Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Strasbourg's past

This is the entrance to the forensic science school in Strasbourg, north eastern France. In 1943 August Hirt,  an SS-Hauptsturmführer, captain, served here as a chairman of what was then named the Reich University.Working with a special division, Hirt and others collected human corpses from Dachau inmates in order to create an anatomical specimen collection specifically of Jews. A Jewish skeleton collection so named to create an anthropological display and showcase alleged racial inferiority to Aryan Germans. To further his experiments and exercise 'quality control' Hirt directed a collection of 86 victims selected among inmates at Auschwitz. 
These 86 people were sent to Natzweiler-Struthof camp, in Alsace about 50km from Strasbourg, the only German run concentration camp in France. Here they were gassed. Their bodies were returned to Hirt at the anatomical laboratory in Strasbourg for preparation as an anthropological display where they were re-discovered after the Liberation. 
 Naftali Skrobek, a Résistant
who I've posted about before,

was the son of a Polish Jewish Journalist who was caught in Paris during the Occupation. Naftali's father was interred in Natzweiler-Strufhof and beheaded which Naftali only discovered a few years after Liberation.
Western Europe in 1945-46 was in a state of almost complete chaos. There were tens of millions of German and other refugees, former slave labourers of the Nazis, German and Austrian prisoners of war, and people fleeing the advance of communism in eastern Europe – most of them without papers, milling around in total confusion. In this situation, no difficutly for ex‑SS men to change their identities and obtain false passports.  
August Hirt, based on his experiments at Strasbourg University, was tried in absentia in 1952 in France and sentenced to death for his experiments. At the time French authorities did not realize he'd committed suicide at the end of the war and presumed that he was hiding with a false identity in Europe.
In 1951 the remains of these 86 victims were reinterred in the Cronenbourg-Strasbourg Jewish Cemetery. 
However, in 2003 Dr. Hans-Joachim Lang, a German professor at the University of Tübingen succeeded in identifying all the victims, by comparing a list of inmate numbers of the 86 corpses at the University, surreptitiously recorded by Hirt's French assistant.
But the story continues today as reported in the Guardian - it turns out Toledano, a determined researcher at the University of Strasbourg found a letter dated 1952 detailing the storage of tissue samples taken from some of the 86 victims gassed for the experiments of August Hirt.
The samples were apparently forgotten until July 2015, when the researcher Toledano cracked open a hidden door. The storage container and jar and test tubes, holding a fragment of human skin and other body samples, were meticulously labelled just as the letter detailed. Decades later, the jars and test tubes had been found behind a glass cupboard in a locked room which were kept and intended to be used to prosecute Hirt.
Toldedano described his shock on discovering that these jars were still there, that they had been put in a museum display as part of these Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
The Strasbourg mayor’s office said Monday it hopes to return the remains to Strasbourg’s Jewish community for eventual burial in the city.
Cara - Tuesday
getting ice cream with Naftali  


  1. There's so much that we are still uncovering. A terrible time in history.

  2. As a boss of mine once said: "People are no damned good!" Awful!

  3. Remarkable story, Cara. Horrifying, but sadly not a great surprise in the light of all the other atrocities carried out by that regime. The cruelty of homo sapiens toward members of their own species -- never mind other toward other species -- boggles the mind. Who was it who hid the samples with the idea of prosecuting Hirt, btw? The French lab assistant?

    1. I've been fascinated since reading this recent discovery and poking around but Zoe, it's all very fuzzy how the samples came to be left hidden in this place and by whom. No letter or papers exist as to who and how they would present this evidence to convict Hirt.

    2. I've been fascinated since reading this recent discovery and poking around but Zoe, it's all very fuzzy how the samples came to be left hidden in this place and by whom. No letter or papers exist as to who and how they would present this evidence to convict Hirt.

  4. How heart-wrenching! I cannot help but think that while Hirt was trying to prove the Jews were inferior, his fellow Nazi's were busy executing any of their Aryan brethren, people with physical defect, diseases, homosexuals, that they considered defective--"purifying" their own race to prove it was flawless?!?!

    Here's another side of the story, to counter balance (something I sorely need when read something so important, but so disturbing as this is): Just this past weekend I met a man in his seventies who was taken in by a young Dutch couple in Amsterdam when he parents were about to be dragged off to the death camps. That Dutch couple, named Van Dyke, did not as yet have children of their own. He spoke to me of their courage in taking him in, knowing that their neighbors knew they had no children, that they could arrested, denounced by their neighbors. They loved and cared for him. Gave him back the life the monsters were trying to rob from him, were robbing from so many millions. Stan's old boss was only partially right. Some people belong in the ranks of angels!

  5. And all these horrors continue today. Different hatreds, different methods, same motivations. It's almost enough to make one lose hope. Almost.