The University of Cologne in the Third Reich
On 11 April 1933 the University of Cologne was the first to perform the Selbstgleichschaltung (self-alignment) with NS university policies, even before the official law was ratified, and was therefore the first university to fall in line with the new rulers. While the University of Cologne has been called a ‘model NS university’ for this reason, it is possibly more accurate to interpret this as an opportunistic attitude paired with partial agreement as well as tendering to the new rulers (Golczewski, 1988; Heiber, 1992). It is no coincidence that the first president of the university after the NS ascent to power was a member of the NSDAP and of the medical school. Three out of the five university presidents during the Third Reich were physicians, and all five were NSDAP members.
Physicians played a major role in the implementation of the NS ideology, and many seemed to support the party themselves (Lifton, 1986). Therefore, it is not surprising that of all professions the physicians had the largest share of memberships of the NSDAP and/or their associated organizations with over 45, and 20% of these were also members of the SA or the SS (Kater, 1989). This attitude is reflected in numbers from the University of Cologne. Approximately 89% of the teaching staff of the medical school held a membership of the NSDAP, among them 16 of the 18 chairmen. In comparison, this ratio was significantly lower within the remaining university. In all other faculties an average of 43% of the staff and 21 of 49 chairmen were party members (Franken, 2008). Party membership was widespread as it was supposed to promote one's career. These data have to be treated with caution as they refer to 1944, and it is likely that party membership was not that high in the earlier years of the regime. The aforementioned problem with sources makes it virtually impossible to establish the membership rates for earlier years. However, an investigation among the physicians in private practice painted a similar picture: three-quarters of the Rhine physicians were institutionally embedded in the NS system, and in the district of Cologne 58% of the physicians were members of the NSDAP (Rüther, 2001). These numbers show that despite the fact that the Rhine region was very catholic and formerly strongly dominated by the German Centre Party, there were few oppositionists and most of the population favored the regime (Klein, 1983; Dietmar, 1992; Heidenreich, 2004).
Twenty percent of the professors at the University of Cologne were dismissed for so-called racial or political reasons, a number that reflected the national average; two professors were killed by the NS regime because of their political convictions (Meuthen, 1998; Serup-Bildfeldt, 2004; Grüttner, 2008).
The recruitment practice at the anatomical institute was influenced by NS politics. Otto Veit (1884–1976), director of the institute since its foundation in 1925, was forced into early retirement in 1937, as he was considered to be of mixed race according to the Nuremberg ‘racial’ laws and had to vacate his position following the Deutsches Beamtengesetz (German Law of Civil Servants, January 1937) (Golczewski, 1988; Liebermann, 1988; UAK 192/181). In 1938, Hans Böker (1886–1939) took his place. He was a member of the SA and of the Opferring (lit. circle of victims) der NSDAP (the Opferring was not an official party institution, but was tolerated by the party because its purpose was to raise funds for the NSDAP). According to Hossfeld, Böker was also a supporting member of the SS and member of the NSDAP, the Reichsluftschutzbund (Air Protection Corps), Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (National Socialist People's Welfare) and Reichsbund der Kinderreichen (Reich's League of those wealthy in children) (Hossfeld, 2006). Böker expressed a race theory that opposed certain aspects of the social Darwinism of the NS ideologists, proposing that indirect environmental effects on an organism cause ‘reconstructions’, wherein the subject actively adapts to the changing conditions (Meyer-Abich, 1941; Mertens, 1955). Possibly the numerous memberships in NS organizations were supposed to serve as a protection against repercussions following his ideological dissent for the Reich Ministry of Science, Education and Culture (REM) had already been made aware of him (Hossfeld, 2006). After Böker's death in 1939, Franz Stadtmüller (1889–unknown) became his successor and held the position as director until 1945. He was a supporting member of the SS and member of the NSDAP.
