In the 75 years since the liberation of Europe at the end of World War II, the prominent role of health professionals in eugenics, mass murder of the disabled, heinous medical experimentation, and ultimately genocide has had a pervasive influence on contemporary-era medical ethics. Most famously, the 1947 Nuremberg Code remains a key development in the recognition of human dignity and protection of human participants in research. But the legacy of health professionals’ involvement in the Holocaust also influences modern thinking and regulations regarding genetics, beginning and end-of-life care, medico-economic policy, public health programs and much more. Yet, only a minority of medical schools worldwide require any education about the transgressions by health professionals during the Holocaust, despite its ongoing relevance and even despite numerous subsequent episodes of medical participation in war crimes such as torture and other violations of Hippocratic ethics.
The aim of this scholarship program is to provide critically relevant education about, exposure to, and reflection on the roles of health professionals in the Holocaust for medical and other health professions students and physicians-in-training. This training will inform the next generation of physicians and other health professionals about the role of Nazi medicine in state-sanctioned genocide; explore the sociocultural, economic, and political factors that led to the rise of Nazism, including medical support for programs based in eugenics and racism that were widely-supported by physicians worldwide; describe the early and prominent support by and involvement of the mainstream German medical establishment in the Nazi regime; and contemplate the ongoing clinical and ethical implications for the profession of medicine, patient care and research involving human participants.
This new scholarship program is linked with the successful Medical Review Auschwitz Project (to learn more please visit www.mp.pl/auschwitz). This project includes an annual international conference Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire (the “MRA Conference”). The MRA Conference is organized to educate the world’s medical community about the ongoing ethical implications of the behavior of physicians and other medical professionals during the Second World War. With a focus on Nazi German concentration camps and imprisonment facilities, and the unique opportunity for immersive visits to key historical sites, this learning enterprise engages the ongoing lessons of this dark chapter in medicine for contemporary medical practice and healthcare policy, bringing together international scholars and leaders in education from Poland, the United States, Israel and other countries. Specifically, the conference is organized by the Polish Institute of Evidence-Based Medicine, the Kraków Medical Society, the Institute of National Remembrance and the medical publisher Medycyna Praktyczna, in collaboration with the Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics (Haifa), the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics, the University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities, the Jagiellonian University Medical College, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and the Polish Association for Spiritual Care in Medicine.
The key elements of the scholarship program for students and trainees centered around the MRA Conference includes pre-conference introductory learning, an experiential learning component in Poland including exploration of key sites providing context for the rise of Nazism and the location of concentration camps surrounding Krakow, a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex with a focus on areas of relevance for Nazi medicine, attendance at the MRA conference, participation in small group reflection and debriefing sessions for students and trainees to derive personal and professional lessons, and post-trip follow-up including plans for and completion of a writing assignment or other educational project of relevance to ongoing education. Depending on the unique requirements of each participating university, credit may be available for coursework and study related to this learning experience.
By the end of this program, participants will:
- Understand the social, professional, economic, and political context surrounding the prominent role of health professionals and scientists in the state-sanctioned programs of eugenics, experimentation, and ultimately genocide during World War II;
- Appreciate the scope and impact of health professionals in the planning and enactment of the Holocaust through visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, related sites in the vicinity of Krakow, and participation in the MRA conference; and,
- Explore the relevance of this tragic history and its enduring legacy for contemporary and future medicine, health care professionalism, and more broadly, bioethics.
Measurable Learning Goals
By the end of this program, participants will be able to:
- Describe the theory of eugenics and its relationship to racism;
- Describe at least three socioeconomic factors that made the German medical profession of the 1930s especially prone to subverting the needs of individuals to the perceived needs of the German state;
- Describe the Nazi program of forcible sterilization and its relationship to similar programs in the US and elsewhere around the world;
- Describe the child euthanasia and T4 programs and how they related to later programs of mass murder in the Holocaust;
- Describe at least two rationales used by German physicians to justify unethical human experimentation on prisoners; and,
- Describe at least two examples of exceptional heroism by medical professionals during the Holocaust who acted to uphold Hippocratic ethics despite the dire circumstances.
Preparation / Pre-travel Curriculum
Participants will complete selected readings and a pre-program reflective exercise in preparation for a structured group learning session in person (depending on location of participants and faculty) or via video-teleconference technology. The session will set learning objectives and expectations for the subsequent portions of the learning experience as well as opportunities for reflective and analytic engagement of the reading material. Students will be required to submit an initial writing assignment.
