). There had been speculation by US newspapers whether the execution was going to be postponed because of Jünemann's pregnancy (Reading Eagle, 1935).
A similar situation arose with 20-year-old Lucienne Tassin, number 106 on Stieve's list. This French forced laborer had been sentenced to death by Sondergericht VI Berlin (special court) on 24 September 1943 for looting. The notes from prison stated that she had claimed to be 7 months pregnant. There was no statement about a medical confirmation. The observer continued by characterizing her as “childlike, not criminal. Seems to have been a victim of circumstances (highly insufficient salary and provisions). Was, seemingly because of pregnancy, immediately executed.“ (GDW/P: Tassin, Lucienne; prison card; translation by author). So in this case, it seems to have been the fact of the pregnancy itself that led to an early execution on 13 October 1943.
Other, especially younger women must have believed themselves to be pregnant simply on the basis of being amenorrhoic. After all, it had not been common knowledge at that point that women stopped menstruating under chronic physical and psychological stress—in fact, Stieve's work did help publicizing this insight—and for most women a pregnancy was the only known explanation for a seizing of their monthly bleeds. This may have happened in the case of Elfriede Henkel, number 64 on Stieve's list. The 41-year-old woman had been convicted to death because of theft by Sondergericht VII Berlin on 26 May 1943. On May 27, the prosecutor informed officials at Barnimstrasse that Henkel believed herself to be pregnant but that the physician who examined her did not confirm this. However, should a pregnancy indeed exist, he recommended a termination on hygienic [racial hygienic—the author] grounds, as he considered Henkel to be a “useless“ person whose progeny was not expected to contribute to society (GDW/P: Henkel, Elfriede; Staatsanwalt/Leiter der Anklage bei dem Sondergericht am 27. Mai 1943 an den Vorstand des Frauengefängnisses). In her petition for clemency from May 28, Henkel mentioned her [unconfirmed] pregnancy as a reason for a conversion of the verdict, but she was executed on June 25.
The only other documented and published case of a pregnant woman executed following a National Socialism (NS) court verdict is that of Hildegard Trusch. The 24-year-old Trusch had been sentenced to death because of looting and was killed at the execution site Roter Ochse in Halle. The NS authorities' reaction to the news of her pregnancy was similar to that in Elfriede Henkel's case, in that a physician recommended the termination of the pregnancy as the child would not have been a “valuable asset“ to the German people. While the termination was never carried out, the official documents registered a miscarriage to “keep the books clean“ (Viebig, in Halleforum.de, 2007). Viebig has also evidence of two other pregnant women who were to be executed at Halle, one of which was in the early stages of her pregnancy and may have had an abortion before she was executed, and the other delivered her child before her execution (Viebig, personal communication via electronic mail, 18 August 2012). Another but unnamed and not otherwise documented case of a pregnant woman on death row in Berlin was mentioned in Charlotte Pommer's writings (Orth, 2012). During Pommer's imprisonment in March 1945, she encountered a young Polish woman who was 6 months pregnant after being raped by a farmer for whom she had worked as a forced laborer. The woman had killed this man and was awaiting her execution. Pommer, who had been Stieve's assistant earlier in the war, did not recount ever having seen executed pregnant women in the anatomy department (Orth, 2012, chapter 13).
The question remains why the NS authorities proceeded inconsistently in the case of pregnant women on death row. While these women's age range was the same, their socio-economical backgrounds and reasons for the death verdict were dissimilar. One possibility is that the authorities differentiated between obviously educated German women convicted of treason and uneducated German or foreign women convicted of murder and theft on the basis of NS racial-hygienic discriminatory thinking. Roland Freisler, senior judge at the Volksgerichtshof during the war, had demanded in his previous position as secretary at the Reich ministry of defense in 1936 that a differentiation between groups of prisoners should be made based on their likelihood of reform or permanent asocial status. In consequence, from 1937 on a criminal-biological service was introduced that was to help with this differentiation using scientific insights from racial hygiene (Knauer, 2002). While in the case of the women on Stieve's list, all women had already received death verdicts, the authorities may have differentiated between their offspring. The death verdict would then be carried over into the next generation in women who together with their children were deemed to be of “inferior value“ or “useless“ for society. An alternative explanation is offered by the historian Michael Viebig, who believes that the NS authorities' decisions were mostly driven by practical matters: could they get away with a quick execution of a pregnant woman without a public outcry and how much trouble was it to house pregnant women or young mothers on death row (Viebig, personal communication via electronic mail, 18 August 2012).
Distinct Groups of Victims
Most persons on Stieve's list had been convicted by either the Berlin Volksgerichtshof or Sondergerichte in various cities. Only very few had gone through military trials. While the Volksgerichtshof dealt with prominent cases of political “crimes“ committed by Germans and foreigners, the NS special courts had been specifically put in place to deal swiftly and rigorously with all other “offenses against the German people“ (Wagner, 1974; Seeger, 1998).
