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Jewish Medical Resistance in the Holocaust

Jewish Medical Resistance in the Holocaust

Edited by Michael A. Grodin
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Jewish Medical Resistance in the Holocaust
    Book Description:

    Faced with infectious diseases, starvation, lack of medicines, lack of clean water, and safe sewage, Jewish physicians practiced medicine under severe conditions in the ghettos and concentration camps of the Holocaust. Despite the odds against them, physicians managed to supply public health education, enforce hygiene protocols, inspect buildings and latrines, enact quarantine, and perform triage. Many gave their lives to help fellow prisoners. Based on archival materials and featuring memoirs of Holocaust survivors, this volume offers a rich array of both tragic and inspiring studies of the sanctification of life as practiced by Jewish medical professionals. More than simply a medical story, these histories represent the finest exemplification of a humanist moral imperative during a dark hour of recent history.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-418-2
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. Foreword. Three Kinds of Medical Resistance
    (pp. x-xiii)
    Joseph Polak

    In 1940, once the Netherlands had capitulated to the onslaught of the Wehrmacht, the Germans wasted no time in setting up a Schutzstaffel (SS)-led civil administration based in Amsterdam. Unsurprisingly, one of its first items of business was the liquidation of the Jews. Jews soon found themselves rounded up and sent, in groups small and large, to the Westerbork transit camp, a merciless, raw, windswept heath in northern Holland, from whence prisoners were “sent east,” and for the most part, never heard from again.

    This eventually became the fate of close to 100,000 of Holland’s 135,000 Jews, constituting the highest...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiv-xvii)
    Michael A. Grodin and Allan Nadler
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Michael A. Grodin

    The chapters in this volume have been selected to document and explore Jewish medical resistance, a subject that has received little analysis in the broad study of resistance during the Holocaust. The range of material collected is great and includes both small-and large-scale efforts in the ghettos of Warsaw, Vilna, Lodz, Kovno, and Shavli, and in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. The authors include eyewitnesses, children of survivors, and Holocaust scholars. While some chapters consider the health of the ghetto population as a whole, others focus on the experiences of individuals. Stories of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and...

  7. Part I. Hygiene and Disease Containment as Resistance

    • Chapter 1 The Epidemiological Status and Health-Care Administration of the Jews before and during the Holocaust
      (pp. 13-38)
      Jacob Jay Lindenthal

      The most pernicious disasters are those that human beings bring upon themselves. War and civil conflict have been responsible for a hundred million fatalities over the course of the past three centuries. Among the factors that differentiate the Holocaust from other disasters are the programmatic dimensions involved, as one group sought in systematic fashion to annihilate members of another. Our concern here is to describe the murderous assault of the Nazi regime on public health in the Jewish sector and how the Jews responded.

      Survivors, scholars, diarists, and other recorders of the Holocaust era have assembled a body of information...

    • Chapter 2 Typhus Epidemic Containment as Resistance to Nazi Genocide
      (pp. 39-48)
      Naomi Baumslag and Barry M. Shmookler

      Health-care workers concerned with the promotion of health for all and the protection of human rights must adopt measures to ensure the social and moral responsibility of doctors, medical organizations, medical schools, and public health and basic research institutes. Epidemic typhus during the Holocaust illustrates how, through an obsession with the disease, German doctors used public health to justify mass killings of Jews. In the name of disease control, the German and the Lithuanian medical profession practiced unspeakable atrocities. Deluded German doctors conducted brutal vaccine experiments on prisoners. Jewish doctors, under desperate circumstances, still tried to save Jewish lives.


    • Chapter 3 Delousing and Resistance during the Holocaust
      (pp. 49-56)
      Paul Weindling

      The Nazis’ conceptualizations of disease and methods to control it were thoroughly racialized and exterminatory. From World War I on, medical propaganda demonized lice—and their human hosts—as causing typhus. The Germans were convinced that typhus was primarily aJudenfieber(Jewish fever) because of its high incidence among the Jewish population, particularly during 1915–16. The epidemic statistics were accompanied by condemnation of Jewish living conditions and customs as unhealthy.¹ In 1915 a group of rabbis was summoned to Warsaw where they were lectured by a German military doctor on the importance of cleanliness. The antilice posters of military...

