When medical information comes from Nazi atrocitiesBMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l7075 (Published 23 January 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:l7075
- Susan E Mackinnon, Minot Packer Fryer professor of surgery
- Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Department of Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA
I first met the Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy1 in 1982, when I was 32, during my hand fellowship at the Curtis National Hand Center in Baltimore. The atlas became my dissection partner during the many long hours spent in the anatomy laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital and later at the University of Toronto.
For several years, I knew the Pernkopf atlas (named after its author, Eduard Pernkopf, chair of anatomy and president of the University of Vienna) only as a unique and valued piece of science and art. However, in the late 1980s, I came across essays by Gerald Weissman, an Austrian born US physician-scientist at New York University, and David Williams, a medical illustrator of Purdue University, Indiana, exposing the origin of my dissection partner,23 calling it the “atlas of the Shoah,” derived during the Holocaust.
Once I, a gentile, came to know the truth of its origin, my attitude changed. I secured the atlas in my operative room locker, with printed copies of Weissman’s and Williams’s essays slipped into the atlas as a marker to anyone who might use it and a warning to “enter with caution.”
However, having already spent many years with the atlas, still the most detailed anatomy book I’ve ever seen, I continued to feel the need to refer to it occasionally for the sake of improving my patients’ surgical outcomes. Several times a month, while operating, I would struggle with the anatomical nuances of nerve pathways. The atlas showed me the way—an exact and safe surgical approach to the …