The Monday Book: DOCTORS FROM HELL by Vivien Spitz

It’s bound to be Monday somewhere (the Monday book on Tuesday) a guest blog by Jack

I suppose, as a Quaker, I’m always interested in how folk can be persuaded to treat other human beings badly, or even kill them. Of course it usually requires the creation of the ‘other’ – on racial or religious grounds and the application of the state propaganda through a compliant media. It also helps to have a large segment of society that feels hard done by. Then you need a strongly hierarchical society where it becomes particularly hard to ‘buck the system’!

Spitz was a young court reporter at the Nuremberg Trials – specifically the follow-up trials of the doctors and health professionals who carried out a series of dreadful experiments on concentration camp internees and prisoners of war. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was impressed that she didn’t shy away from the fact that the dubious ‘science’ of Eugenics wasn’t pioneered in Germany, but in the US. She also touches on experiments that were carried out without permission in the US after WW2 on some groups as well as by Japan during the war.

I’ve never believed that there was something uniquely different about the German population in the 1930s and 40s that made them somehow different from the rest of humanity. I often wonder how I would have behaved if I had been living there and then.

The main defense that was put forward by the defendants during the trials Spitz reported on revolved around two things. First, that they were fighting a war and were ordered to carry out certain actions and had to comply. Secondly that, as doctors, they believed they were acting for the ‘greater good’ – they could help many by sacrificing a few.

Some of the accused were found guilty and others were acquitted. Of those found guilty some were sentenced to death and others to long jail sentences.

But others who might have been tried at Nuremberg were never brought to trial. Some escaped to South America and others were recruited by the US, the UK and the Soviet Union as useful assets for the next war. Most famously, Werner van Braun became the hero of the US space industry bringing  the expertise he gained on the back of prisoners from the camps who died in their thousands building his V2 rockets for the Nazi cause.

Per Ardua ad Astra instead of Arbeit Macht Frei?

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