Among the political prisoners had been 20 women of the Rote Kapelle, a Berlin-based resistance group with contacts to other countries, e.g., the Soviet Union, Belgium, and France. Accordingly, there were German, Belgian, and French women among these victims (literature on the Red Orchestra e.g., Schilde, 1993; Trepper, 1995; Brysac, 2000; Vinke, 2003; Nelson, 2009; Conze et al., 2010). A further distinct group of German political prisoners were seven women of the Baum-Gruppe, a Jewish resistance group named after Herbert Baum, and the Steinbrink-Gruppe, named after Werner Steinbrink (see e.g., Kwiet and Eschwege, 1984; Wippermann, 2001; Scheer, 2004). Six of them were of so-called Jewish descent, as was one of the 13 women who were part of Czech resistance organizations (on all non-German victims: Oleschinski, 2002, p 29ff). Another larger contingent of political prisoners was Polish women. Fourteen of them worked within the framework of the organized Polish resistance (literature e.g., Tomaszewski, 2006), while four others helped Polish and Russian prisoners, some of whom had escaped from prison camps (e.g., GDW/P: Augustyniak, Veronika). In addition, four women worked for the French resistance (see e.g. Perrault, 1998). Other political dissidents worked outside any organization, among them the married couple Otto and Elise Hampel, whose story the writer Hans Fallada fictionalized in his last novel “Every man dies alone“ (Kuhnke, 2001; Fallada, 2011). Elise's name is among the names on Stieve's list.
One distinct group of victims in National Socialism consisted of persons who disagreed with the regime on the basis of their religion or personal convictions, prominently among them Jehovah's witnesses. Of the 250 victims of this group who were executed following NS court trials, four women can be found on Stieve's list (Hesse, 2001; Garbe, 2008). The accusation against them was Wehrkraftzersetzung, undermining of the military spirit, and carried the death penalty. This “crime“ was also attributed to the 14 women, who “said too much“: who criticized the NS regime openly in conversations with neighbors and acquaintances and were betrayed by those who heard them. Most of them were executed in 1944.
All other women on Stieve's list were petty criminals or had been convicted for manslaughter and murder. Under NS law, looters, thieves, and arsonists were declared to be “enemies of the German people“ deserving the death penalty (Evans, 1996). Some of them were German citizens, others foreigners who had been brought into the country as forced laborers against whom the NS judiciary system proceeded harshly (literature on forced laborers see Plato et al., 2008; Knigge et al., 2010). Ten persons on Stieve's list fell among this latter group, eight women and two men. All of them were in their twenties or younger.
Notably absent from Stieve's list were—as far as current information goes—two other groups of NS victims, because they tended to be rare among those executed following court trials and were mainly incarcerated in concentration camps: Sinti and Roma (e.g. Lípa, 1990; Lewy, 2000) and male homosexuals (Lautmann, 1990). The latter group was also lacking from Stieve's list because he had listed nearly exclusively names of women and homosexual women were not persecuted by the NS regime in the same manner as men.
While some of the names and stories of victims on Stieve's list have been mentioned in previous publications, they were often those of prominent German prisoners, especially members of the political opposition like Mildred Harnack and Libertas Schulze-Boysen (Oleschinski, 1992; Klee, 2004; Zimmermann, 2007). In this first systematic analysis of the persons on Stieve's list, some of the fates of the less-conspicuous victims, e.g., the very young forced laborers, the looters, the women who “said too much,“ and foreign dissidents come more closely into focus.
