Fillers A memorable patient

The scars of the Jewish holocaust

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7233.473 (Published 19 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:473
  1. Roni Peleg, family physicians,
  2. Aya Biderman, family physicians
  1. Ben-Gurion University of Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

    Although the holocaust of the Jewish people ended officially more than 50 years ago, the scars of that atrocity can be seen to this day. A 72 year old woman, married without children, came to the emergency room with abdominal pain that had worsened throughout that day. It was late in the evening and the two surgeons on call had gone to the operating room, leaving one of us (RP), a young resident, to see the patient. She seemed older than her actual age and was unkempt. She was asked about previous operations and answered in the negative. Abdominal examination revealed a large scar from the navel downwards. Why hadn't she mentioned the surgical procedure that she had obviously undergone? When asked, she looked embarrassed and said, “How do you think I stayed alive? I had a sterilisation done by the Nazis, you see? During the war I lived in a whore house and this is how I survived.”

    That same night, a few hours later, another woman came to the emergency room complaining of abdominal pain. She was 74 years old and married without children. She seemed young for her age, had blonde hair, and wore heavy makeup. A tattooed number was seen on her arm,typical of the numbers inscribed by the Nazis during the second world war. When asked about previous operations she also answered in the negative. When asked directly about past gynaecological operations, based on the experience with the earlier case, she hesitantly said, “Yes, I had to have it in order to survive during the holocaust. I was a whore in a Nazi whore house.”

    This year, when pictures from the yearly memorial day for the holocaust victims in Israel were shown on television together with pictures from the war in Kosovo, we were reminded of the horrendous events of the past that leave their scars, physical and emotional, for years and years to come.

    Will the world ever learn the lesson?

    We welcome articles of up to 600 words on topics such as A memorable patient, A paper that changed my practice, My most unfortunate mistake, or any other piece conveying instruction, pathos, or humour. If possible the article should be supplied on a disk. Permission is needed from the patient or a relative if an identifiable patient is referred to. We also welcome contributions for “Endpieces,” consisting of quotations of up to 80 words (but most are considerably shorter) from any source, ancient or modern, which have appealed to the reader.

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