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Ann Anat. 2013 Jan;195(1):11-24. doi: 10.1016/j.aanat.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Aug 9.

The case of Robert Herrlinger: a unique postwar controversy on the ethics of the anatomical use of bodies of the executed during National Socialism.

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Division of Anatomical Sciences, Department of Medical Education, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, USA.


Historical evidence shows that German anatomists used bodies of executed victims of the National Socialist (NS) regime for anatomical purposes. However, there has been little direct information on these anatomists' thoughts and motivations, and a public discussion of their activities and ethics only started in the late 1980s. The present study documents a unique postwar controversy surrounding the promotion of the anatomist and medical historian Robert Herrlinger at the university of Würzburg in the late 1950s. This intramural debate had originally been mentioned by Goetz Aly in 1987. Herrlinger's files record his career as a representative of the discipline of medical history at the university of Würzburg from 1951 to 1960. He never worked there as an active anatomist. When the university senate applied for his appointment as full professor in 1957, the internist Ernst Wollheim, the pediatrician Joseph Ströder, and the psychiatrist Heinrich Scheller strongly opposed this move in a dissenting opinion based on Herrlinger's anatomical work on bodies of executed NS-victims. They claimed that he lacked the moral prerequisites required in a teacher of medical ethics. A highly controversial debate followed and was remarkable for addressing most of the questions of the ethical and political attitudes and responsibilities of anatomists in NS-Germany that are still being discussed today and are relevant for modern anatomy. It was also significant that Wollheim, Ströder and Scheller objected to Herrlinger in his role as a medical historian, not as an anatomist. The senate finally rejected the dissenting opinion and Herrlinger was promoted.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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