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Vienna university promises investigation of Nazi anatomy research

February 12, 1997

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Vienna University apologized Wednesday for its involvement with Nazism and announced a broad investigation into whether the bodies of Holocaust victims were the basis for detailed drawings in a highly acclaimed, widely used anatomy book.

``As a human being, and as a representative of the University of Vienna, I am ashamed by the university’s culpable involvement in the horrors of Nazism,″ university Rector Alfred Ebenbauer said.

``I regret that relatively little was done in the past 50 years to work through this dark chapter of the University of Vienna, and that working through certain events now is more difficult.″

The atlas, ``Topographical Anatomy of the Human Being,″ was compiled by Eduard Pernkopf, a leading Nazi who headed the university’s medical faculty after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. Pernkopf served as university rector from 1943-45.

The atlas, first published in the late 1930s, is considered a classic text, highly regarded for its detailed anatomical drawings.

Ebenbauer’s stark apology illustrated the growing movement to strip away the illusion that Austria simply was Hitler’s first victim, and to examine Austrians’ participation in Nazi crimes.

The new inquiry will be conducted by the university, the Jewish community and a group representing Austrians who resisted Nazism. Initial investigations have found it was unlikely concentration camp victims were among those depicted in the atlas, the university said Wednesday.

But those probes did find that the university’s anatomy department regularly received the corpses of those executed by the Nazis, including Austrian resisters, according to a university statement given to The Associated Press.

Wolfgang Neugebauer, a historian who heads the archive documenting Austrian resistance to the Nazis, said his organization knows of at least two Austrians killed by the Nazis whose bodies or body parts were used by the department.

The university’s statement said that while the chances are ``not very high″ that Jews or other victims of the Nazi’s race laws were used for research, ``it cannot be 100 percent excluded″ that body parts from Mauthausen, Austria’s Nazi concentration camp, were used.

The current dean of the medical faculty, Wolfgang Schuetz, apologized that it undertook no research at all into the events of the Nazi era, ``which were largely repressed and forgotten, like much else in an era linked also with a unique and tragic exodus of faculty members″ _ Jews forbidden to teach or study under Nazi race laws.

As Ebenbauer noted Wednesday, the new frankness began in 1988, when the 50th anniversary of Hitler’s annexation of Austria coincided with the furor surrounding then-President Kurt Waldheim and his concealed past as a soldier in the German army in World War II.

Best-selling books, a new documentary film and touring exhibit have underscored the new interest in reexamining the Nazi era. One book, ``Hitler’s Vienna,″ traces how the Austrian capital of the early 20th century fed and formed the Nazi leader’s views.

The film, titled in English ``East of Eden,″ reveals that ordinary Austrian soldiers serving in Hitler’s army knew of mass executions and witnessed torture and looting on the eastern front _ denting the myth that only special units like the dreaded SS perpetrated atrocities.

Questions about Pernkopf’s anatomy book arose in 1995 when Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, approached Vienna University and the Austrian government, asking whether Holocaust victims were depicted in the atlas.

Last fall, physicians pressed the issue in letters published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, questioning whether use of the book was ethically proper.

In early editions of the atlas, swastikas and SS lightning-bolt symbols are part of some of the artists’ signatures, according to one of the physicians, Dr. Howard Israel of New York’s Columbia University. Those Nazi emblems were airbrushed out of later editions, he said.

The new probe, expected to take a year, will encompass research in archives in Germany and the United States, university spokesman Bernd Matouschek said. Investigators also will attempt to find people who worked in the university’s anatomy department during the Nazi years.

Results will be published, and the university will try to ensure that a foreword is attached to the atlas. Its first two volumes were published between 1937 and 1945, the third in 1953 and the fourth in 1957, two years after Pernkopf’s death.

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