German Docs Apologize for Colleagues' Actions in WW2

Doctors visiting Israel offer apology in name of Germany's medical profession for the persecution of Jewish colleagues during the Holocaust.

Yochi Shirazi

While visiting Israel last week, a delegation of the German Medical Association apologized to local physicians for the conduct of German doctors and their treatment of Jewish colleagues during the Holocaust.

The official reason given for the visit by the GMA, led by the organization's president Prof. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, was to invite representatives of the Israel Medical Association to attend a conference in Berlin next year, celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In the course of the visit it turned out, however, that the main reason for the trip was to offer this apology, in the name of Germany's medical profession. “They supposedly arrived here to invite us to the conference, but they surprised us. We didn’t think they were coming here to apologize for the past, which they did during our meeting,” said IMA chairman Leonid Edelman.

In the course of his speech, Montgomery said that German doctors must not forget the immoral conduct that took place during the rule of the National Socialists, as well as their non-collegial behavior toward Jewish doctors. He ended his words with a formal apology.

The GMA, the body that grants licences for practicing medicine in Germany, is an offshoot of the same institution in Nazi Germany that persecuted Jewish doctors, adhering to the laws that gradually limited the latter's ability to treat patients and eventually revoking the doctor's licenses in the late 1930s.

“This is obviously a serious trauma for them,” Dr. Edelman noted. “One member of the delegation related how when he became the head of the Hamburg branch of the GMA, his predecessor gave him a key to a safe, telling him that this was the most important thing he had to give him. The safe contained a list of Jewish doctors whose licenses had been revoked during the Holocaust.”

The visiting delegation and their local hosts went on to discuss various subjects, such as younger German doctors and their attitude to the Holocaust.

“The apology that was offered by the GMA, especially while visiting Israel, is an important and significant step,” declared Dr. Miriam Ofer, an expert on Jewish medicine during the Holocaust and a lecturer at the Western Galilee College. “After the war, for many decades, there was no organizational effort to deal with the behavior of German doctors during that period, although there were some attempts by individuals.”

According to Ofer, whose book “White Coat in the Ghetto,” will be published soon, German doctors were an inseparable part of the criminal Nazi establishment. "That was preceded by a long downward slide toward racist medicine which excluded Jewish doctors from practicing medicine or conducting research,” Ofer added.

She also noted that the conduct of German doctors in the service of the Nazis exceeded mere bad treatment of non-Aryan colleagues.

“German doctors assisted in accelerating many processes. We are talking about almost 400,000 sterilizations within the framework of the bio-racist vision. [There was] the euthanizing of mentally ill and retarded people, officially put at 80,000 cases, as well as another 200,000 people who were put to death by starvation within an ethnic-purification project. This was carried out at six centers in which doctors played a major role. They gave approval and offered diagnoses. Subsequently, those physicians took their experience in euthanasia to the death camps," said Ofer.

"They were involved in experiments aimed at perfecting the Aryan race, as well as carrying out selections, dressed in their white coats. There are claims that they played a role in the construction of the Warsaw Ghetto, by suggesting that Jews carry typhus and must thus be isolated behind a wall," she added.

In a related development, France is undertaking to compensate victims of the Holocaust who were deported from France to the death camps on trains run by the French state railway company. According to a new agreement between France and the United States, a fund of $60 million is being set up to offer compensation to thousands of survivors living in the U.S., Canada and Israel, or to their families. The individual payouts could total as much as $100,000. In exchange, the U.S. will lift restrictions that have banned the participation of French transport group Keolis in a construction venture in Maryland. The accord still needs to be ratified by the French parliament.

Between 1941 and 1944, French trains transported some 76,000 European Jews from France to Germany, from where they were taken in other trains to the death camps. Only a few thousand survived the war.