After WWII, corpses of 86 Holocaust victims were found in the Institute of Anatomy in Strasbourg and burried in the Cronenbourg cemetery. Selected in Auschwitz, in 1943, the 29 women and 57 men were gassed in the Natzweiler Struthof concentration camp for the skeleton collection in the former german Reichsuniversitaet Strassburg. The institute was directed by SS Obersturmbannfuhrer, Prof. August Hirt, who was the initiator of the crime. Dr Hans-Joachim Lang identified the victims in 2004. Eleven years later Dr. Raphael Toledano, french researcher, found together with the director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine three small glass containers, in which tiny bits of leftovers from a human stomach and five small pieces of skin were preserved, which can be attributed to Menachem Taffel, one of the 86 victims. These samples come from the autopsies, taken by French forensic scientists after the discovery of the corpses.
What is your connection to the city of Strasbourg ?
My researches about the 86 victims of the SS-“Ahnenerbe” since about 20 years. This was a research done by my own, I did it during my free time. Mainly I have been a newspaper journalist, focus science. Now I am a Honorary Professor, no longer journalist. Focal points of my researches are Shoah and medical experiments in Block 10/Auschwitz. Second: I am a member of the international historical commission at the university about medicine at the Reichsuniversität Strassburg.
Where you surprised by the resistance of the Faculté de médecine de Strasbourg to reopen their archives ?
We must differ two periods: During my researches for my book “Die Namen der Nummern”, which was published in 2004, the University of Strasbourg as well as other stately institutions in France didn’t like to cooperate. They did not answere to my request. Exception were the National Archives in Paris. At time I don’t see any problems. The cooperation in the commission historique is supported by the confidence that the research about the history of the german Reichsuniversitaet is of mutual interest.
Was it easier to work with the archives of Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ?
During my own researches many years ago it was indeed easier to work in all other archives than in french archives. Because of more liberal laws for using files in archives. Only the Archive of the International Red Cross in Bad Arolsen was for long time a big problem. But during the researches for my book about Block 10 some years later it was easy to work there, times have changed.
The collection of human beings of the american neonazi Ed Gein who inspired movies as Psycho, Silence of the lambs, Chainsawmassacre, Maniac or American Psycho is considered as the delirium of a psychopath. The french psychiatrist George Federmann says August Hirt on the contrary was definitely normal. Do you agree with that ?
I don’t know what means “definitely normal”. I agree that Hirt was a human beeing and not a devil or a monster. Nevertheless: A man who decides to kill people in order to build up a rassian collection cannot be named “normal”. Okay, he had a normal career as a scientist, at least before his time at the Reichsuniversitaet. As a judge I would say he was fully resonsible for what he has done. And to say “fully responsible” does not mean ill. He had turned to a criminal. But is a criminal normal?
Did Bruno Beger, phrenologist and member of the expedition of Himmler and the Ahnenerbe in Tibet to find the biological origins of the aryans, initiate the project of the skeleton collection ?
We have no source to say sure who was the initiator. But because of a lot of evidences and the circumstantial situation I do not agree to Michael Kater, who assumes that Bruno Beger was the initiator of the collection. I assume that it was August Hirt who wanted to extend the historian collection in Strasbourg in the sense of “modern aspects” how Hirt named it in January 1945 in a letter. We know what the “modern aspects” are meaning: the rassian aspects oft he Nazi-ideology. Beger was not a harmless scientist but he had other interests than Hirt.