The anatomical institute of Cologne in the Third Reich: new sources for body procurement
During the Weimar Republic there were several institutions that regularly provided bodies for the anatomical institute of Cologne. These were city hospitals, whereby the Cologne university medical center Lindenburg delivered by far the largest contingent, and the public morgue. The city's facilities for the disabled, welfare centers and religious hospitals played only a marginal role in the supply.
The sources of body procurement for the anatomical institute changed during the Third Reich. Certain religious hospitals were no longer included because of low delivery numbers. The same applied for police authorities and welfare offices. Other areas of change involved the following.
- Barracks that had been formerly used by the British occupying forces following World War I were transformed into a retirement home and asylum called Riehler Heimstätten. Founded in 1926, it included 2200 beds and held about 80% of Cologne's spots for the elderly (Dietmar, 1992). These Heimstätten were the source for the fourth highest number of bodies made available by municipal facilities, but from mid-1941 they were claimed as and converted to an increasing extent into an auxiliary hospital for the able-bodied and thus ‘more valuable’ population. A shifting system was devised that relocated the residents of the Heimstätten to the killing center in Hadamar. Those people became victims of the Decentralised Euthanasia in summer 1942. Of the patients transferred from Cologne to Hadamar hardly anyone would have survived (Süss, 2003; Rüther, 2005). However, it must be assumed that those bodies the registers allocated to the Heimstätten were not euthanasia victims, but in earlier years residents of the retirement home and as from 1941 patients of the auxiliary hospital. No bodies came in with the designation ‘Hadamar’.
- Between 1938 and 1941 the establishment of 11 so-called auxiliary hospitals increased the much-needed number of hospital beds in Cologne (Wenge, 2006). Although this provisionary arrangement was not able to compensate for the serious shortage of doctors, it was nevertheless a relief for the local health system. Four of those auxiliary hospitals (the nursing home Vingst and Dellbrück – wards for terminally sick patients with tuberculosis – as well as the Kolpinghaus and a hospital at Schulstraße, for which there is no further information available) delivered bodies of the deceased to the anatomical institute of Cologne from 1941 onwards.
- The state prison ‘Klingelpütz’ started to supply the anatomical institute in 1935 with several bodies per year. This state prison ‘Klingelpütz’ is to be differentiated here from ‘Klingelpütz’ as the execution site of the special courts. The latter was specifically assigned to the special courts and was thus a source for bodies of the executed, while the state prison mostly delivered bodies of prisoners who had died under ‘natural’ circumstances within the prison. These included death due to bad hygienic conditions, malnutrition or torture. In 1933, the prison was temporarily used as a preventive detention facility and, since November 1944, it was presumably used by the Gestapo (Roth, 2005; Thiesen, 2011).
- In 1940 registry offices of the urban districts supplied only few bodies for anatomical research and dissection.
Judging by the body registers and the occasional information from notes in the correspondence of the directors, the anatomical institute used the bodies primarily for dissection by medical students. This contributes to a good education of the future physicians, which represents a major interest of the university and the public. Since 1939 – the first year the institute gained bodies from the execution site – all those bodies were ‘used for scientific purposes’ (i.e. UAK 9/683, translation by the author). There are no other comments on this matter whatsoever.
The delivery of bodies from those sources, which are – in light of the history of body sources of other anatomical institutes – to be designated as ‘traditional’, remained the same throughout the transition from the Weimar Republic to the NS period. However, among the new sources were four groups of institutions that provided bodies that must be defined as NS victims. All of them became victims of NS crimes during WWII.
- Since 1939 the bodies of detainees of the Rhenish-Westphalian workhouse Brauweiler were brought as dissection material to the anatomical institute of Cologne. This is important to note, as Brauweiler is situated in the Rhine Region, which was normally the exclusive procurement area of the anatomy of Bonn.
- In 1941 the anatomical institute received seven bodies of Russian prisoners of war. So far it has not been possible to identify the victims or find out with certainty from which facilities they originated. However, it is likely that they were imprisoned in the Messelager Köln, as this was a transit camp for prisoners of war amongst others for those of Soviet nationality (Fings, 1996).
