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The documentation of Nazi medicine by German medical sociologists: A review article

  • History
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


Research by medical sociologists, historians, and representatives of other disciplines in Hamburg, West Germany, is reviewed as an example of ongoing detailed exploration of health and social policies under the Nazis which resulted in devastating human consequences, and of a continuing impact on present official policies and actions. An almost total silence by organized West German medicine about its role during the national socialist regime, and the failure of many administrators, university researchers, and a large segment of the general public since then to deal with the past and its consequences conscientiously were turned into a focal charge during a congress on health held in Berlin in 1980 under the auspices of politically and socially concerned professional individuals. The resulting documentation of the facts and their publication in a series of books and articles is a part of the effort to allow Germans to face their past, and to relate it to the long shadows cast into the present. The Hamburg reports reveal details of specific past activities and illustrate the repeated failures to hold individuals acountable for their participation in irresponsible health administrative acts and medical practices as well as the denials of the persons concerned and their retention in public and professional roles. The ongoing general historical debates in West Germany concerned with the proper interpretation of Nazi history illustrate the significance of the specific research tasks adopted by these medical social scientists and historians. Though not further explored in this review, the theoretical implications of these reports for the systematic study of medical systems is illustrated by abstraction of basic issues addressed in these research efforts.

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