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Academic Medicine During the Nazi Period and Implications for Today | Prof. Dr. Volker Roelcke

Prof. Dr. Roelcke, Chair and Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine at the University of Giessen in Germany, is an expert in medicine and the Holocaust, particularly as it relates to psychiatry. He describes the rationale and behavior of influential academic physicians during the Third Reich as well as the response of academic medicine to the revelations of Nazi medical crimes.

German academic physicians promoted eugenics, or racial hygiene as it was known in Germany, for decades before Hitler came to power. They promoted contributions to the Volkskörper by the “fit” and segregating or eliminating those who appeared to endanger the health of the race, understood as a collective organism. Hitler adopted these eugenic ideas with murderous results.

Myths have been developed to protect academic medicine from a careful examination of the role of physicians in designing and implementing the Holocaust. For example, one myth is that the medical atrocities were committed by a few fervent Nazi doctors as a result of irrational ideologies imposed from above by Nazi politicians on apolitical physicians. While this myth may be comforting, all parts of it are untrue.

Dr. William Seidelman also addresses the responsibilities of academic medicine. Prof. Dr. Roelcke’s essay on this topic can be found in Medicine after the Holocaust: From the Master Race to the Human Genome and Beyond, and his personal story about his advocacy for study medicine and the Holocaust and about his Nazi physician father can be found in Human Subjects Research after the Holocaust.

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