- In the following year, 1942, two bodies were delivered from the concentration sub-camp Messelager Köln. As the names of these persons are missing in the body register, an identification has not yet been possible.
- The most significant new source of bodies was the execution site with its regular delivery of bodies of the executed, which became available from 1939 onwards. While the execution rates had been low during the Weimar Republic, the numbers of executions rose dramatically during WWII.
Figure 1 gives an overview on the development of the delivery of bodies to the anatomical institute of the University of Cologne from 1925 to 1942. Since the late 1930s – especially with the beginning of WWII due to the addition of NS victims – an increase in body numbers per year becomes apparent.
Figure 1. The number of bodies for anatomical teaching and research during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich at the anatomical institute of the University of Cologne.
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The development of professional interactions between the facilities providing the bodies and the anatomical institute as well as the establishment of the institute itself was crucial for the increasing numbers of bodies available to the anatomical institute of Cologne. In a letter from Director Veit to the board of the university regarding the supply with bodies, Veit mentioned that a higher delivery rate was possible by improving relationships with delivery facilities. For example, the body count of the small hospital Deutz, where a former assistant of the anatomical institute started to work, had increased in 1 year from nothing to seven (UKA 9/238,1).
In 1940, the highest number of bodies in the young history of the anatomical institute of Cologne was reached with a total of 121. Director Stadtmüller mentioned in his annual report that this amount of bodies ‘truly satisfied’ the requirement for the teaching of a then very high number of students, and it proved that it was possible to receive an adequate supply from the municipality (UKA 9/683). This was the first time ever that a director expressed his satisfaction about this subject, as all previous correspondence contained only complaints about the serious shortage of bodies for anatomical education. It is important to remember that the municipality was the only official regional procurement area that did not expand during the reign of the Nazi Party; the only exception being the workhouse Brauweiler, which used to exclusively deliver to the anatomical institute of the University of Bonn. The change was possibly due to the fact that Brauweiler served as a prison for the Gestapo of Cologne.
Figure 2 presents the ratio of the different delivery facilities in comparison with the total number of bodies. The majority of bodies through the years of the Third Reich came regularly and in relatively constant numbers from the urban hospitals, followed by the public morgue, while bodies of NS victims were available in increasing numbers from 1939 onwards. During that year the first executed persons were delivered to the anatomical institute of Cologne, but only in 1941 did this group of bodies reached a higher number. In 1941, the institute received a total of 99 bodies, 21 of which came from the execution site. In the following year a majority of 50 of 87 bodies were those of executed persons, while the deliveries from traditional institutions decreased.
Figure 2. The total number of bodies of the anatomical institute of the University of Cologne; divided into major categories of the delivery facilities.
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The general decline of body deliveries from other sources than the execution site since 1940 can be explained by the severe destructions of urban facilities during the devastating aerial warfare as well as the exhaustion of the storage capacity at the anatomical institute.
It is important to point out that the bodies of the executed were a preferred source of ‘material’ by the anatomists. ‘Material’ from these bodies was considered to be ‘fresh as in life’ and the planning of the research was easier with a known date of execution (Redies & Hildebrandt, 2012). In August 1942, director Stadtmüller wrote to the board of the university that the anatomical institute of Cologne ‘is currently over abundantly supplied with bodies so that it cannot receive any more. Therefore I have already refused to accept the deliveries from the morgue and the registry offices, and in the near future I will not be able to accept bodies of the executed. I intend to give 10 bodies of the executed and 15 other bodies to Würzburg. Heil Hitler!’ (UAK 9/683, translation by the author) The anatomical institute was in such a ‘comfortable’ situation concerning body supply as would have been unthinkable during the time of the Weimar Republic.
In February 1943 the anatomical institute was partially destroyed by incendiary bombs but continued to work under wartime restrictions until at least July 1944, when an increased delivery of the executed was documented (UAK 9/239). In October 1944 the University of Cologne was officially closed. It was not until March 1945 that Cologne was finally liberated by American troops.
