Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bruno Beger and the Skeleton Collection

Source:  The Master Plan by Heather Pringle

Comment: See

Text: page 260-262
Over the next few days, Beger proceeded with his studies, performing detailed racial measurements in a small room in one of these blocks.  As the prisoners filed in, the sculptor Gabel stared at their faces.  "When I found a Jew who was especially interesting or remarkable," he later recalled, "Dr. Beger agreed that I should also make a cast of them."  In all likelihood, Gabel chose individuals who possessed one of the supposed Jewish traits - short head, fleshy lips, large ears. [...]

After finishing with each of his subjects, Beger passed the individual on to Fleischhacker, who had finally arrived in Auschwitz and who performed the measurements again to ensure their accuracy.  Beger wanted no errors.  The two men seem to have worked together amicably, but on June 15, Beger departed abruptly, placing the remaining subjects in Fleischhacker's care and returning to Munich.[Beger to Fleischhacker 16.06.1943, BA NS 21/907]  .... Shortly after his hasty departure, Beger informed Sievers that he had finished up early "because of the existing risk of an epidemic." [Sievers to Eichmann, 21.06.1943, NARA T-175/103 2625099] Moreover, his subsequent correspondence shows little trace of compassion for Auschwitz's inmates.  Indeed, when he received news a few weeks later about the death of several of the selected prisoners, he offered no comment about their plight.  "Herr Gabel," he wrote to Sievers, "is once again in Munich almost fourteen days after the examinations in Auschwitz.  He cast the heads of twenty prisoners I had chosen and examined.  He told me that the number of examined people has once again declined because of deaths.  The head casts that he completed turned out excellently." [Beger to Sievers 09.071943, BA NS 21/907]
Only when the quarantine had ended in late July did guards at Auschwitz being loading Beger's subjects onto a train heading west toward Natzweiler.  In Berlin, Sievers's assistant dispatched a deliberately cryptic telegram to Beger, notifying him that the wheels were once again in motion.  "Transport from Auschwitz 30.7.  Get into contact with Hirt concerning the beginning of the work.  Arrival of transport Natzweiler presumably 2.8." [Wolf to Beger, "Telegramm," 30.07.1943, NARA RG242 T580/R153/241]

page 266-267
The new shipment from Natzweiler was not like the others, however.  It consisted entirely of women, one of whom still modestly wore a brassiere.  [Henri] Henrypierre shocked to see the condition of the women: most were young, healthy individuals under the age of thirty-two, "all of a commanding appearance" as he told investigators after the war [NO-880].  Moreover, some of the bodies were still warm to the touch and their eyes shiny.  Henrypierre guessed that they had perished no more than three hours earlier and he was certain they had not met a natural end.  Some had clearly been beaten and abused.  All had bled from the mouth and nose, which made Henrypierre think that they had been gassed or poisoned.
 .... But the fact that Hirt had arranged the murder of twenty-nine females for the purposes of research did not disturb Hirt's other assistant, Otto Bong, a German preparator that the anatomist had brought from Frankfurt.  As the two men cleaned and prepared the women's bodies, Bong told Henrypierre not to fret; the women were, he said, "only Jews."  Hentrypierre could not stop thinking about their criminal deaths, however.  He noticed that each woman had a long number tattooed on her left arm.  When no one was watching, he wrote down a list of the tattoed numbers.
Four days later, the driver from Natzweiler appeared again at the institute, bringin the corpses of a large group of men.  Soon, the driver returned with a third and last shipment.  Henrypierre examined the men's bodies, once again secretly jotting down their tattooed numbers.  Like the women, they were generally young and healthy, and they had been murdered in the same manner.  But there was one important difference.  Before the French preparator was allowed to immerse the bodies in alcohol, Bong insisted on taking tissue samples.  With a scalpel in hand, he severed a testicle from each of the male cadavers [NO-521 - Discovery of human testicles at the Strassburg Institute].
He placed the organs in a container and sent them on directly to Hirt's personal laboratory.

page 275
In his office at Mittersill, Beger toiled away on the Jewish skeleton project.  The maceration machine for rendering the cadvaers of the murdered Jews into tidy skeletons had failed to arrive in Strassburg - quite possibly because Allied bombers destroyed the factory where it was supposed to be manufactured.  But this setback did not stop Beger.  He had managed to lay hands on some Jewish skulls, perhaps from a museum or a university department anxious to stow a precious collection in a safe place, or possibly from the Strassburg preparator Otto Bong, who may have begun defleshing a few of the murdered Jews by other maceration methods.
[page 405 Trojan to Beger, 23.06.1944, NARA, RG242, T81/131/164370.  In this letter, Rudolf Trojan, one of the racial experts at Mittersill, aks Beger, "What is upposed to happen with the Jewish skulls?  They are just lying around here and taking up space.  What was originally planned for these?  I think it would be best if you send them to Strassburg and they should deal with them."