Experiential Learning in Kraków and environs
Participants will arrive in Krakow in time for a Day 1 start on Saturday evening for dinner and pre-brief of the ground portion of the program. The evening program will be an opportunity for participants to interact with each other across small groups and to meet the program faculty.
Day 2 (Sunday) will focus on an exploration of Krakow and the historical, cultural, religious, and economic landscape that led to the development of the 20th century city and surrounds as well as arranged travel to surrounding sites of historical significance to Krakow and subsequent events during Nazi occupation such as Kazimierz and the Wawel castle.
On Day 3 (Monday), participants will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum with particular focus on the unique opportunity to access medical aspects of the camp unavailable to most visitors (and made possible with the partnership of the Museum in this program) as well as other exhibits focusing on the role of physicians in this camp complex. Following return travel to Krakow, groups will have an opportunity for a debrief of the visit in small groups and begin to transition to the material of focus in the MRA Conference the following day.
Day 4 (Tuesday) will be spent at the MRA Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire conference.
Day 5 (Wednesday) will be allotted to small group exercises, with a focus on assimilating the components of experiential learning from Krakow historical sites, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the MRA Conference. The focus will be on deriving lessons from this history for contemporary medicine and bioethics, with an eye towards a final paper or project and developing materials for use at participants’ home campuses, including outlining plans for follow-up upon return home.
Participants will travel home on Day 6 (Thursday).
Some participants may also choose to stay for two more days to take part in the McMaster International Review Course in Internal Medicine (www.mircim.eu). Funding for additional accommodations will be provided for students and trainees who wish to extend their stay for this purpose.
Participants, approximately one month following their return, will come together in small groups (depending on location of participants and faculty) as they did for the pre-travel portion to share their delayed reflections, components of their completed reflection papers, and status updates on follow-up activities at their home institutions.
This scholarship program is funded by the Polish Institute for Evidence Based Medicine from grants provided mainly by the Institute of National Remembrance. The scholarship will cover travel to and from Poland (economy class airfare) as well as education (including participation in the MRA Conference), transportation, lodging, and meal costs in Poland.
For well-qualified applicants who cannot receive a full scholarship due to limited availability, additional limited coverage (excluding travel to and from Poland) scholarships may be available.
1. Applicants will submit a submission form, CV, two letters of recommendation (including at least one from the current institution) and a two-page letter (max 1,000 words) describing why they want to take part in the program, the relevance of the program to their current stage of education, relevant experience (if any) that would make participation in the program of particular, exceptional educational or career-development value at this time, and how they hope to use what they learn when they get back. Students are additionally required to submit a statement of good academic standing and support from their current program, including a leave to participate in the scholarship program.
2. Submissions should be sent to the Secretariat of the Medical Review Auschwitz conference (email@example.com). Deadline for submissions: January 31st 2020.
3. Announcement of accepted applications: February 15th 2020.
4. Scholarships will be awarded by a Scholarship Committee, composed of six members: Piotr Gajewski (Chair), Maria Ciesielska, Rafał Leśkiewicz, Rebecca Brendel, Mathew Wynia, Tessa Chelouche.
1. Barondess, JA. Medicine Against Society: Lessons from the Third Reich. JAMA. 1996; 276: 1657–1661.
2. Caplan, AL. When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and The Holocaust: Contemporary issues in biomedicine, ethics, and society. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 1992.
3. Chelouche, T, Brahmer G, Benedict, S. Casebook on Bioethics and the Holocaust. Haifa: UNESCO Chair in Bioethics; 2013.
4. Chelouche, T., Ciesielska, M., and Gajewski, P., ed. Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire. Conference Proceedings 2018. Kraków: Medycyna Praktyczna; 2019.
5. Grodin, MA, Miller EL, Kelly, JI. The Nazi Physicians as Leaders in Eugenics and “Euthanasia”: Lessons for Today. Am J Public Health. 2018; 108: 53–57.
6. Horton, R. Offline: Medicine and the Holocaust—It’s Time to Teach. Lancet. 2019; 394: 105.
7. Wynia, MK et al. How Do U.S. and Canadian Medical Schools Teach About the Role of Physicians in the Holocaust? Academic Medicine. 2015; 90: 699–700.