The Nazi Book Of Anatomy: It’s Still In Use Despite Having A Dark History
Many surgeons use this book with the complex hand-drawn illustrations – showing the human body peeled back layer by layer. Skin, muscle, tendons, nerves, organs and bone are revealed in graphic detail. It’s not for the faint-hearted, says BBC.
It is widely considered to be the best example of anatomical drawings in the world. It is richer in detail and more vivid in colour than any other.
This book, having several volumes, is no longer in print and can sell for thousands of pounds online. Yet despite its hefty asking price, few would proudly display it in their clinic, library or home. Why? Because the book’s findings came from the bodies of hundreds of people killed by the Nazis. It is their bodies – cut up and dissected – that are shown across thousands of pages.
The book, Pernkopf Topographic Anatomy of Man, was a 20-year project of a prominent Nazi and doctor, Eduard Pernkopf, who rose through the academic ranks in Austria thanks to his support for Adolf Hitler’s party.
His colleagues described him as an “ardent” National Socialist who, from 1938, wore a Nazi uniform to work every day.
When he was made dean of the medical school at the University of Vienna, he sacked all the Jewish members of the faculty, including three Nobel laureates.
In 1939, a new Third Reich law ensured the bodies of all executed prisoners were immediately sent to the nearest department of anatomy for research and teaching purposes.
During this period Pernkopf worked 18-hour days dissecting corpses, while a team of artists created images for his book. Sometimes the anatomy institute was so full, executions had to be postponed.
Dr Sabine Hildebrandt, from Harvard Medical School, says at least half of the 800 images in the atlas came from political prisoners. They included gay men and lesbians, gypsies, political dissidents and Jews.
According to BBC, thousands of copies of the atlas were sold across the world, and it was translated into five languages. Prefaces and introductions in the books describe “pictorially impressive drawings… and outstanding pieces of art” while eschewing any mention of their bloody past.
It was only in the 1990s that students and academics really began questioning who the people in the atlas were. After the brutal history was revealed, the atlas went out of publication in 1994.
The Royal College of Surgeons says the atlas is not in use in the UK, apart from being retained by libraries for historical purposes.
However, BCC says, a recent Neurosurgery survey of nerve surgeons found 59 per cent were aware of Pernkopf’s Atlas, with 13 per cent currently using it.
Of those surveyed, 69 per cent said they were comfortable using the atlas once they were made aware of its history, 15 per cent were uncomfortable and 17 per cent were undecided.