 Either way, Beger had obtained a collectionof Jewish skulls, and he seems to have been working on them.  His assistant Wilhelm Gabel was finishing off the head casts of the murdered prisoners.[ Trojan to Berger, 08.08.1944, NARA RG238, T81/13/164382-164385}

page 277
Hirt instructed his assistants to dissect the remainig cadavers, place them in coffins, and consign them to the incinerator, just as the corpses used in antomy lessons wre.  But before he released the bodies to his assistants, he committed a final indignity.  He pried loose the mouths of the dead prisoners and pocketed their gold teeth.... A few days later, October 21, Sievers notified Himler's staff that Hirt had complied with the orders, completely destroying the Jewish Skeleton Collection.

French troops liberated Strassburg a month later, and it was not long after this that French authorities learned that a scientific institute at the Reich University of Strassburg had been in constant contact with the Natzweiler concentration camp.  Investigators quickly descended upon Hirt's anatomy institute, combing the offices and laboratories for evidence of war crimes.  In one of the labs, they discovered sixteen cadavers of young and relatively healthy-looking men and women floating naked in containers filled with an alcohol solution.  They also found remains from another seventy bodies, including fifty-four glass microscope slides containing human testicular tissue.[NO 521 ]

Suspecting the worst, the investigators fished the bodies from the tanks, one by one, examining them carefully for clues to their identities.  Someone had cut off a patch of skin from the left arms of fifteen of the bodies.  But along the arm of one male, a tattooed concentration camp number could be clearly seen.

page 278
The Reich's foreign affairs ministry proposed fighting the ugly stories coming out of Natzweiler, hoping even then to paste together the tattered facade of Nazi respectability.  It requested a statemetn from Hirt that would somehow explain away the evidence of the atrocity, and Sivers dutifully relayed the request to the anatomist, who was safely loged, along with many of his former university colleaguers, in Tuebingen. [...]
Sievers believed that the newspaper reports of Hirt's work were mere propaganda, based solely on rumors and supicion.  Hirt, after all, had informed him that all material evidence of the skeleton collection was destroyed.  So he encouraged Hirt to pen a strong denial.  The anatomist followed the advice, for he feared that an international scandel would damage his scientific  reputation in Germany and abroad
[BA NS 21/909 most correspondence].  In his statement, he described an article in the Daily Mail disparaginlgy as a "typical atrocity story."  The corpses discovered in the anatomical insititute, he declared, were simply bodies used to teach medical students the practice of dissection.  They had been obtained from the same legal source that French anatomists had previously used to obtain cadavers. He also observed that he had conducted only animal experiments at natzweiler, and he completely denied any involvement in Rassenkunde studies.  "I do not know anything about racial reserach and never received such an order," he stated.  "The only thing which has to do with race in my insitute is the large anthropological collection of skulls which was built prior to the Frist World War." [BA NS 19/2281]

Sievers thought Hirt's blatant lies were "excellent."  But the experience seems to have instilled in the official a new sense of caution.  He ordered the staff at Mittersill to destroy all correspondence, photographs and other materials related to "the matter Auschwitz/Prof Dr Hirt Strassburg."
[BA NS 21/909 most correspondence]

page 294-295
Hirt was similarly unavailable.  In February 1945, he had suddenly left his office in Tuebingen and journeyed secretly to the Black Forest.  Thre he cached food and hid out in a hut in the woods.  From time to time, he slipped to a local farm, hungry for news of the war, until the farm's inhabitants eventually invited him to stay.  And it was there that Hirt heard the news of Germany's surrender.  Fearing arrest by the Allies, he borrowed a pistol from the farmer, then returned to the forest.  He shot himslef on June 2 1945.  The farmer who had sheltered him recovered his body and reported the death to authorities.
[Page 408 : Local officials arranged for Hirt's body to be buried, and it was not until the mid 1960s that Israeli investigators closed the books on the case.  According to medical historian Frederick Kasten, the Israeli secret service contacted officials in the Black Forest region and had them exhume the body of the man who commited suicide there in the early summer of 1945.  An Israeli pathologist conclusively identified the bones as those of Dr. August Hirt.  Kersten "Unethical nazi Medicine in Annexed Alsace-Lorraine," Historians and Archivists: Essays in Modern German History and Archival Policy, ed. George O. Kent 1991]