  8. Part II. Organized Health Care in the Ghettos

    • Chapter 4 Courage under Siege: Starvation, Disease, and Death in the Warsaw Ghetto
      (pp. 59-92)
      Charles G. Roland

      The Warsaw ghetto was forced to become a self-contained city with a peak population of almost half a million. This is more people than currently live in Edinburgh, Ottawa, or Cincinnati, and approximately the same number as in Nagasaki, Japan; or Ventura, California; or the entire county of Gloucestershire, England.

      The medical and medically related needs were immense, and the attempts to meet these needs were complicated and ultimately unsuccessful. TheJudenrathad to create a health department to fulfill many of the roles previously played by the Warsaw city department.

      TheJudenratas an institution has received a great...

    • Chapter 5 Jewish Medical Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto
      (pp. 93-105)
      Myron Winick

      The story of medicine in the Warsaw ghetto is a classic story of good versus evil. It is simultaneously a story of medicine’s finest hour and worst nightmare. Perhaps never before in history had such a small number of doctors faced such inhuman conditions. Magnifying their challenge was the need to resist the active attempt by the German medical establishment to exterminate the entire Jewish population.

      There were some three hundred eighty thousand Jews in Warsaw before the outbreak of the World War II. Although anti-Semitism certainly existed, Warsaw was one of the best cities for Jews, especially middle-class Jews,...

    • Chapter 6 Health Care in the Vilna Ghetto
      (pp. 106-140)
      Solon Beinfeld

      When the Nazis established the Vilna ghetto on September 6, 1941, a little more than two months after the German occupation of the Lithuanian city, they hung on its gate a sign with the words “Achtung! Seuchengefahr” warning against the danger of infection should any Aryan be so rash as to enter the forbidden quarter. This was standard practice on the part of the German authorities—similar signs hung outside many other ghettos—and represented both a symbolic view of the Jew as bearer of all the ills of society and a supposedly realistic description of what could be assumed...

    • Chapter 7 The Jewish Hospital in the Vilna Ghetto
      (pp. 141-147)
      Alexander Sedlis

      The Jewish hospital in Vilna had a long history before becoming the ghetto hospital. The earliest mention of the hospital in official records dates back to 1765 when it cared for eighteen paying patients and three paupers. In 1805 the hospital moved to a new building financed by Czar Alexander I. In 1919 it became Vilna’s largest municipal hospital, with 135 beds and more than a thousand admissions every year, 35 percent of whom were non-Jewish. In 1936 the municipal government restricted the hospital’s services to Jews only. In 1940 its name was changed by the Soviet authorities to City...

    • Chapter 8 The Establishment of a Public Health Service in the Vilna Ghetto
      (pp. 148-154)
      Steven P. Sedlis

      The city of Vilna, my parents’ home, was in large part spared from the horrors of invasion and occupation that devastated most Polish cities in the fall of 1939. To Polish Jews, Vilna seemed an oasis. Jews from Warsaw and other cities occupied by the Nazis fled to Vilna and resumed living relatively normal lives as members of the well-established Vilna Jewish community. Vilna was briefly occupied by Soviet troops, but in October of 1939 it was handed over to Lithuania and became the capital of that independent and democratic state.

      Less than a year later, in June of 1940...

    • Chapter 9 Medicine in the Kovno Ghetto
      (pp. 155-163)
      Jack Brauns

      The tragedy of the Holocaust is well documented and much discussed, but very little attention has been directed to the subject of medicine during the Holocaust. The information herein is taken from the notes my father, Dr. Moses Brauns, prepared in the ghetto for a lecture to his medical colleagues. Considered the top epidemiologist and specialist in infectious diseases in Lithuania before the war, my father described the prevalent diseases in the ghetto and their morbidity. It is fortunate that he was a historian and documented so much. Because of his medical expertise and compassion for human suffering, many others...

