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NYMC Commemorates Yom Hashaoh

group photo of presenters at Yom Hashoah

The New York Medical College community commemorated Yom Hashaoh, Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 17, with a powerful lecture by guest speaker Howard Israel, D.D.S., second from right, who presented "The Origins of Pernkopf's Anatomy Atlas and The Role of Nazi Medicine in the Holocaust." Dr. Israel, professor of clinical surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, adjunct professor and course director for pain and anxiety control at Touro College of Dental Medicine at New York Medical College, and director of the New York Institute of Clinical Oral Pathology, is internationally known for his work as a clinical researcher and expert in the field of temporomandibular joint disorders, surgery and arthroscopy. He is regarded as an important voice in bioethics for his key role in the discovery and recognition of the Nazi origins of the famous classic anatomy book, Pernkopf's Anatomy, leading to many other discoveries and issues surrounding biomedical ethics. View the 2018 Yom Hashoah photo gallery and video.

Dr. Israel recalled his days as a dental student at Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery in the early 1970s when he first came across the anatomy atlas known for its fine detailed drawings. Later he heard a rumor about the author of the atlas being a Nazi and the cadavers illustrated in the book being victims of political terror. Dr. Israel set out to find more and to his horror he found old editions of the book in the library of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center with Nazi symbolism embedded in the artists’ signatures, which were airbrushed out of later editions, like the one he had faithfully used.

So began Dr. Israel’s decades long international investigation and collaborations leading to a letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an article in The New York Times and other international attention. It also prompted an official investigation of the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Vienna where Eduard Pernkopk was the director.

Marie T. Ascher, M.S., M.P.H., left, the Lillian Hetrick Huber Endowed Director of the Health Sciences Library opened the program recounting how in 1996, the Health Sciences Library at New York Medical College and medical libraries around the world received a letter from the University of Vienna regarding an item in their collection Topographic Human Anatomy by Eduard Pernkopf, along with an enclosure describing newly discovered information about the origins and nature of this atlas to inform users and allow them to determine ethically whether and how they might consider to use this work.

Dr. Israel urged the audience to read  the “Vienna Protocol” by Rabbi Joseph A. Polak, Hillel rabbi emeritus at Boston University, which outlines how to deal with finding Jewish remains and addresses the use of images such as those in the Pernkopf atlas and concluded it is up to the individual to make their own decision to use or not use Pernkopf's Anatomy but with the knowledge and memory of how it was created.

Photo from left: Marie T. Ascher, M.S., M.P.H., the Lillian Hetrick Huber Endowed Director of the Health Sciences Library; Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., chancellor and chief executive officer; Matthew Pravetz, O.F.M., Ph.D. ’88, professor of cell biology and anatomy, program director and assistant dean for basic sciences; Anne Bayefsky, director, Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust; and Rabbi Moshe D. Krupka, executive vice president, Touro College and University System.