page 283 to 284
[German historian Rainer Karlsch has suggested that the German government did indeed succeed in building a "hybrid tactical nuclear weapon," but his contentions have been met with skepticism.  See Rainer Karlsch, Hitlers Bombe, 2005]
As a result, Himmler turned at the end of the war to a far-fetched scheme for a bizarre electrical weapon.  An obscure German compnay, elemag, had put the plan forward in mid-November 1944.  According to the firm's engineers, existing technology could be used to transform the earth's atmosphere into a giant remote-control device capable of flipping earth's atmosphere into a giant remote-control device capable of flipping the switch on the Allies' electrical equipment.  "It is established," explained the Elemag engineers, "That by removing the insulating effects of the atmosphere, one makes it impossible for any electrical device of a familiar construction and implementation to function.  the present state of technology offers the possibility of influencing the insulating material of the atmosphere for the task at hand.  It is well known that ultra-shortwave electrical vibrations of certain frequencies also develop the ability to ionize the atmosphere they permeate, thus causing a reverse electrical reaction.  In other words, they transform the insulating material of the atmosphere into a voltage conductor. [...]
The SS technicaal office mulled over the blueprints for the giant voltage conductor for weeks, searching, it seems, for some way to deliver the bad news to Himmler.  But on January 8, it was forced to issue its verdict.  The mammoth remote control was simply a fantasy - one well beyond Germany's capabilities.  Indeed, the SS staff warned, "all the means to be made available would have to be designated as lost in advance"
Himmler, however, refused to believe it.  Despite all his heavy responsibilities as a military commander, all the briefings and field reports, all the tactical and strategic planning with his officers, he immediately dispatched the proposal to Dr Werner Oseberg, head of the planning office of the Reich Research Council, requesting another opion.  Oseberg, accustomed to dealing with serious physicists, must have been astounded by the document crossing his desk.  But he clearly understood the importance that Himmler placed on the plan.  He referred the matter to two prominent German scientists - one of whom was an expert on electro-magnetic waves.
All three men submitted their reports in early February.  The idea of such an electrical weapon, noted Oseberg dryly, "is unrealizable, given the present stage of technology.  Elemag's statements themselves lack any deep understanding of the technological and physical processes involved."  [See Speer: Infiltration]

page 320 -323
Koenigstein is a pretty little Hessian town, a quiet suburban retreat for the health-conscious and the moneyed [...]  Just a month short of his ninety-first birthday, Beger kept a low profile.  He refrained from listing his name, as his neighbors did, beneath the row of door buzzers at the main entrance of his building - a fact he ommitted to mention, along with his suite number, when he agreed to see me [but appears to live with daughter] [...]
Beger seemed eager to see us, as if he had been looking foward to the meeting.  Like many old people, he enjoyed talking about his youth.  He relished chatting about his ancestors and his university years, and when we eventually brought out an assortment of photographs of the Tibet expedition that we had located in a German archive, he flipped through them with delight, describing some of the adventures that had befallen him in Tibet.  To our astonishment, he casually boasted that he still possessed the callipers and sliding compasses that he had used to perform racial measurements in Tibet.  Then, with no prompting at all, he asked his reluctant daughter to fetch one of the notebooks he had used to record racial measurements in Tibet.  Such notebooks, he explained, were often used by anthropologists of the day.  Indeed, he had received advice about using them from Theodor Mollison, the racial expert who had trained Josef Mengele.
Beger, it transpired, was not hesitant to talk about old racial theories.  He pulled out a still-treasured copy of one of Hans Guenther's books on Rassenkunde from a book cabinet.  He flipped open the pages and proudly pointed to a map that he had designed for the book as a young student.  Nor did he particularly mind talking about his ideas on the origins of the Jewish "race."  Indeed, he still believed - as he and other German Rassenkunde specialists had in the 1930s - that the Jews were a mongrel race, "with Mongoloid elements, very strong Mongoloid characteristics."
Only when the conversation finally turned and reach at last its inevitable conclusion, the Jewish Skeleton Collection and his particular role in that crime, did Beger's memory begin to falter.  But he did not stop talking.  He insisted, in a patter that sounded exceptionally well rehearsed, that he was an innocent dupe, a stooge really who had been much too trusting and naive in his dealings with Sievers and Hirt.  When he finally learned the real plans for those he has measured, he explained, "I was of course very angry.  What a bad joke to be suddenly pulled into this."  But in the awkward silence that followed, he expressed no regret, no sing of sympathy or compassion for the eighty-six Jewish men, women and children whom he had helped consign to a gas chamber at Natzweiler.  He seemed to regard them as minor supporting characters in a greater tragedy.
In the three and a half hourse I spent with Beger, his emotions only got the better of him once and that was when he began to describe his trial.  It was, he said pointedly - as if this would explain everything - "started by a Jewish lawayer."  And it was obvious that he was still baffled by his convcition, unable to fathom how anyone could think him a criminal.  Indeed he seemed to see himself as the real victim of the tragedy, aman much wronged by the judicial system and the politics of the day.  "They felt the need to convict someone," he muttered darkly.  His lawyer ahd warned him about "how the law is biased."
This hideous self-pity was terrible to witness.  We stood up and prepared to leave.  But he refuesed to let us go until he had told one final story about the trial.  When he was convicted, he explained, the court had ordered him to pay the costs of the six-month long proceeding, a heavy financial blow to Beger.  But despite months of waiting, he had never received the bill.  The reason, he claimed, lay with the trial judge, someone whom he had come to regard as a secret sympathizer.  He paused significantly, and permitted himself a smile.  The judge, he said, was the son of a German official who attended the Wannsee Conference in 1942 to discuss the coordination of the Final Solution.



