The German Medical Association has issued a remarkably blunt and straightforward apology, more than six decades after the end of World War II, for the role it played during the Holocaust in the mass murder, sterilization and barbaric medical experiments done on Jews and many other groups.
The apology, made Wednesday at the Bundesärztekammer (German Medical Association) meeting in Nuremberg, makes no excuses.
Unanimously adopted by the delegates of the Physician's Congress, the declaration says that contrary to popular belief doctors were not forced by political authorities to kill and experiment on prisoners but rather engaged in the Holocaust as leaders and enthusiastic Nazi supporters.
The apology notes that “outstanding representatives of renowned academic medical and research institutions were involved” in organizing and carrying out the mass extermination of millions.
In the statement, the German doctors said they “remember the living and deceased victims and their descendants and ask them for forgiveness."
I don’t know if forgiveness will be forthcoming.
But in the history of apologies for crimes and abuses carried out in the name of medicine this is the most important ever made. It does nothing to soften the horror of the Holocaust but it both ascribes responsibility where it belongs and ends any further efforts to deny or obfuscate what actually happened.
My father was there to see some of it. On April 29, 1945, Army Sgt. Sidney D. Caplan was among the troops that liberated the Dachau death camp outside of Munich Germany. By the end of the war, nearly 6 million Jews and countless others had been killed.
The Nuremberg trials that followed the defeat of the German Reich showed the intimate role that medicine had played in the Holocaust. Many know about Dr. Josef Mengele's gruesome experiments, but now the actions of mainstream medicine have been acknowledged.
German medicine as field has remained silent about it all these decades – until today.
The world must still grapple with the Holocaust as genocide carried out in the name of science and medicine. But it no longer needs to try and push those involved in German medicine to speak about their role. They have done so and they deserve full credit for it.
The world should acknowledge that medicine has finally stared its worst crimes directly in the face and shuddered.