Pickled remains of Jews used for Nazi medical experiments laid to rest

Jas Chana

Members of the Jewish community of Strasbourg burying a coffin bearing the remains of a Jewish victim of Nazi anatomist August Hirt, during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery of Cronenbourg, eastern France, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. (Christian Lutz/AP Images)

Members of the Jewish community of Strasbourg burying a coffin bearing the remains of a Jewish victim of Nazi anatomist August Hirt, during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery of Cronenbourg, eastern France,  Sept. 6, 2015. (Christian Lutz/AP Images)

The preserved remains of two Holocaust victims subjected to gruesome Nazi medical experiments finally received proper burial rites last weekend after being kept in a Nazi laboratory for 72 years.

The remains — belonging to a Polish Jew named Menachem Taffel and another unidentified victim — were buried in the Strasbourg-Cronenbourg Jewish Cemetery in France in an emotional ceremony last Sunday, The Daily Mail reported

The victims were among 87 people who were killed so their bodies could be experimented on by a Nazi “demon doctor” named Dr. August Hirt. According to the Daily Mail, Taffel was born on July 21, 1900, in Galicia, which is now part of Poland. He moved with his family to Berlin in 1938, where he found work as a dairy merchant just as the Third Reich was stepping up its persecution of Germany’s Jewish residents. In 1943, Taffel and his family were sent to Auschwitz.

The Daily Mail reported: “His wife and children were gassed upon arrival [at Auschwitz]. Taffel, who bore the number 107969 inked on his left forearm, had the misfortune of crossing the path of S.S.-Hauptsturmführer Dr. August Hirt — a man who perverted the Hippocratic oath as he climbed the tawdry ladder of Nazism.”

Hirt was the son of a Swiss businessman who was born in Mannheim, Germany. He studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg and in the early 1930s became involved in a Waffen SS think tank called the Ahnenerbe institute, which espoused the Nazi idea that Aryans were the master race, while Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were sub-human and needed to be eradicated. 

In 1941, as a member of the Ahnenerbe, Hirt became the chairperson of the anatomy department of Reichsuniversität in Strasbourg. The Daily Mail reported that in 1942, Hirt submitted a paper to Waffen SS leader Heinrich Himmler stating that he wanted to create a collection of skulls and skeletons of the “sub-humans.” Hirt was reportedly worried that the Jewish people would become extinct and “Jewish skeletons would [become] as rare and precious as a diplodocus.”

After Hirt got the green-light from Himmler, Menachem Taffel became one of 87 people chosen to be Hirt’s test subjects.

Hirt’s guinea pigs were transported from Auschwitz to another concentration camp, Natzweiler-Struthof, where they were gassed by a man named Joseph Kramer. The Daily Mail reported Kramer’s testimony when he was tried by British allied forces for his crimes.

Kramer said: “I felt no emotion while accomplishing these tasks, because I had received an order to execute the prisoners in the manner that I have described to you. That is simply how I was brought up.” The bodies of the victims were then preserved in vats of alcohol and were sent to Hirt’s laboratory in Strasbourg.

It was only in July that the remains of Taffel and the unidentified victim were discovered in the laboratory. The AFP reported in July that a historian named Raphael Toledano found and identified the body parts, which included “a jar containing skin fragments of a gas chamber victim.” Toledano was able to identify Taffel’s remains because of a label penned by a forensic professor named Camille Simonin in 1952. At the time, Simonin had been tasked by French military authorities with investigating Hirt’s crimes.

The label noted the location of the jars in the laboratory and, according to a statement released upon the recent discovery, “[mentioned] the register 107969, which matches the number tattooed at the Auschwitz camp on the forearm of Menachem Taffel.”

The ceremony to bury the remains of Taffel and the other unidentified victim was attended by several hundred people at the Strasbourg Jewish cemetery.

According to The Daily Mail, in 2005 a plaque was unveiled both at the cemetery and at Hirt’s Strasbourg institute which reads “Souvenez-vous d’elles pour que jamais la medecine ne soit devoyée” (Remember them so that medicine never be corrupted again).

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