    • Chapter 10 Medicine in the Shavli Ghetto: In Light of the Diary of Dr. Aaron Pik
      (pp. 164-172)
      Miriam Offer

      In his diary from the Shavli ghetto in Lithuania, Dr. Aaron Pik documents the history of the Shavli Jewish community from the Bolshevik period through the German occupation of the ghetto. In three hundred handwritten pages of eloquent Hebrew, he describes personal matters as well as the major events that took place in the ghetto over a period of three years. His diary ends in June 1944, one month before the destruction of the ghetto, when he died at the age of seventy-two as the result of an illness.

      Dr. Pik’s only son, Tedik, survived the ghetto and immigrated to...

    • Chapter 11 The Nursing School in the Warsaw Ghetto
      (pp. 173-177)
      Aleksander Blum

      The story of the Jewish Nursing School in Warsaw is in part my mother’s story, which she wrote in Polish in the early 1960s and deposited in the Jewish Historic Institute in Warsaw, Poland. The school was organized in 1923 by the joint efforts of the Warsaw Jewish community, American Jews, and the Warsaw City Council. A. Weissblatt, an engineer who figures later in our narrative, was a member of the City Council who was also a part of the Jewish community. The AJDC delegated Amelia Gruenwald, a well-known American nurse with World War I battle experience, to be the...

    • Chapter 12 A Tribute to an Old-Fashioned Pharmacist
      (pp. 178-182)
      Lily Mazur Margules

      I write as a daughter who will try to tell you about the fate of her beloved father during the dark days of the Nazi era. My aim is to paint for you in vivid colors a picture of the life, the dreams, the atrocities, and the joys experienced by a young Jewish professional during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s in Vilna.

      Whenever I remember my father, David Mazur, as I do quite often, the following scene comes before my eyes: I see him dressed in a white linen coat, which is the uniform the old-fashioned pharmacists used to wear,...

  9. Part III. Medicine in the Camps

    • Chapter 13 Jewish Medical Resistance in Block 10, Auschwitz
      (pp. 185-196)
      Claude Romney

      My father, Dr. Jacques Lewin–known in the camps as Kuba or Kubu–(the affectionate forms of his Polish first name)–was deported to Auschwitz with the first convoy from France on March 27, 1942. Before the war he was already well known for his research on blood proteins. In Auschwitz and later in Ebensee he worked in the in firmary; after February 1943 he carried out research at the former camp in the serology laboratory of the Hygiene Institute located in Rajsko. There is little doubt that the fact he was a doctor helped him survive almost three and...

    • Chapter 14 Greek Jews in Auschwitz: Doctors and Victims
      (pp. 197-205)
      Yitzchak Kerem

      Many Greek Jews who were in Auschwitz II (Birkenau) between 1943 and 1944 suffered greatly as subjects of medical experiments. The Jews of Greece were known for their assistance to other Jews in distress in Auschwitz, giving out food and easing work conditions. The purpose of this chapter is to shed light on their experiences, as well as to note the role of Greek Jewish doctors in saving these and other Jews in Nazi concentration camps.

      It is not known precisely how many Greek Jews were experiment victims. An integral part of the work force in Birkenau, Greek Jews were...

    • Chapter 15 The Kinderheim of Bergen-Belsen
      (pp. 206-218)
      Diane Plotkin

      When the British marched into Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, they encountered approximately ten thousand naked and emaciated bodies lying all over the camp and in piles outside the huts. Dr. Hadassah Bimko-Rosensaft (formerly Dr. Ada Bimko), recalls that the British also found fifty-eight thousand living inmates—men, women and children, 90 percent of whom were Jews. People in the camp were dying daily.

      One of the first liberators was the vice director of Medical Services, British Army of the Rhine, Brigadier General Glyn Hughes. In 1945 Hughes testified at the Lüneburg Trials of forty-five persons accused of war crimes,...

