Jewish skeleton collection

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The Jewish skeleton collection was an attempt by the Nazis to create an anthropological display to showcase the alleged racial inferiority of the "Jewish race" and to emphasize the Jews' status as Untermenschen ("sub-humans"), in contrast to the German race which the Nazis considered to be Aryan Übermenschen. The collection was to be housed at the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg in the annexed region of Alsace, where the initial preparation of the corpses was performed.

The collection was sanctioned by Reichsführer of the SS Heinrich Himmler, and under the direction of August Hirt with Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe, being responsible for procuring and preparing the corpses.

Selection[edit]

Mug shot of Rudolf Brandt, c. 1946
Beger conducting anthropometric studies in Sikkim, India.

Originally the "specimens" to be used in the collection were to be Jewish commisars in the Red Army captured on the Eastern front by the Wehrmacht. The individuals ultimately chosen for the collection were obtained from among a pool of 115 Jewish inmates at Auschwitz concentration camp in Occupied Poland. They were chosen for their perceived stereotypical racial characteristics. The initial selections and preparations were carried out by SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Bruno Beger and Dr. Hans Fleischhacker (whose name literally translates to "butcher"), who arrived in Auschwitz in the first half of 1943 and finished the preliminary work by June 15, 1943.

Due to a typhus epidemic at Auschwitz, the candidates chosen for the skeleton collection were quarantined in order to prevent them from becoming ill and ruining their value as anatomical specimens. An excerpt from a letter written by Sievers in June 1943 reports on the preparation and the typhus epidemic: "Altogether 115 persons were worked on, 79 were Jews, 30 were Jewesses, 2 were Poles, and 4 were Asiatics. At the present time these prisoners are segregated by sex and are under quarantine in the two hospital buildings of Auschwitz."

In February 1942, Sievers submitted to Himmler, through Rudolf Brandt, a report from which the following is an extract read at the Nuremberg Doctors Trial by General Telford Taylor, Chief Counsel for the prosecution at Nuremberg:

"We have a nearly complete collection of skulls of all races and peoples at our disposal. Only very few specimens of skulls of the Jewish race, however, are available with the result that it is impossible to arrive at precise conclusions from examining them. The war in the East now presents us with the opportunity to overcome this deficiency. By procuring the skulls of the Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars, who represent the prototype of the repulsive, but characteristic subhuman, we have the chance now to obtain a palpable, scientific document.

"The best, practical method for obtaining and collecting this skull material could be handled by directing the Wehrmacht to turn over alive all captured Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars to the Field Police. They in turn are to be given special directives to inform a certain office at regular intervals of the number and place of detention of these captured Jews and to give them special close attention and care until a special delegate arrives. This special delegate, who will be in charge of securing the 'material' has the job of taking a series of previously established photographs, anthropological measurements, and in addition has to determine, as far as possible, the background, date of birth, and other personal data of the prisoner. Following the subsequently induced death of the Jew, whose head should not be damaged, the delegate will separate the head from the body and will forward it to its proper point of destination in a hermetically sealed tin can especially produced for this purpose and filled with a conserving fluid.

"Having arrived at the laboratory, the comparison tests and anatomical research on the skull, as well as determination of the race membership of pathological features of the skull form, the form and size of the brain, etc., can proceed. The basis of these studies will be the photos, measurements, and other data supplied on the head, and finally the tests of the skull itself."

Preparation[edit]

Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp entrance
(behind, the Monument to the Departed)
Josef Kramer, photographed in leg irons at Belsen concentration camp before being removed to the POW cage at Celle, 17 April 1945.

Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof, 46 of these individuals were originally from Thessaloniki, Greece. The deaths of 86 of these inmates were, in the words of Hirt, "induced" in an improvised gassing facility at Natzweiler-Struthof and their corpses, 57 men and 29 women, were sent to Strasbourg. One male victim was shot as he fought to keep from being gassed. Josef Kramer, acting commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof (who would become the commandant at Auschwitz and the last commandant of Bergen Belsen) personally carried out the gassing of 80 of these 86 victims.

The first part of the process for this "collection" was to make anatomical casts of the bodies prior to reducing them to skeletons. In 1944, with the approach of the allies, there was concern over the possibility that the corpses, which had still not been defleshed, could be discovered. In September 1944 Sievers telegrammed Brandt: "The collection can be defleshed and rendered unrecognizable. This, however, would mean that the whole work had been done for nothing-at least in part-and that this singular collection would be lost to science, since it would be impossible to make plaster casts afterwards."

The cadaver of Berlin dairy merchant Menachem Taffel. Deported to Auschwitz in March 1943 along with his wife and child who were gassed upon arrival. He was chosen to be an anatomical specimen, shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof and murdered in the gas chamber in August 1943

Aftermath[edit]

Victim Elisabeth Klein (b. 1901 Vienna, Austria), murdered at the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.

Brandt and Sievers were indicted, tried and convicted in the Doctors' Trial in Nuremberg and both were hanged in Landsberg Prison on June 2, 1948. Hirt committed suicide in Schönenbach, Austria, on June 2, 1945 with a gunshot to the head. Josef Kramer was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hamelin prison by noted British executioner Albert Pierrepoint on December 13, 1945. In 1974 Bruno Beger was convicted by a West German court as an accessory to 86 murders for his role in procuring the victims of the Jewish skeleton collection. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, the minimum sentence, but did not serve any time in prison. According to his family, Beger died in Königstein im Taunus on October 12, 2009.[1][2][3][4]

For many years only a single victim, Menachem Taffel (prisoner no. 107969), a Polish born Jew who had been living in Berlin, was positively identified through the efforts of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. In 2003 Dr. Hans-Joachim Lang, a German professor at the University of Tübingen succeeded in identifying all the victims, by comparing a list of inmate numbers of the 86 corpses at Strasbourg, surreptitiously recorded by Hirts' French assistant Henri Henrypierre, with a list of numbers of inmates vaccinated at Auschwitz. The names and biographical information of the murder victims were published in the book Die Namen der Nummern (The Names of the Numbers).[5] In 1951 the remains of the 86 victims were reinterred in one location in the Cronenbourg-Strasbourg Jewish Cemetery. On December 11, 2005, memorial stones engraved with the names of the 86 victims were placed at the cemetery. One is at the site of the mass grave, the other along the wall of the cemetery. Another plaque honoring the victims was placed outside the Anatomy Institute at Strasbourg's University Hospital.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "NS-Verbrechen - Die Spur der Skelette - SPIEGEL ONLINE". Einestages.spiegel.de. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  2. ^ "Bruno Beger". Die-namen-der-nummern.de. 
  3. ^ Doctors from Hell: the Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans. By Vivien Spitz Publisher: Sentient Publications (May 25, 2005) ISBN 1-59181-032-9 ISBN 978-1-59181-032-2 Pages 232-234
  4. ^ Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law : The Experience of International and National Courts: Materials by Gabrielle Kirk McDonald Publisher: Springer; 1 edition (March 1, 2000) ISBN 90-411-1134-4 ISBN 9789041111340
  5. ^ Die Namen der Nummern (Gebundene Ausgabe) von Hans-Joachim Lang (Autor) Publisher: Hoffmann + Campe Vlg GmbH (August 31, 2004) ISBN 3-455-09464-3 ISBN 978-3-455-09464-0

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