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NYMC and TU Analyze Impact of Nuremberg Trials During Yom Hashoah Observance

2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the trials.

May 09, 2022
Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., and Mr. Boaz Nagar

Marie T. Ascher, M.S., M.P.H., the Lillian Hetrick Huber Endowed director of the Health Sciences Library and Sheldon Rubenfeld, M.D., FACP, clinical professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and executive director of the Center for Medicine after the Holocaust, presented opening remarks. Dr. Rubenfeld called the Nuremberg Trials a “watershed event” in the history of medical ethics and spoke about the impact of “unsung hero” John W. Thompson, M.D., a member of the Canadian Air Force who laid the groundwork for the trials after deeming much of the research done by Nazi physicians as criminal. “Without [Dr. Thompson], there would not have been a trial,” Dr. Rubenfeld said.

After the memorial candle lighting by Anne Bayefsky, M.A., L.L.B., director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, who recited the poem Who Am I To Speak of a Time? and the Blessing of the Yellow Candle, members of the audience were given an insightful overview of the trials by Margot Lurie, School of Medicine (SOM) Class of 2024. In her presentation “Overview of ‘The Doctors’ Trial’ also known as ‘USA vs Karl Brandt,’” Ms. Lurie provided historical context on eugenics before the trials, the outcomes of the trials and the Nuremberg Code.

A deeper look into the trials and the Nuremberg code was given by George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights at Boston University's Schools of Public Health, Medicine and Law during his presentation, “The Nuremberg Doctors Trials and the Birth of Bioethics.” He described how the code gave rights to human research subjects that included informed consent and the right to withdraw from any study, and how the dehumanization of victims, in this case, Jewish people, is prevalent when large numbers of people are killed. “[Victims have to be made] subspecies, made to be animals, made to be not human,” Dr. Annas said. “We’ve done that ourselves as Americans [in war]. We have managed to dehumanize the enemy and act in a way that is revolting to the average American.”

John Q. Barrett, J.D., Benjamin N. Cardozo Professor of Law at St. John’s University, provided a different look at the initial Nuremberg trial before the subsequent “doctors’ trials” and focused on the pivotal role played by Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson as chief prosecutor for the United States in the trials of Nazi physicians, who is credited with being a driving force in the trials.

The psychology behind the Holocaust and how the Nazi physicians thought was broken down by renowned psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton, M.D. '48, author of The Nazi Doctors. Dr. Lifton, who has spoken to Nazi physicians himself for his research, explained how they believed that they were benefitting others by murdering Jews. “It is extremely difficult to kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue. Ideology offers that claim to virtue, in this case, one of healing the Nordic race in a way that allegedly benefits all of humankind. A Nazi physician could thus see himself as an idealist,” Dr. Lifton said.

Boaz Nagar, spoke of the experience of Mr. Nagar’s father, Shalom, who as a prison guard was involved with the execution of Adolf Eichmann, one of the primary orchestrators of the Holocaust. Mr. Boaz Nagar said that his father stayed strong in his faith despite the execution being deeply traumatic for him and that this instance represented a different aspect of the aftermath of the Holocaust. “[My father] had nothing to do with the war in Europe nor the tragedy that happened there, but he made a significant contribution to the justice that came after it,” Mr. Nagar said.

A robust Q&A session was hosted by Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., chancellor and chief executive officer, that covered renaming diseases that are named after Nazi-affiliated doctors and prosecution of international war crimes past and present.

Rabbi Moshe D. Krupka, M.S., executive vice president, closed the event by recounting the story of Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, M.D., a Jewish dentist from Poland who saved hundreds of lives in concentration camps, even after her family was killed. “Dr. Bimko was a victim. She reached down deep and found the strength to peel away at the pain, to peel away at the adversity,” Rabbi Krupka said. “Dr. Bimko understood that this is the mission of mankind to help others.”

Yom Hashoah 2022