The forced laborers on Stieve's list were French, Polish, and Czech. Very little is known about most of them, but the example of Bronisława Czubakowska shows that research by those interested, here: a Polish-German project group, can elucidate these fates even as late as 60 years after the events (GDW/P: Czubakowska, Bronisława; Püschel, 2002; Berg, 2005; Leutner, 2007). The 26-year-old Bronisława Czubakowska was the oldest one in the group of forced laborers and appeared as number 20 on Stieve's list. She had been born in Zbiersk, Poland, in 1916. In April 1940, the German occupiers rounded up young persons in Zbiersk and deported them to Brandenburg in Germany, where she was forced to work in a textile-production company, which employed 130 Polish forced laborers in addition to its several hundred German employees. The women lived in a camp on company grounds and had to adhere to very strict rules, always under the threat of severe punishment. On 12 July 1941, Czubakowska was involved in a minor fire in one of the German women's restrooms. She was interrogated by the Gestapo 2 days later and arrested under the suspicion of arson and sabotage. On 10 September 1941, she was sentenced to 7 years in prison, but a revision by the senior prosecutor of Potsdam led to a death verdict on 13 May 1942. Up to 7 May 1942, she had been incarcerated in Berlin-Moabit, and after a hospital admission for pulmonary tuberculosis she was transferred to Barnimstrasse on 9 July 1942. Bronisława Czubakowska was executed on 15 August 1942 (Leutner, 2007). In her last letter to her family, she wrote: “Make sure that my mortal remains are buried with my mother's.“ (Püschel, 2002, author's translation). However, even intensive research by Klaus Leutner into the handling of the ashes of victims dissected at the Berlin anatomical department could not clarify the exact location of many of the individual victims' ashes. One of the likely last resting places was found to be a mass grave for victims executed at Plötzensee at the cemetery in Alt-Glienicke. To honor Czubakowska's last wish an urn with earth from this burial was interred in her mother's grave in Zbiersk in 2005. Her family had never before heard anything about her final destiny in Germany (Berg, 2005; Leutner, 2007). Often very little is known about the forced laborers who somehow ended up in the NS legislative machinery. The example of Madeleine Parmentier is such a case. The 20-year-old French citizen worked in Halbe/Teltow outside Berlin in a furniture factory. Together with Jacques Polard and Jean Robin, presumable fellow French citizens, she stole luggage from Berlin train stations during nighttime blackouts. They were caught and put on trial. Parmentier received a death sentence, which was executed on 2 March 1944. Her prison notes stated that she claimed that her salary had been insufficient and that she had not owned even the most essential items. Her observer described her as “child-like“ (GDW/P: Parmentier, Madeleine). Parmentier became number 155 on Stieve's list.
One of the women, “who said too much“ was Wanda Kallenbach (Peters, 2006; Bestand GDW/P: Kallenbach, Wanda; StA.Chbg.Reg.Nr.2917/44). She had been born in Poland in 1902, was a workingwoman and lived with her husband and 11-year-old daughter in Berlin-Friedrichshain. In August 1943, she visited her home village and complained to family and others about the bombings in Berlin, criticizing the government for false promises of safety. She was denounced, taken into custody on 20 January 1944, and put on trial at the Volksgerichtshof for “undermining the military,“ “friendliness to Jews,“ and former union-activity. Kallenbach received a death verdict and, after all pleas for clemency failed, was executed on August 18, 1944, and appeared as number 136 on Stieve's list. To honor her memory the city of Berlin, Germany, named a new street after her in 2007. Elfriede Scholz' story was very similar (GDW/P: Scholz, Elfriede; Glunz and Schneider, 1997). She was born in 1903 in Osnabrück, worked throughout her life as a seamstress, was twice unhappily married and lost an infant daughter to a heart condition in 1923. During the last years of her life she lived and worked in Dresden, where in the summer of 1943 she was denounced by neighbors after remarking that Hitler was responsible for the death of the German soldiers killed in the war and that she would willingly shoot Hitler herself given the opportunity (Hochhuth, 2004a,b). Scholz was put on trial for “undermining the military“ at the Volksgerichtshof on 29 September 1943. Senior judge Roland Freisler was possibly even more biased against Scholz then against other women accused of the same “crime,“ as he stated during the trial that “your brother unfortunately escaped us, but the same will not happen with you“ (Scholz, 2007; translation by author). Scholz' brother was Erich Maria Remarque, the pacifist author of “All quiet on the Western front,“ who had emigrated from Germany in 1933. She was found guilty and executed on 16 December 1943. Her name appeared as number 105 on Stieve's list. Remarque only learned about his sister's death in 1946 and even later about the fate of her body through press reports on Stieve's work (Hochhuth, 2004a,b). Another example of a woman, who “said too much,“ was Ehrengard Frank-Schultz (Gerechte der Pflege, 2012; suite101, 2012). She was a 59-year-old widowed nurse who worked as a Protestant deaconess. Some time after the attack on 20 July 1944 against Hitler she told a Red Cross colleague that she regretted the outcome of the plot and thought that a few years under Anglo-Saxon government would be better than the current violent regime. Her trial by the Volksgerichtshof on 6 November 1944 ended in a death sentence, which was executed on 8 December 1944. Frank-Schultz became number 125 on Stieve's list. The 41-year-old Marianne Latoschinski, mother of three children, came from a family of communist convictions in Bernburg/Saale (Steinborn, 2009). In 1944, she was denounced, possibly by neighbors, for having voiced her opinion that Hitler and the Reichsbanner (mostly social-democratic organization during the Weimar Republic) would be called into account for their activities and be “shot dead“ at some point (Wagner, 1974, p 129/130). She was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof on 1 August 1944 and executed on 29 September 1944. She appeared as number 143 on Stieve's list.