Bodies of executed NS victims
In 1939, the Reich Minister of Justice addressed a memorandum to Adolf Hitler in which he noted that the special courts should be equated with courts-martial, but they were never labeled as such (Gruchmann, 1987). Hence, it is not surprising that the vast majority of those executed were sentenced to death for looting very often for seemingly minor crimes, for example a man in 1945 in Cologne who stole a laundry bag, a letter opener and a magnifying glass (NW 174/295, I). Foreign workers were sporadically among the victims as well as less frequently ‘real’ criminals, for example, murderers.
In 1933, a decree by the Prussian Ministry of Science, Art and Culture determined that the bodies of executed persons should be assigned to 12 selected anatomical institutions, including the University of Cologne (6 October 1933) (Viebig, 2002). The relatives of the deceased had the right to ask for the release of the body, if they were able to pay for the funeral. Otherwise, the assigned anatomical institutes were given the opportunity to use the executed for dissection. This arrangement was amended several times, and from November 1942 onwards relatives were no longer informed about the date of execution and were denied the right to claim the body (Waltenbacher, 2008). It is interesting to note that the University of Cologne sent an inquiry to the REM only 11 months after Hitler's Machtergreifung (seizure of power) in January 1933: ‘Perhaps it could be achieved by the Minister of Justice, that all communists who have been executed for political crimes should be delivered without exception to the anatomical institutes. Currently, families are still allowed to claim the bodies of the executed for a funeral.’ (UAK 9/683, translation by the author) This approach shows ruthlessness and a willingness to benefit from the NS system. The university as well as the anatomical institute of Cologne obviously had opportunistically adapted to the political conditions, given the fact that they aimed their rhetoric against the ‘communists’, a particularly persecuted group of political opponents of the NS regime. The inquiry attempted to establish a working routine in favor of the anatomical institute and to the disadvantage of the relatives. Although this request was at first indignantly rejected by the authorities, the prisons and the prosecution supported the anatomists in providing facilities to dissect executed persons directly after the beheading. In Cologne a specially constructed dissection room was attached to the main prison for the use of medical research. The REM intended to enlarge the execution site into a research institution that allowed new areas of scientific investigation for anatomists and physiologists (Waltenbacher, 2008). The NS regime had a particular interest in providing enough bodies for medical education, as a shortage of bodies in the dissection courses could lead to a delay in the licensing of future physicians, who were needed in greater numbers especially during WWII.
During the NS era medical ethics changed its focus away from the concern for the individual patient to that for the health of the whole Volkskörper (body of the people) (Stöckel, 2005; Bruns, 2009). This background may explain the following statement by the Cologne anatomists, when they wrote to the REM that it ‘would quite match the gesundes Volksempfinden (healthy national sensibility) if the body of an executed person serves the interests of the Volksgemeinschaft (people's community), which he offended most severely, even after his death’ (UAK 9/683, translation by the author).
The ‘Klingelpütz’ was the central place of execution for the special courts in Cologne, Aachen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Trier, Koblenz, Luxembourg and (in the early days of the war) Dortmund. In addition, it was the site for executions following military trials in occupied Belgium, France and Holland, sometimes also for executions following death sentences by the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court, the highest special court in the Third Reich with over 5000 enforced death sentences). Finally, it served as an execution site for convicted Nacht und Nebel prisoners (‘night and fog’, a secret decree by Hitler that aimed at preventing crimes against the German authorities in the occupied territories) (Grimm & Lauf, 1994; Daners & Wißkirchen, 2006).