    • Chapter 16 Memoirs of Heroic Deeds by Jewish Medical Personnel in the Camps
      (pp. 219-226)
      Isak Arbus

      In the spring of 1939, before the German invasion of Poland, I was drafted into the Polish army. Two weeks after the start of the war I was captured and taken to Germany. Assigned to a group of four hundred Jewish POWs, I worked in a formerly Jewish-owned sugar mill at Genthin, near Berlin. Near the end of February 1940 all work was suddenly halted and our group was transferred to Stalag X1A, at Altengrabow. After extensive registration procedures, I was shipped back to my hometown, Warsaw, with a large contingent of Jewish POWs, including officers, some of them mobilized...

    • Chapter 17 Felix Bachmann’s Medical Memoir of Terezín Concentration Camp
      (pp. 227-246)
      Oliver B. Pollak

      Interest in the “old people’s ghetto,” the “privileged” or “model” ghetto of Terezín (Theresienstadt) in Bohemia, thirty-seven miles north of Prague and three hundred fifty miles east of Auschwitz, has never been greater.We Are Children Just the Same:Vedem,The Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezín,was honored as the best book on the Holocaust in 1995.¹In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezín,a cookbook written by a mother for her daughter, received very favorable attention.² The Terezín operas, “The Emperor of Atlantis” by Viktor Ullman and “Brundibar” by Hans Krasa, were performed at...

  10. Part IV. Wartime Activities and Other Areas

    • Chapter 18 Doctors Saving Jews in Dniepropetrovsk during the Nazi Occupation
      (pp. 249-253)
      Alexander Bielostotzki and Arkady Bielostotzki

      During the Nazi occupation, two underground groups of doctors worked in the Soviet city of Dniepropetrovsk, in two major hospitals: a regional hospital and the Hospital for Infectious Diseases No. 1. These patriotic doctors released POWs from the camps and created obstacles to transporting Soviet citizens to Germany. In spite of German orders not to help the Jews, the doctors not only treated them, but also saved many from death and destruction. The title Soldiers of the Invisible Front suits the physicians who heroically fought the enemy to save lives.

      In August 1941 the Nazis occupied Dniepropetrovsk. By order of...

    • Chapter 19 Crimean Doctors: Victims of Holocaust and Heroes of Resistance
      (pp. 254-260)
      Gitel Gubenko

      During the autumn and winter of 1941–42, German fascists killed all the Jews and Krimchaks in Crimea. Over forty thousand died, among them my father Nison and my mother Rachel. To me–whose parents were shot down only because they were Jews–the voices of those who deny the Holocaust and maintain that the Jews themselves fabricated it to evoke pity and to promote the reconstruction of Israel sound monstrous, blasphemous. So at the outset I want to call attention to the fact that my study is based entirely upon original documents that I found in Crimean archives and...

    • Chapter 20 Jewish Medics in the Soviet Partisan Movement in the Ukraine
      (pp. 261-266)
      Ster Elisavetski

      To organize and maintain the functioning of medico-sanitary services in Soviet partisan units acting on Nazi-occupied territories was a task of primary importance for the buildup of the Resistance movement there. Through the selfless labor of the doctors and nurses, most of the injured or sick partisans were able to return to action, and this contributed significantly to maintaining fighting efficiency and bolstering the morale of the combatants. To give just one example, the medico-sanitary service of the 1st Ukrainian Partisan Division under Sidor Kovpak rehabilitated no less than 75 percent of the injured partisans. This division saved and healed...

    • Afterword. The Ethical and Human Dimension of Jewish Medical Resistance during the Holocaust
      (pp. 267-274)
      Yulian Rafes

      My longtime research on the work of the medical institutions in the Vilna and Kovno ghettos is based on rich archival materials in Yiddish, Polish, German, and Russian, as well as on the published memoirs of the participants in the events. These materials neatly illustrate the presence of two contradictory phenomena during World War II and the Holocaust: the high ethical level on which the condemned doctors operated, in contrast to Nazi medicine, whose representatives conducted selections and performed criminal experiments on unfortunate concentration camp and prison inmates.

      It is no coincidence that many scholars of medical problems during World...

  11. Photos
    (pp. 275-284)
  12. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 285-289)
  13. List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. 290-290)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 291-292)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-308)