Denunciations were the downfall of women who looted, too. Emma Bethge was born in 1891 and worked as a metal worker in Berlin. In the winter of 1943/44, she had been observed by a woman from a window opposite a bombing site from which Bethge repeatedly had picked up items of clothing. The observer reported Bethge to the authorities, and she was taken into custody after a search of her apartment revealed several looted items: “10 pairs of men's socks, 2 shirts, 1 night gown and 3 women's dresses, some of them very worn“ (GDW/P: Bethge, Emma, Urteil Sondergericht 11. Februar 1944, translation by author). On 11 February 1944, Bethge was sentenced to death by a Berlin Sondergericht. Even though she was quite deaf, she was considered fit to stand trial. After her execution on 9 March 1944, she ended on Stieve's list as number 116.
Among the persons who disagreed with the NS regime for religious reasons, Jehovah's witnesses were among the most consistently persecuted, as they did not recognize the authority of the NS regime. Helene Delacher was born in 1904 in Burgfrieden/Lienz as an Austrian farmer's daughter (Neumayr et al., 2012). She and her South-Tyrolian partner Alois Hochrainer joined Jehovah's witnesses in 1938, the year of the National Socialist annexation of Austria. After their imprisonment for religious activity in 1940, her partner had to return to South Tyrolia, while Delacher remained in Austria. She continued to smuggle religious pamphlets over the border, which were considered to be “undermining the military.“ She was intercepted on one of these clandestine trips on 14 June 1943 and imprisoned. Her trial was staged at the Volksgerichtshof in Berlin on 4 October 1943 and she received the death penalty. Delacher's execution took place on 12 November 1943 and she appeared as number 54 on Stieve's list. On 8 September 1999, Helene Delacher was officially rehabilitated by the state court of Vienna (Moos, 1999).
Several women on Stieve's list had been active for the French resistance movement. Vera Obolensky, known as Vicky, was born in Moscow in 1911 and later emigrated with her family to France (Perrault, 1998). She worked as a model and secretary and married another Russian emigrant, Prince Nikolai Obolensky. During the war, she was active for the Organisation Civile et Militaire, a resistance group that gathered intelligence and tried to free prisoners of war. She was arrested on 17 December 1943 and sentenced to death for treason by a military court in Arras, France, in May 1944. Obolensky was executed on 4 August 1944 and appeared as number 153 on Stieve's list. Irene Wosikowski also worked for the French resistance. She was born in Danzig in 1910, lived in Kiel and Hamburg, and became a member of a communist youth organization. As a secretary for the communist party, she had to flee Germany in 1934, and after time in Moscow and the Czech republic, moved as a newspaper correspondent to Paris, where she worked with French resistance groups. In 1940, she was interned with other German nationals by the French authorities in a camp in Gurs, from which she fled to Marseille and continued her political work. She was betrayed by a German informer and taken into custody on 26 July 1943. Despite severe and continued torture by the Gestapo in Marseille and later in Hamburg she did not give up the names of her colleagues. Wosikowski was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof Berlin on 13 September 1944 and executed on 27 October (Kraushaar, 1970a; Röhl, 2004; Bake, 2012; Hälker, 2012). She appeared as number 179 on Stieve's list.
Among the Polish citizens who were executed at Plötzensee were the 42-year-old Veronika Augustyniak (Stieve list number 16) and the 25-year-old Leokadia Zbierska (Stieve list number 41). Together with Augustyniak's husband Jozef and six other men and women, they had helped the Soviet prisoner of war Fyodor Asarow after his escape from a camp by housing and feeding him. All of them were put on trial for “aiding and abetting the enemy power,“ sentenced to death and executed in August and September 1942 (Gostomski and Loch, 1993). Only Augustyniak and Zbierska appeared on Stieve's list, even though the court papers on the Augustyniaks' case clearly stated that Jozef's body, too, had been transported to the anatomical institute (GDW/P: Augustyniak, Veronika, Der Oberreichsanwalt beim Volksgerichthof 11 J 21/42, 10. August 1942- Verfügung betr. Vollstreckung von Todesurteilen). The Augustyniaks were peasant farmers and not known members of a resistance organization. They left a 9-year-old daughter behind (Plötzensee Memorial Center, 2012). There were also Polish women who worked directly with Polish underground organizations. Among them were the 35-year-old Miroslawa Kocowa and the 21-year-old Halina Konieczna, who were involved with the patriotic Polish National Armed Forces, which was anti-National Socialist as well as anti-Communist in its outlook. They were part of its intelligence center in Berlin-Tegel (National Armed Forces of Poland, 2012; GDW/P: Koniszna, Halina and Kocowa, Miroslawa). Both women were trained accountants. Kocowa acted as a courier between Berlin and the central command in Warsaw. The Berlin group was betrayed by collaborators and its members were arrested on 18 February 1942. The 24-year-old Wanda Węgierska, a clerical worker, was based in the central command in Warsaw, but was also active as a courier to areas in Germany with high concentrations of Polish forced workers. After her imprisonment in Lodz in March 1942, she was tortured. Her father and brother died in concentration camps (Tomaszewski, 2006). Another female member of the National Armed Forces unit “Zadoch“ was the 28-year-old actress Henryka Veith. She was arrested in 1942 and her prison records depict her as a person who acted out of conviction. The observer also noted that she was blond, blue-eyed, mature, and of warm character (GDW/P: Veith, Henryka). All four resistance fighters were put on trial for high treason and received death penalties. Mirosława Kocowa and Halina Konieczna were executed on 16 February 1943 and appeared as numbers 72 and 73 on Stieve's list. Wanda Węgierska and Henryka Veith were killed on 25 June 1943 and received the numbers 111 and 109.