In 1939, when the first bodies of the executed from the ‘Klingelpütz’ were delivered to the anatomical institute, this group made up 9.7% of the absolute numbers of bodies for anatomical dissection in Cologne. In 1941 their share rose to 20.8%, with a peak of 43.5% in 1942, when the body journals suddenly ended. The REM promised the board of the Cologne Medical School in 1939 that it had ‘attempted the most complete procurement of bodies of the executed for the universities of Cologne, Bonn and Münster’ (Waltenbacher, 2008, translation by the author). Based on the special court records at the State Archive of North Rhine-Westphalia, further numbers could be reconstructed for Execution District VII. In 1943 at least 21 and in 1944 another 14 persons were executed following verdicts by the special courts, and were delivered to the anatomical institute of Cologne. Between December 1944 and January 1945 the execution site in the prison of Cologne was damaged in a bombing raid and the guillotine had to be dismantled; thereafter death sentences were executed by shooting (NW 174/295, II). From this time on the numbers of bodies of the executed delivered to the anatomical institute ceased, which may have been due to the physical state of the bodies after shooting or to the collapsing infrastructure at the end of the war that included a lack of fuel and a recruitment of staff and students to the battlefront.
Compared with the Weimar Republic, the number of bodies delivered to the anatomical institute of Cologne increased during the Third Reich. The relationship between the city institutions like hospitals or municipal administration and the directors of the anatomical institute – which were maintained through regular correspondence – helped to create stable working routines and establish the anatomical institute within the city. The institute had learned to make better use of its official procurement area – the municipality of Cologne. These facilities became a reliable resource for bodies during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Their deliveries rose steadily and reached their highest point in 1940. The large city hospitals and the public morgue led this list. Later the importance of these ‘traditional’ procurement areas declined, as from 1940 onwards Cologne became increasingly a target of the allied air forces and was completely in ruins by the end of the war. From the start of WWII in 1939 the bodies of NS victims became a growing contingent within the body supply of the anatomical department – foremost among them the bodies of the executed. The last existing body registers from 1942 reveal that by then the numbers of the NS victims had surpassed the numbers of bodies from traditional sources.
In conclusion, the anatomical department in Cologne joins the other already investigated German anatomical institutes in the Third Reich. With a total number of about 810 bodies (body registers 1933–1942 plus executed 1943–1944) during the Third Reich, the anatomical institute of Cologne ranged clearly below the average in terms of the total number of bodies used (Hildebrandt, 2009b; S. Hildebrandt, Personal communication). The anatomical institute of Würzburg, which was one of the largest institutions of its kind in the early 20th century, had a total of 944 corpses whereof the executed accounted for 13% (Blessing et al. 2012). The anatomical institute of Bonn, which was the closest to Cologne, used partially the same procurement area (the workhouse Brauweiler, the central execution site) and had twice as many medical students as Cologne had a total of 1025 bodies at its disposal, thereof 154 executed (15%) (Forsbach, 2006). Among the bodies of the anatomical institute of Cologne were ~11–14% executed. Compared with Bonn, Cologne as a relatively small department was quite well supplied with bodies. However, these comparisons should be treated with caution, mainly because of the differences in the sufficiency of the source materials.
It holds true that the anatomical institute of the University of Cologne evidently benefited from the new body ‘material’ made available by the criminal NS regime for dissection and research – so did all the other German institutes. The accessible sources do not give any more precise information about the fate of the bodies after the collapse of the Third Reich. There is just a short notification from December 1945 that stated that a large number of bodies of the executed were still in the storage containers of the morgue. Those bodies were to be prepared for the identification department of the United Nations, and apparently two agents of the Luxembourgian record department came looking for the bodies of their nationals who were put to death at the ‘Klingelpütz’ (UAK 9/650). It can be speculated that the bodies of NS victims were retained at least for a while. But it is not known if there was any effort to identify the victims or the ways in which the institute dealt with the bodies afterwards.
The documents reviewed for this investigation showed no evidence of insights into the anatomists' actions, their doubt or remorse; the anatomical institute of Cologne was focused primarily on increasing the number of bodies for medical education and even actively collaborated with the NS authorities. The history of anatomy in the Third Reich serves as a warning that ethics in medicine must not depend on the existing political system (Cohen & Werner, 2009; Hildebrandt, 2009c).