Scientists and responsibility

Neuruppin, 25.10.2017

Andreas Winkelmann, MHB professor of anatomy, researches the history of anatomy in the Third Reich. In a recent lecture at the Charité he explored the work of the Berlin anatomist Hermann Stieve (1886-1952) and his collaboration with Nazi justice.

Andreas Winkelmann, Professor of Anatomy at the Brandenburg Medical School (MHB), describes the background of his lecture as follows: “Systematic research into the history of anatomy during the Third Reich reveals that almost all anatomists at that time used the bodies of victims of the Nazi regime in teaching and research and for this purpose collaborated with the Nazi judicial system. Thus they were also involved in denying the victims burial. An important aim was to remove tissue for microscopic examination soonest possible after death. The macabre consequence was that it became a quality attribute of histological research to profit from executions and was openly expressed as such in contemporaneous publications.” Winkelmann, himself employed as an anatomist at the Charité between 2001 and 2015, used the example of Berlin anatomist Hermann Stieve to demonstrate the implications of this situation for the current development of ethical guidelines in modern anatomy.

Among Winkelmann’s key research interests are historical and current ways to handle human remains, ethical aspects of using human bodies for purposes of teaching and research in anatomy, and the history of anatomy in general. He directs the MHB Institute of Anatomy and chairs the Federative International Committee for Ethics and Medical Humanities of the international federation of anatomists IFAA.

GeDenkOrt.Charité – initiative on science and reponsibility

The lecture was part of the project “GeDenkOrt.Charité – Wissenschaft in Verantwortung” which addresses issues of medicine and science in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also in the presence and future.

The project website mentions numerous memorials – in Germany and specifically in Berlin – dedicated to the German past. But as to the actions of scientists during the Third Reich, only individual institutions such as the Max Plank Society and the Robert Koch Institute have confronted and systematically analyzed their past. To date the Charité has no central and visible site of commemoration, and has not comprehensibly addressed its past from a historical-scientific perspective. The project “GeDenkOrt.Charité” is intended to close this gap in the culture of remembrance which is of great importance for the present and future identity of this institution. For further information see the project website.

(Bildunterschrift: Shortly after the end of World War II in May 1945, public accusations were raised against German anatomists who had taken part in “experiments” on prisoners. Newspaper clipping from “Die Tat” a Swiss daily, from 27 May 1945)