Wilhelmine Günther, executed on 9 June 1944 at the age of 26, was among those who became politically active due to events that directly influenced her private life (here and following: Bojarki, 2010). She lived with her German family in Posen (Poznan, Poland) and worked there as a secretary. In 1941, she fell in love with the Polish citizen Antonin Jagly, even though friendly contact between Germans and Poles was forbidden by NS law. In December 1941, Jagly was arrested, possibly after a denunciation by Günther's father or neighbors and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He died there in September 1942, a month after Günther gave birth to their daughter Maria, who died as an infant. Already during her pregnancy, Günther had contacted friends who worked with Polish underground army intelligence networks and started providing them with information about her German employers. Her group was betrayed in 1943 and Günther was imprisoned with her mother on 3 November 1943. They were put on trial at the Volksgerichtshof in Berlin on 26 April 1944. Her mother was acquitted, while Günther was sentenced to death. She appeared as number 128 on Stieve's list. The close connection between Germany and Poland was often demonstrated by families like Günther's, who wandered between the two countries. Marianne Gaszczak belonged to such a family, too (here and following: Glomsk, 2012; GDW/P: Gaszczak, Marianne). She was born to Polish parents on 28 December 1914 in the Ruhr-region of Germany. In 1929, she obtained a scholarship to attend a teacher seminar in Leszno, Poland, and remained in the country after receiving her certificate as an elementary school teacher. In 1935, she became a teacher in Glomsk, West Pomerania, where she became known for her generosity, patriotism, and love for the Polish culture. Under NS occupation, all Polish schools were closed in late fall 1939 and Gaszczak was ordered to leave Glomsk. She went to Berlin where she became involved with Polish patriotic groups and was temporarily arrested. Because of her language skills, she was employed by the Reichsbriefstelle (Reich letter office), essentially a spying and censoring office, where she had to read the letters from mostly forced laborers and their families. She was supposed to report on political and anti-NS contents of these letters and create lists of the writers; however, she destroyed these lists. She was arrested in June 1942 and suffered long interrogations and torture until her trial by the Volksgerichtshof on 6 August 1943. Gaszczak was executed on 28 September 1943 and appeared as number 61 on Stieve's list. Pelagia Scheffczyk's biography was very similar (Bottrop, 2012). She, too, was born to Polish parents in the Ruhr-region, on 8 March 1915. Her family moved to Poland in 1921, where she went to school and became a clerical worker. In 1940, she began working in a German firm for office supplies in Kattowitz and met Sigmund Witzcak, who worked for a Polish underground organization that gathered intelligence on the German occupiers. Scheffczyk acted as a courier for this organization but was caught on 1 December 1942. She was put on trial for espionage by the Volksgerichtshof and sentenced to death on 20 August 1943. The verdict was executed on 5 October 1943 and Scheffczyk became number 100 on Stieve's list.
Members of the Czech resistance also became subjects of Stieve's research. The 23-year-old Herta Lindner was of German-Czech origin and lived in the border region of Teplitz-Schönau. Raised in a socialist family climate—her father was also a member of the Czech resistance—she became involved with communist resistance groups in this area. In 1940, she started working as a courier in the disguise of a member of a mountaineering club. She was arrested on 27 November 1941, only a day after her father's arrest. Despite being tortured, she did not give up the names of her collaborators (Step21, 2008; Wunderlich, 2011). The trial took place on 23 November 1942, and she was sentenced to death for treason. Lindner was executed on 29 March 1943, appearing on Stieve's list as number 79. Other members of her resistance group, 42-year-old Wilhelmine Rubal (list number 95), 23-year-old Eleonore Slach (list number 97) and 43-year-old Maria Krsnak (list number 76) suffered the same fate (Gostomski and Loch, 1993). Rubal received her verdict from the Volksgerichtshof on 3 September 1942 and was executed together with Lindner. Slach and Krsnak, who were both described as active communists, were executed on the same day, 12 November 1942, together with Herta Lindner's father (GDW/P: Slach, Eleonore, Krsnak, Maria, Rubal, Wilhelmine). Herta Lindner wrote in her last letter to her father on 29 March 1943: “I have written her [mother] a farewell letter; I want her, if possible, to take me home, so that I can at least be with her in death.“ (Step21, 2008).
