Confronting Medicine in the Holocaust & Beyond

By Hedy S. Wald

Galilee, Israel, May 7-11, 2017. I was privileged to be at the Second International Scholars Workshop on “Medicine in the Holocaust and Beyond.” Why so meaningful?  Why so needed? 140 purposeful, passionate scholars from 17 countries delved into the past history of medicine at its worst in order to inform the future.  From 1933-1945, presumed healers within mainstream medicine (sworn to uphold the Hippocratic Oath) turned into killers (1).  Yes, medical ethics in Nazi-era medical school curricula existed, yet included “unequal worth of human beings, authoritative role of the physician, and priority of public health over individual-patient care”(2).  In Western Galilee College, (Akko), Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Health Sciences (Safed), and Galilee Medical Center and Ghetto Fighters’ Museum, (both in Nahariya), historians, physicians, nurses, medical and university educators, medical students, ethicists and more gathered to grapple with this history and consider how learning about medicine in the Holocaust can support healthy professional identity formation with a moral compass for navigating the future of medical practice with issues such as prejudice, assisted reproduction and suicide, resource allocation, obtaining valid informed consent, and challenges of genomics and technology expansion (3)…

The conference, in essence, served as a lens for the here and now, reinforcing my contention (and others’) that history of medicine in the Holocaust curricula including confronting the Nazi physicians’ and scientific establishment’s euthanasia of “lives unworthy of life,” forced sterilizations, horrific experimentation on their victims, and medicalized genocide (leading to the destruction of a third of the European Jewish population and many others) is a “moral imperative” in healthcare professions education (1,4). Drs. Artal and Urion’s (respectively) presentations on topics of “Genum Editing Technology: Modern Version of Eugenics (Good Birth)?” and “Population Health and Race Hygiene: A Comparative Text Analysis” were stark reminders of the contemporary relevance of this history.  Hauntingly, might we have traveled all this way only to arrive at “back to the future?  Got courage?  Got moral courage in your professional being and doing?

A “Galilee Declaration” signed by participants is forthcoming, calling for inclusion of such education in all healthcare professions education; curricula and webinars are available at and

In order to explore this subject matter in a less geographically-bound format: I guest hosted a Twitterchat with Dr. Ashley Fernandes for #bioethx (April, 2016); to my knowledge, the first such use of Twitter platform for this topic. Twitter can be a valuable learning tool in healthcare education and academic pursuits, offering the opportunity to share scholarship, research, and curricula with a wider audience to increase influence of the work, enhance continuing professional development, and advocate for change. Our Twitterchat offered reflection-inviting questions on teaching about physician and medical establishment roles in the Nazi era, applying lessons of the Holocaust to contemporary ethical issues in medicine, and effective integration of medicine and the Holocaust curriculum in healthcare professions education.

A Storify transcript is availablea and Altmetrics ( revealed 36 participants, 515 Tweets, and almost a half million impressions (Tweets delivered to Twitter users, number of potential views).  There’s also a Storify transcript for the conference as a wholeb highlighting presentations on topics such as the medical/scientific community’s involvement in medical atrocities, medical activity in ghettos/camps,  Holocaust physicians: perpetrators and victims, medical staffs’ ethical dilemmas in ghettos/camps, treatment of survivors, 2nd/3rd generations, resilience/post-trauma, genocide conditions, bioethics after the Holocaust and now, healthcare professions education about medicine in the Holocaust and beyond.  The transcript includes our opportunity to learn about Aleh Negev, an innovative rehabilitation village offering young adults with multiple disabilities the opportunity to live a rich and productive life – a stark contrast to the loss of human dignity in the Holocaust.  And the art, music, theatre, film, and narrative within the conference for creative expression and community bonding and healing- Delicious meals too.

I, a medical educator and the Jewish daughter of a Holocaust survivor who lost his entire family in the Holocaust, met a German physician at the conference who has published about “facing her ancestors,” i.e. “devout Nazis” (personal and professional) and her devotion to humanistic medical care and research (5).  We hugged with hopes for the future.

Hedy S. Wald, PhD
 is Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Director, Resident Resilience & Wellbeing, Residency Programs in Child Neurology & Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, Boston Children’s Hospital-Harvard Medical School.  She presents internationally on interactive reflective writing enhanced reflection & promoting resilience and wellbeing in healthcare professions education and practice.


  1. Hedy S Wald, Joseph J Fins, Sheldon Rubenfeld (2016). The Holocaust as end stage disease: medical education as a moral imperative. Hektoen International.
  2. Florian Bruns, Tessa Chelouche (2017). Lectures on Inhumanity: Teaching Medical Ethics in German Medical Schools Under Nazism. Annals Internal Medicine 166:591-595.
  3. Shmuel P Reis, Hedy S Wald (2015). Contemplating Medicine in the Third Reich: Scaffolding Professional Identity Formation for Medical Students. Academic Medicine 90(6): 770-773.
  4. Hedy S Wald (2017). Medicine and the Holocaust in Medical Education: International Holocaust Remembrance Day – January 27.
  5. Franziska Eckert (2016). Standing on the ramp: A young German radiation oncologist faces her ancestors. Pract. Radiat. Oncol. Dec 6 [Epub ahead of print].



One thought on “Confronting Medicine in the Holocaust & Beyond

  1. Thank you Hedy. Your post is timely to us. Minda and I are visiting the killing fields in Lithuania, Belarus, and Poland


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