Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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central Asians. The relatively high priority of the project is suggested by Eichmann's having been involved in its arrangements.42

The whole enterprise, bizarre even by Nazi standards, was sponsored by the Ahnenerbe (“ancestral heritage”) office of the SS, which Himmler had created in 1939 to develop “historical” and “scientific” studies of the “Nordic Indo-Germanic race.” Ahnenerbe brought mystical concepts to science (“the unity of soul and body, mind and blood”) and combined the Gestapo mission of controlling Germany’s intellectual life with Himmler’s visionary ideas. It supported projects in archeology, German racial consciousness outside of Germany proper, and medical experiments in concentration camps. Under Himmler’s orders, Ahnenerbe even came to sponsor a research program making use of Jewish mathematicians in concentration camps to work out theoretical problems of rocket production. Experiments in camps that it sponsored included Dr. Sigmund Rascher’s notorious research in Dachau on the effects of high altitude, in which he wantonly killed experimental subjects; and the still more murderous work of Schuler in Buchenwald on typhus vaccines, in which six hundred people were killed.43

Hirt was said to have been brought into Ahnenerbe by a man who became his assistant in the Strasbourg project — Bruno Beger, an SS officer on Himmler’s personal staff who had been sent to study anthropology in Berlin. Beger tended to embrace Himmler’s wildest theories, and it was Beger who made the original arrangements in Auschwitz and perhaps wrote under Hirt’s name the extraordinary memo I have just quoted.44

A former ardent Nazi, who remembered Hirt as a good friend and colleague during their days together as young instructors at a leading German medical center, described him as originally Swiss but a naturalized German, “a Nordic type with blue eyes and fair hair,” an honorable and stable man even if at times “a bit impulsive,” and an excellent anatomist with a promising academic career. A colleague of my own in the United States, however, who had studied under Hirt, remembered him as a very arrogant and threatening Nazi. In any case, there is no doubt about either Hirt’s passionate Nazi involvement or the centrality of the Nazi biomedical vision in his participation in the “museum” project, even if Beger was its driving force. (Precisely that centrality was what Hirt’s old friend wished to deny in his insistence that Hirt’s entire behavior could be understood as, an expression of the callousness of the anatomist.)

Toward the end of the war, there was apparently some confusion about whether and how much to continue with research procedures, and eventually the evidence was ordered to be destroyed. But that process could not be completed, and French forces liberating Strasbourg found in Hirt’s dissection room “many wholly unprocessed corpses,” many “partly-processed corpses,” and a few that had been “defleshed … late in 1944,” and their heads burned to avoid any possibility of identification — with “special care taken to remove the number tattooed on the left  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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