The Known Facts
While research on the history of anatomy in the Third Reich analyzed the relationship between the NS regime and anatomists, the victims whose bodies were used for anatomical purposes were often mentioned as research subjects but hardly ever as individuals. However, the identification and recognition of the personhood of these victims is a moral necessity for modern medicine (Weindling, 2010; Oehler-Klein et al., 2012). This investigation of the persons on Stieve's list reveals that much can be learned from a closer study of available archival and other material. While Zimmermann was the first to point out that there were also men on Stieve's list, she reported a number of three men among the 182 persons in a preliminary analysis (Zimmermann, 2007). This study clarifies that there were indeed eight men on the list. Most of the 174 women, but not all, were of childbearing age, thus contradicting speculations that Stieve might have been interested exclusively in women of reproductive age (Wischmann, 2011). In fact, 21 of them were older than 45 years, and Stieve actually wrote papers on changes in reproductive tissues in the aging woman (Stieve, 1951, 1952c). Two-thirds of the women were German, and the largest groups of foreigners came from France, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Nearly half of the total received the death penalty for treason, and an additional group of 22 women for subversion of the military. Only 15 were involved in murder or manslaughter while the rest were executed for minor crimes.
A closer look at the individual biographies shows that some of the women on Stieve's list have become well known since their death because of their political involvement, while others remain obscure for now. However, none of them is anonymous any longer. The current study also indicates the limitations of this “group“ approach when trying to learn more about the individual victims. In many ways it is hard to elucidate 182 fates simultaneously, most significantly in terms of coping with the emotional impact of so many women's tragedies. The next step will have to be a concentration on the individual, e.g., a search for court files from the Volksgerichtshof and Sondergerichte that sent victims to Plötzensee. The study of individual fates can also be facilitated by family members and special interest groups, as the cases of Bronisława Czubakowska, Wilhelmine Günther, and Marianne Latoschinski illustrate. Therefore, the publication of the names is of even greater interest, as relatives and former neighbors may only through these become aware of the existence of traces of their loved ones.
Given that women were in the minority among those executed following verdicts by civilian and military courts (Scherrieble, 2008; Winkelmann, 2008), there are only few studies on this particular group of prisoners. This is one of the first reports that reveal the fate of several pregnant women and the fact that the NS regime apparently did indeed execute pregnant women with their children in utero when they considered both mother and child as a burden for society or just simply could get away with it for practical reasons without causing a public outcry.
Last Wishes: Death and the Dead Body as Part of a Person's Biography
The women on Stieve's list were often incarcerated for long times and had time to think about their impending death. Some felt themselves aging rapidly, probably due to the mental and physical torture they had to endure. This feeling was expressed by Libertas Schulze-Boysen in a poem titled “Oh grace, to ripen while young in body“ (Gollwitzer et al, 1955). While Stieve did indeed observe histological changes of premature aging of reproductive organs in some of the women (Stieve, 1942, p 1702), he never remarked on the signs of physical torture that must have been visible in many of the victims. The prisoners were all allowed to write last letters, and while most of these writings had thoughts for their loved ones as their main topic, some women like Bronisława Czubakowska and Herta Lindner also had clear wishes about the last resting place of their bodies: they wanted to be with their mothers. Libertas Schulze-Boysen's last message to her mother was typical in this respect: “[…] Don't fret about things that possibly could have been done, this or the other - fate has claimed my death. I wanted it this way…. As a last wish I have asked that my 'material substance' be left to you. If possible, bury me in a beautiful place amidst sunny nature…. Now, my darling, the bell tolls for me.“ (Gollwitzer et al., 1955; author's translation). However, NS legislation from 1942 had decreed that families of executed persons were not to be informed about the date of the execution anymore so that they could not claim their loved ones' bodies (Noack, 2012). In addition, the anatomical institute in Berlin was forbidden to hand over bodies to relatives. Only on rare occasions did anatomists circumvent these regulations, as both Hermann Stieve and Max Clara are reported to have sometimes released remains to families (Winkelmann, 2008; Noack, 2012). As for Libertas Schulze-Boysen, the 29-year-old had been convicted of treason by the Reichskriegsgericht (Reich military court) and sentenced to death on 19 December 1942. She was executed on 22 December 1944, and her body arrived—against her wishes—on a dissection table of the anatomical department of Berlin 15 min after her decapitation. Together with hers, the bodies of her husband Harro Schulze-Boysen and other members of the Rote Kapelle had been delivered. Stieve's assistant Charlotte Pommer, who was present in the dissection rooms on this day, recognized all of them and decided to end her career in anatomy rather than continue working with the bodies of such victims of the NS regime (Orth, 2012). Libertas Schulze-Boysen appeared as number 37 on Stieve's list.
