No matter how you twist or turn it, when you are complicit to a crime, you are just as guilty as the perpetrator, and perhaps even more guilty because you were an enabler of that crime.
Hermann Stieve was Director of the Berlin Institute of Anatomy from 1935 to 1952, which was from the early days of the Third Reich until 7 years after the war.
His research on the female reproductive system is controversial, as some of his scientific insights derived from histological investigations on the genital organs of executed women. These investigations were made possible by the sharp increase in executions during the “Third Reich.” Stieve’s research was methodologically accurate and contributed significantly to contemporary scientific debates. Nevertheless, his use of the organs of execution victims, some of them resistance fighters, benefited from the Nazi justice system. He thus indirectly supported this system of injustice.
Charlotte Pommer , a young physician, who had been an assistant to Dr Stieve, reported after the war.
“On 22nd of December 1942 eleven men were hanged and five women decapitated. Fifteen minutes later they were laid out on the dissection tables in the anatomical institute. [She] lay on the first table, […] on the third table the big lifeless body of her husband […] I felt paralyzed and could hardly assist Professor Stieve, who – as always- carried out his scientific exploration with great care and uncommon diligence […] After the impressions of that night I resigned from my position”
Stieve wanted to study human organs. He was able to get some donated uteruses and ovaries from the bodies of accident victims, or from surgeons who had removed them. One of the best historical sources of organs for research, the bodies of executed criminals, had not been available during the early years of his research as the Weimar government made very minimal use of the death penalty, and did not execute any women. In a 1931 letter Stieve complained that it was difficult to get a set of ovaries from a healthy woman.
After the National Socialist regime came to power in January 1933, one of its first goals was the reorganization of the universities. Leadership of the universities was taken away from the individual German states and centralized within the Ministry of Education in Berlin, which was also responsible for the anatomical institutes. This included research funding, recruitment of faculty, and the professional society, the Anatomische Gesellschaft. In terms of the body procurement, the Ministry of Education shared this responsibility with the Ministry of Justice, when bodies from prisons and executions were concerned. All science was to be aligned with NS doctrine and to be utilized for war purposes.
Stieve, who had accepted a professorship at what is now Humboldt University of Berlin as well as the directorship of its anatomical institute, reached an agreement with administrators at Plötzensee Prison outside the city to accept all bodies of those shot, hanged or beheaded, many of them political prisoners. Others were “Polish and Russian slave laborers executed for such acts as socializing with German women,” according to Seidelman. Over the entire Nazi era that came to around 3,000 victims, many more bodies than Stieve needed for research purposes. It is alleged that during his research he claimed the corpses of 182 victims of the Nazi regime, 174 of whom were women at the age rank from 18 to 68, two thirds of victims were of German origin.
I just want to focus n 2 of his subjects.
Liane Berkowitz, a German resistance fighter and was most notable for being was a member of the Berlin-based pro-soviet resistance group that coalesced around Harro Schulze-Boysen, that was later called the Red Orchestra by the Abwehr. Arrested and sentenced to death, she was executed shortly after she gave birth to a daughter in custody.
The young mother was executed in Plötzensee Prison at 7.45 p.m on 5 August 1943, two days before her 19th birthday.
Liane’s daughter Irina was born on 12 April 1943 in the women’s prison on Barnimstraße.[The grandmother took care of the child from July 1943. As the Reichskriegsgericht pronounced the sentence recommendation when checking with Adolf Hitler to dismiss the pregnant Liane Berkowitz from prison, he expressly rejected any reprieve. The death sentence was confirmed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and countersigned. Her body was delivered to Hermann Stieve to be dissected for research. Her final resting place is unknown. Her daughter Irina died on 16 October 1943 in hospital in Eberswalde under unclear circumstances.
Mildred “Mili” Elizabeth Fish-Harnack was an American literary historian, author, translator, and resistance fighter, born in Wisconsin. After marrying Arvid Harnack, she moved with him to Germany, where she began her career as an academic. Fish-Harnack spent a year at the University of Jena and the University of Giessen working on her doctoral thesis. At Giessen, she witnessed the beginnings of Nazism. In 1930, the couple moved to Berlin and Fish-Harnack became an assistant lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Berlin. In the early 1930s, the couple became increasingly interested in the Soviet communist system. Harnack established a writers’ group that studied the Soviet planned economy, and the couple were able to arrange a visit to the Soviet Union during August 1932 and by 1933 they were fully committed to Soviet ideology. Through contacts at the American embassy, Fish-Harnack became friends with Martha Dodd, who became a part of her salon where they discussed current affairs. In 1936, Fish-Harnack’s translation of Irving Stone’s biography of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life, was published.
In 1938, the couple began to resist Nazism. They became friends with Louise and Donald Heath, who was First Secretary at the embassy, and to whom Harnack passed economic intelligence from his position at the Reich Trade Ministry. By 1940, the couple came into contact with other anti-fascist resistance groups and cooperated with them. The most important of these was run by German air force officer Harro Schulze-Boysen. Like numerous groups in other parts of the world, the undercover political factions led by Harnack and Schulze-Boysen later developed into an espionage network that collaborated with Soviet intelligence. Fish-Harnack became a resistance fighter as a member of a Berlin anti-fascist espionage group, later called the Red Orchestra (Rote Kapelle) by the Abwehr. The couple were arrested in September 1942 and executed shortly after.
On 7 September 1942, the Harnacks were arrested by the Gestapo at the seaside village of Preila on the Curonian Spit.
Harnack was sentenced to death on 19 December after a four-day trial before the Reichskriegsgericht (“Reich Military Tribunal”), and was executed three days later at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. Fish-Harnack was initially given six years in prison, but Adolf Hitler refused to endorse the sentence and ordered a new trial, which resulted in a death sentence on 16 January 1943.She was beheaded by guillotine on 16 February 1943. While she was imprisoned, She was the only American woman executed on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler.
After her execution, her body was released to Hermann Stieve to be dissected for his research into the effects of stress, such as awaiting execution, on the menstrual cycle. After he was finished, he gave what was left to a friend of hers, who had the remains buried in Berlin’s Zehlendorf Cemetery.
Unlike the research of Nazi scientists who became obsessed with racial typing and Aryan superiority, Stieve’s work didn’t end up in the dustbin of history. The tainted origins of this research, along with other studies and education that capitalized on the Nazi supply of human body parts—continue to haunt German and Austrian science, which is only now fully grappling with the implications. Some of the facts, amazingly, are still coming to light. And some German, Austrian, and Polish universities have yet to face up to the likely presence of the remains of Hitler’s victims, their cell and bone and tissue, in university collections that still exist today.
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