Gisella Perl on the cover of her Auschwitz memoir first published in 1948
|Died||16 December 1988 (aged 81)|
|Nationality||Hungarian Jewish; Romanian Jewish|
|Known for||Holocaust memoir I was a doctor in Auschwitz |
|Spouse(s)||Dr. Krauss (died in the Holocaust)|
Gisella Perl (10 December 1907 – 16 December 1988) was a Romanian Jewish gynecologist deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944, where she helped hundreds of women as inmate gynecologist without the bare necessities to perform her work. She survived, emigrated to New York and was one of the first women to publicize these experiences in English in her 1948 memoir I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz. She became a specialist in infertility treatment at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York and eventually moved with her daughter to live in Herzliya, Israel, where she died.
Early life and education
Gisella Perl was born and grew up in Máramarossziget, Sighetu Marmaţiei, then part of Hungary, which after the Trianon peace treaty of 4 June 1920, became part of Romania. In 1923, when she was 16, she graduated from secondary-school first in her class, the only woman and the only Jew. Her father, Maurice Perl, refused to allow her to study medicine at first, because he feared she was going to "lose her faith and break away from Judaism". He relented a few months later.
Perl became a successful and well known gynecologist in Sighetu. She married an internist, (Dr. Krauss) and practiced until 1944, when the Nazis invaded part of Romania through Hungary and deported Perl to Auschwitz concentration camp along with her family. Josef Mengele gave her the task to work as a gynecologist within the women's camp, attending to inmates without bare necessities such as antiseptics, clean wipes, or running water.
She was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, her final Holocaust destination and soon liberated. She found that she lost her husband and only son, her parents and her extended family. She tried to commit suicide by poisoning herself and was sent to recuperate in a convent in France until 1947.
In March 1947 she arrived in New York City on a temporary visa to lecture, sponsored by the Hungarian-Jewish Appeal and the United Jewish Appeal. She moved to an upper class neighborhood in New York. New York Representative Sol Bloom unsuccessfully petitioned the Justice Department for permanent residency of the United States.
On March 12, 1948, President Truman signed a bill allowing Perl to stay in the US. The INS interrogated her on suspicion of assisting the Nazi doctors of Auschwitz in carrying out human rights abuses. In 1951, at the age of 44 she was granted U.S. citizenship. She began work as a gynecologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, becoming an specialist in infertility treatment.
Perl was the sole author or coauthor of nine papers on vaginal infections published between 1955 and 1972.
I was a doctor in Auschwitz
In June 1948, Gisella Perl published the story of her incarceration at Auschwitz, detailing the horrors she encountered as an inmate gynecologist. The book was titled I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz and included Perl's description of operations on young women's breasts without anesthetics, using a knife as her only instrument. She described Irma Grese, a 19 year old Aufseherin or warden from Auschwitz who observed the procedures and derived pleasure from their suffering. She wrote that Grese's “face [was] clear and angelic and her blue eyes the gayest, the most innocent eyes one can imagine.” Her words helped paint a picture of Grese when the notorious guard was put on trial and subsequently executed.
Perl's memoir was one of at least eight similar accounts by female prisoners, corroborated by the testimonies of other women.
The infirmary encounters with Irma Grese had first been described by Olga Lengyel, a Hungarian Jewish woman and surgical assistant imprisoned at Auschwitz, in her 1947 book Five Chimneys, originally published in French. Lengyel was the first survivor to have her testimony published in English, wrote Zoë Waxman.
Perl's account of the treatments was virtually identical in every detail to the court testimony of Dr. Olga Sulima, an inmate physician at Auschwitz from the Soviet Union, according to historian Bernard Braxton.
Personal life and death
Perl was later reunited with her daughter, Gabriella Krauss Blattman, whom she managed to hide during the war. In 1979, both moved to live in Herzliya, Israel. Perl died in Israel on December 16, 1988, just six days after her 81st birthday
- Brozan, Nadine (November 15, 1982). "Out of Death, a Zest for Life". New York Times.
- Anne S. Reamey Gisella Perl: Angel and Abortionist in the Auschwitz Death Camp phdn.org
- Perl, Dr. Gisella I was a doctor in Auschwitz. Ayer Co., ISBN 0-405-12300-0.
- Sonja Maria Hedgepeth, Rochelle G. Saidel, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust. UPNE 2010, page 187. ISBN 1584659041.
- Kater, Michael H. Hitler Youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
- Roger S. Gottlieb (1990). Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust. Paulist Press. pp. 151, 164. ISBN 0809131722.
- Laura Catherine Frost (2002). Sex drives: fantasies of fascism in literary modernism. Cornell University Press. p. 174. ISBN 0801438942.
- Zoë Waxman. Sorcha Gunne, Zoe Brigley Thompson (eds.). Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation. p. 124.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
- Bernard Braxton (1977). Sexual, Racial and Political Faces of Corruption: A View on the High Cost of Institutional Evil. Verta Press. pp. 48–49.
- Gisella Perl: Angel and Abortionist in the Auschwitz Death Camp holocaust-history.org
- Gisella Perl novelguide.com
- Roni Peleg.Profiles: Dr. Gisella Perl Journal of Women's Health. September 2005, 14(7): 588-591. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2005.14.588 (subscription required)