As a 10-year-old child, Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were kept naked eight hours a day and were prodded, measured and injected, as well as having massive amounts of blood drawn at Auschwitz by the diabolical Josef Mengele during his infamous experiments on twins.
“There was such sadness, anger, such a look of disgust and look of contempt for the people he was dealing with,” Kor said. “My main purpose when I was at Auschwitz was to survive one more day, one more experiment. … To be kept naked eight hours a day and studied and measured over every part of your body without any regard for how uncomfortable, how dehumanizing it was … I was just treated as a subject to be experimented on, not as a human being.”
Kor, who died in July 2019, appeared on video as a hologram presented by Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California during an April 7 Yom HaShoah program, “Medicine and Morality: Lessons Learned from the Holocaust and COVID-19.”
The virtual program was presented by the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University, the International March of the Living, Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust (MIMEH) and Teva Pharmaceuticals in cooperation with the USC Shoah Foundation.
The program was marked by the presentation to White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci of the first Moral Courage in Medicine Award by Dr. Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, in recognition of Fauci’s work in combating COVID-19, his history of leading the battle against infectious diseases and his dedication to the health and well-being of humankind.
Strom, who worked with Fauci as the university developed COVID protocols and testing methods, spoke of the “collective responsibility” to help the sick and needy during the pandemic.
“It is fitting on this Yom HaShoah, the remembrance of the terrible events of World War II, that we the living reflect on this pandemic year and begin to draw some lessons, including the heroism of the medical community,” he said.
In accepting the award, Fauci cited the great sage Maimonides who “reminded us that goodness and evil coexist, but that we are free to choose one over the other. I believe that the healing arts lie on the path of goodness, the same path all of you have chosen in remembering and listening to the voices of those who perished in the Holocaust.”
The Holocaust stands out not just for the mass genocide of 6 million Jews and millions of other innocent victims, but also because the medical establishment played a key role in its implementation. That is in stark contrast to the heroic efforts being made during the coronavirus pandemic by medical professionals to develop and distribute vaccines and compassionately care for victims, including society’s most vulnerable and marginalized members.
Yet even in the midst of the horrors of the Shoah there were doctors who risked or gave their lives to provide care to those in the camps and ghettos. At the program’s end, memorial candles were lit by doctors from around the world, first for the 2.8 million COVID victims, and the others in memory of those physicians dedicated to saving lives in the face of grave danger to their own.
Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, Inc. and the son of Greek Holocaust survivors, spoke about how his native Thessaloniki was once a thriving Jewish community of 50,000, but only 2,000 survived the German occupation. His father survived by hiding his identity, while his mother was saved from a firing squad by a bribe to a Nazi. He said their story has impacted his life and view of the world.
While many survivor parents found it too painful to talk about their experiences Bourla said his parents did “because they wanted us to remember the lives that were lost; to remember what can happen when the virus of evil is allowed to spread unchecked.” He said he has begun telling his parents’ story because “if it inspires just one person to join us in proclaiming that never means never, when we stand up to anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, then it will help make our world a better place.”
MIMEH founding director Dr. Stacy Gallin noted that the Holocaust remains the only instance in history of medically sanctioned mass extermination, where those pledged “to do no harm” violated the Hippocratic Oath. “It is often said medial bioethics emerged out of the ashes of the Holocaust,” she noted, “as an aberration of ethics and of the abuse of power by the medical profession.”
Ashley Fernandes, director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Ohio State University, teaches a course on medical morality and the Holocaust. Fernandes called the 150,000 to 200,000 Holocaust deaths directly caused by physicians and healthcare professionals “absolutely staggering.
“If the work of the Nazi physicians hadn’t been done, they would have never even been able to kill 6 million Jewish persons and the 9 million other persons murdered in the Holocaust,” said Fernandes, and were able to carry out their reprehensible actions by targeting people deemed “disposable” by society.
Gallin recited a pledge made by program sponsors: “We cannot look forward to where we want to go by turning our backs on what the world leaves behind. Our collective voices, as well as the voices of those who survived to tell their children, and those who perished, whose voices rise from the earth, will serve as our call to action to build bridges where there are currently boundaries, to open doors of friendship and solidarity currently locked shut.”
Gallin said the paradigm of the Holocaust will be used to educate medical professionals, students, activists and others “not only to not repeat the mistakes of the past but to preserve the legacy of those who perished in the Holocaust” and “to turn away from evil and do good” by seeing people in all interactions as individuals regardless of race, religion or creed.