In view of the clearly expressed wishes of the prisoners in their last letters, the use of the women's bodies for anatomical purposes and the anatomists' apparent indifference to the personhood of their research subjects appears doubly troubling. If one considers the human body and what happens to it after death as part of a person's biography (Winkelmann and Schagen, 2009), then Stieve had contributed to the violent abbreviation of the biographies of NS victims (Wischmann, 2011). However, it should be noted that these are modern concepts of ethics in anatomy that have only evolved in the last decade. The history related here emphasizes the importance of a voluntary decision of the donor in willed body donation programs in modern anatomy, as it reveals the inhumanity inherent in any other way of body acquisition.
Identification of Women from Stieve's Publications
In his 1942-1953 publications on the histology of reproductive organs and adrenal glands, Stieve related the medical histories and sometimes what was thought to be first initials of family names of about 30 women and several men. This prompted efforts by researchers to identify the individuals mentioned. However, a systematic comparison of the case histories with biographical data available from the different archival sources reveals that a definitive identification is possible only in one case: awoman who had poisoned several of her husbands, children, and others. In this case, the initial chosen by Stieve did not match the woman's name. Tentative identifications can be made in five or six cases, confirming Winkelmann and Schagen's findings in 2009. Klee was convinced he had recognized Cato Bontjes van Beek's body as a source of “material“ in Stieve's 1946 publication (Klee, 2004, p 108). However, apart from the fact that it seems tasteless and unethical to publicly connect names of NS victims with distinct histological images in Stieve's articles, there were at least two other 22-year-old women on Stieve's list who had been imprisoned for the same period as van Beek and whom Klee did not seem to have considered. Given this new insight that none except one of the case histories can be easily linked to an individual victim, Wischmann's claim that Stieve's 1952 collection of data were “cleansed“ of examples from women of the resistance (Wischmann, 2011) cannot be substantiated.
Contemporary Anatomists' Attitude to Bodies of the Executed
Historically, bodies of executed persons were the first legal source of human “material“ for anatomists (Stukenbrock, 2001; Hildebrandt, 2008). With the rise of histological research in the 19th and 20th centuries, freshness of “material“ was considered to be essential for dependable study results. Thus, “material“ from bodies of the executed, whose tissues could be processed within minutes after death, became the “Goldstandard“ for work with certain sensitive tissues and was consistently quoted in German language anatomical literature even before 1933 (Hildebrandt, 2012a). However, such bodies were rare in Germany during the Weimar Republic and did not include the bodies of women. Thus, anatomists eagerly made use of the increasing availability of more bodies of the executed of both genders provided by the increasingly harsh NS legislation. The frequency of executions rose significantly from 1938 on and especially in the later war years (Hildebrandt 2009b, 2012a). A typical example of a contemporary publication was the paper by Kick from the anatomical department in Breslau, who reported under “material“: “Under investigation were the livers of 16 mice, four guinea pigs, and six healthy human beings. The latter died suddenly on different days at 6:30 pm“ (Kick, 1944). While the use of “material“ from the bodies of the executed was the exception before 1933 it became anatomical routine thereafter. The use of ever increasing numbers of executed victims of a criminal regime led anatomists to studies that moved a questionable but at that time accepted traditional method into the area of highly unethical medical actions (Hildebrandt, 2012a).
In terms of the anatomists' attitude toward the sources of their “material,“ Stieve's contention that he felt compelled to make the best use for humanity of a tragic situation was until recently the only statement of an anatomist on the subject. The discovery of the documentation of a 1957 intramural controversy at the University of Würzburg on the ethics of using bodies of the executed for anatomical purposes gives another direct insight into contemporary anatomists' attitude towards their subjects (Hildebrandt, 2012b). This discussion revealed that anatomists at the time accepted the use of bodies of executed criminals as justified in the pursuit of scientific progress. Anatomists like Robert Herrlinger did not question the legality of the NS judicial system and used this “material“ under the assumption that they were dealing with “criminals.“ Herrlinger and Kurt Neubert, another anatomist involved in this controversy, claimed that they would have never knowingly used the bodies of political prisoners. Even Stieve insisted after the war only to have used bodies of “major criminals“ (Stieve, 1952), though Neubert knew him as a colleague who had indeed used bodies of political dissidents (Hildebrandt, 2012b). Thus, while from a modern point of view any anatomical use of the bodies of executed persons is considered unethical by many, this was not generally the case in the first half of the 20th century. Conversely, anatomists seemed, at least in hindsight, to differentiate between so-called “real criminals“ and political prisoners. However, this did not change their acceptance of the bodies of the executed, as they did consider NS legislation generally as just and took in most bodies of the executed.