Identifizierung nach 60 Jahren

86 Juden wurden 1943 im Elsass für die Skelettsammlung eines Nazi-Mediziners ermordet. Ein Tübinger Journalist fand Herkunft und Namen der Opfer heraus
STRASSBURG taz Fast auf den Tag genau 60 Jahre nach ihrer Ermordung sind endlich alle 86 Opfer identifiziert, die für die so genannten Skelettsammlung des Nazi-Mediziners August Hirt 1943 vergast wurden. Die 29 Frauen und 57 Männer waren von Auschwitz nach Struthof im Elsass gebracht und dort umgebracht worden (Hintergrundbericht in der taz vom 27. 6. 03). Hirt war Professor der Anatomie an der Reichsuniversität Straßburg, die die Nationalsozialisten nach der Besetzung des Elsass einrichteten. Seine ursprüngliche pseudowissenschaftliche Argumentation für die "Sammlung": Nach der Ausrottung der Juden sollte der jüdische Körperbau für Forschungszwecke erhalten bleiben.
Der Anatomiemitarbeiter Henri Henripierre hatte 1943 heimlich eine Liste mit den eintätowierten Nummern der Leichen angefertigt. Das war dem Tübinger Journalisten und Historiker Hans-Joachim Lang, der in den 80er-Jahren zu Hirt geforscht hatte, bekannt. Da die französischen Archive noch 50 Jahre geschlossen sind, konnte Lang seine Recherchen zur Identität der Opfer von Hirts Vorhaben erst beginnen, nachdem dem Washingtoner Holocaust-Museum ein Mikrofilm dieser Liste zugespielt wurde. Mit den Nummern lassen sich Rückschlüsse auf Transportverzeichnisse und sonstigen Nazi-Dokumente ziehen.
Langs Ergebnissen zufolge waren 48 jüdische Opfer aus Thessaloniki, 24 aus Berlin, sieben Frauen waren aus Malines in Belgien, fünf Männer kamen aus den polnischen Orten Oranczyce, Bialystok und Neudorf, je zwei Männer aus Westerbork in den Niederlanden und aus Drancy bei Paris. Einer war aus dem norwegischen Bergen.
Durch Recherchen in den jeweiligen Ländern konnte Lang nun herausfinden, wer die Getöteten waren. Auf der Konferenz "Der Schrecken der Nazimedizin", die in Straßburg stattfand, wurden die Namen der 86 Menschen vorgelesen. Stehend würdigten die 400 Anwesenden die späte Verneigung vor den Toten.
"Die Nazis haben aus diesen Menschen Nummern gemacht, wir wollen ihnen ihre Identität wieder zurückgeben", sagt der Psychotherapeut Roland Knebusch, einer der Organisatoren der Konferenz. In seinem Vortrag appelliert er an die Verantwortung der Mediziner. Ihre Bereitschaft zu inhumanem Handeln habe entscheidend zum Holocaust beigetragen. Den Auftrag der Medizin, den Menschen zu heilen, hätten sie verraten.
Wie komplex die Aufarbeitung der Naziverbrechen ist, machte der überraschende Auftritt von Hubert Henripierre deutlich - dem Sohn des Anatomiemitarbeiters, der die in den französischen Archiven weggeschlossene Liste der eintätowierten Nummern aufgeschrieben hatte. Der 50-Jährige, der in der Nähe von Straßburg wohnt, hatte im Radio von der Konferenz gehört und war gekommen, weil er die gesuchten Zahlenreihen bei sich zu Hause hatte. Dazu auch die ganzen Aufzeichnungen seines Vaters. Alle Facetten des Schreckens, auch des eigenen, sollen in dem Manuskript festgehalten sein, sagt der medienscheue Sohn. Kein Verlag hatte die Erinnerungen bisher veröffentlichen wollen. Als sein Vater starb, vermachte er seinen Körper der Anatomie, weil er den gleichen Weg gehen wollte wie die Menschen, die er nicht hatte retten können.
Roland Knebusch: "Wir wollen diesen Menschen ihre Identität zurückgeben"

No comments:

Post a Comment