World War II Museum Debuts “Deadly Medicine” Exhibit on Nazi Experiments

Starting today, the Tulane School of Medicine is teaming up with the National World War II Museum to present an exhibit about eugenics and the “science of race” in the Nazi regime.

“Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” is a traveling exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It will be in New Orleans until Oct. 15.

Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, the museum’s president and CEO, said “The Nazis’ perversion of medicine to support their twisted racial theories was a nefarious, yet little known aspect of their Final Solution. ‘Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race’ illuminates this dark chapter in history and provides insights that can help fight any future attempts to change the practice of medicine from a healing art to a racist one.”

Eugenics began in the early 20th century and was adopted by the Nazis.

Starting in 1933, the Nazis attempted to weed out those viewed as biological threats to the German master race. Physicians, medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists and anthropologists were enlisted in the plan, which started with mass sterilization of “hereditarily diseased” people and culminated in the mass extermination of most of European Jewry.

“Eugenics was a false science,” Mueller said. “If groups of people could be labeled ‘sub-human,’ they could then be exterminated or experimented upon without guilt. The corruption of medical ethics in Germany during WWII, as documented in this exhibit, should horrify everyone. But it must be recalled and remembered.”

“Deadly Medicine explores the Holocaust’s roots in then-contemporary scientific and pseudo-scientific thought,” explained exhibition curator Susan Bachrach. “At the same time, it touches on complex ethical issues we face today, such as how societies acquire and use scientific knowledge and how they balance the rights of the individual with the needs of the larger community.”

There will be several special presentations in conjunction with the exhibit. On Aug. 27, Arthur Caplan will speak on “Justifying the Unthinkable: The ‘ethics’ of Nazi medical experimentation.” Many of those who were involved in the Holocaust were competent physicians and sciences with strong moral convictions. Caplan will explore why they felt their actions were morally right.

Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. Among his 24 books is the 1992 work “When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics And The Holocaust.” His presentation will be at 5 p.m. at the Tulane School of Medicine auditorium.

On Sept. 6, Holocaust survivor Eva Kor will speak at the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion on “Ethics in Medicine and Research: Lessons from Dr. Mengele’s Lab.” She and her twin sister had been subject to human experimentation by Mengele in Auschwitz.

There will be a 5 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. program and book signing to follow. Reservations can be made by calling (504) 528-1944, ext. 229.

Is it ever appropriate to use data collected by the Nazis in current research? Baruch Cohen, Los Angeles civil trial attorney, will explore that question from the standpoint of Jewish ethics in a Sept. 13 presentation.

On Sept. 20, Laurie Zoloth, director of the Brady Program in Ethics and Public Life at Northwestern University, will present “The Thief of the Future: The Holocaust, Women, Reproductive Science, Eugenics and the State.”

The special events conclude on Oct. 11 with a panel discussion on how modern bodies of law and regulation of research are developed in response to the Nazi atrocities.