Common to all of the anatomists' statements is the fact that they did not inquire into the background of the persons whose bodies they used for their work. Herrlinger formulated this very clearly during the 1957 discussion, in saying that “it was a general human desire that, when one already had to deal with such tasks [dissecting the executed in the vicinity of the execution chamber], one tried to internally shield oneself against them“ and that while he had respect for a dead body he was working with, he had no relationship with the person this body had belonged to in life (Hildebrandt, 2012b, p 6, Proceedings of the senate commission, 30. Juni 1958, UWü ZV PA Herrlinger). Another recent publication recounts interviews with three Viennese anatomists who were contemporaries of Pernkopf. The interviews were recorded in 2006 (Aharinejad and Carmichael, 2012). When asked by the interviewer whether use of the bodies of the executed had bothered him, Walter Krause answered: “Nobody cared, and why should we care?“ and his colleague Werner Platzer answered in the same manner “Nobody cared.“ In a similar fashion, the German emeritus professor of anatomy Michael Arnold wrote in 2011: “It is stressful to know this [the possible tragic fate of persons whose bodies were used in anatomy], and thus understandable if one did not seek complete insight into the background of bodies for anatomy, given that this background was irrelevant for the fulfillment of educational duties.“ (Arnold, 2011, p 49; author's translation).
While a certain distancing from the body to be dissected has long been recognized as essential to the profession of anatomists (Richardson, 1987; Montross, 2007), this psychological necessity supported the development of new and ultimately inhumane actions by anatomists under the auspices of the criminal NS-regime. Most anatomists active during the Third Reich took part in this use of the bodies of NS-victims, and many advanced their careers by publishing studies based on “material“ of the executed (Hildebrandt, 2009a,b,c, 2012a). Alternative behavior was possible, but at a cost, as the example of Charlotte Pommer shows. She left the career path to which she felt particularly well suited, because she did not want to be part of a system that exploited NS victims. As far as is known, she never reentered the world of academic medicine (Orth, 2012). One possible explanation for her behavior is that her empathy for the victims was greater than any amount of distancing could allow her to outweigh, thus making her decision inevitable.
The current study uses documentation left by anatomists and the administrators of the NS execution machinery that helps with the identification of names and other data of NS victims. Once these have been clarified and published, future work will have to focus on the investigation of individual biographies so that numbers can be turned back into people. The women and men on Stieve's list came from all walks of life—they were domestic and industrial workers, homemakers, teachers, and academics, some were politically interested, others not. None of them volunteered to become Stieve's research subject but on the contrary, many wanted their remains to rest with their families. The failure of anatomists in the Third Reich lay in part in their refusal to care about the personal history of their research subjects. Indeed, the life stories of persons whose bodies are dissected in anatomy are not “irrelevant for the fulfillment of educational duties“ (Arnold, 2011) but rather are at the center of a discipline that is now considered to contribute decisively to the teaching of medical ethics (Dyer and Thorndike, 2000; Goddard, 2003). The history of anatomy in the Third Reich is a reminder to modern anatomy that ethical body procurement is of the utmost importance in introducing students to professional ethics in the medical teaching curriculum.
The author would like to thank the following anatomist, historians, and archivists for their exceptional helpfulness: Markus Benheimi at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin, Johannes Tuchel, and Andreas Herbst at the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand in Berlin, Andreas Winkelmann at the Charité Anatomy in Berlin, Michael Viebig at the Gedenkstätte “Roter Ochse“ Halle, Birgit Sack at the Gedenkstätte Münchner Platz Dresden.
Stieve's list, corrected version (based on Ministerium der Justiz DP1/6490, GDW/P and other material quoted in the text); corrected and /or added names and dates in italics.
|Nr.||Name||Age||Birth date||Death date||Nationality|
|44||Beek, Cato Bontjes van||22||11/14/1920||8/5/1943||G|
|84||Harnack, Mildred von||40||9/16/1902||2/16/1943||U|
|85||Modrzewski, Hedwig von||21||2/20/1922||10/13/1943||G|
|103||Brockdorff, Erika von||32||4/29/1911||5/13/1943||G|
|112||Altermann, Maria Anna||23||10/10/1921||10/20/1944||G|
|133||Hölzlsauer, Anna Maria||41||6/30/1902||4/19/1944||A|
|141||Kreulich, Marie||54||10/5/1889||3/19[17?]/1944 G|
|152||Le Muzie, Annemarie||24||7/21/1920||9/15/1944||F|
|168||De Smedt, Josef||23||6/16/1921||11/10/1944||B?|