Pernkopf-Nazi Doctor, and Medical illustrator.

There is a famous Medical illustrator in history, who found himself rising among the ranks of Hitler’s Doctors and Scientists.
Eduard Pernkopf in academic regalia.
Eduard Pernkopf (1888-1955) was an anatomist at a time which is now a sensitive scar on world history. Many argue whether it is ethical to use the book created by a man who performed dissections on the victims of his Nazi Regiment.
“Eduard Pernkopf created a classic anatomy atlas during World War II. He was also an ardent Nazi. Questions have been raised recently about the propriety of using an atlas created by a Nazi and illustrated by dissections of cadavers whose identities are unknown, but who could have been victims of Nazi political terror.”-(Riggs)
Pernkopf started out in life showing an interest in music, however, after the loss of his father, the village doctor, he found he was direly needed as a physician. He attended school at the University of Vienna’s medical school in 1907. He became a member of the Student Academic Fraternity of Germany. The group was strongly influenced by the German Nationalist persuasion. He received his degree in medicine in 1912, then for the next eight years he taught anatomy at various institution throughout Austria.  During World War I, Pernkopf served as a military physician for one year. He returned home to Vienna and worked as one of Hochstetter’s assistants. Lecturing to first and second-year students on the peripheral nervous and cardiovascular systems and such. It wasn’t until he arrived back home in Vienna that he quickly rose through the ranks in academia. He became the Associate Professor in 1926, another two years he was a full professor. In 1933 He joined the Nazi Parties foreign organization. The annexation of Austria into the Third Reich known as the Anschluss was about the time Pernkopf became an SA, Storm Trooper. Previously, Pernkopf had formally succeeded Hochstetter as the Anatomical Institute Director in 1933, then became the dean of the medical school in 1938. He then held a position of power above the entire department. Requiring all Medical faculty to declare their ethnic lineage as either Aryan or non-Aryan, an action which provided the Nazi Regime with a list of those who refused to provide their ethnic background. This information dismissed 77% of the faculty. Automatically, all Jewish faculty was removed, as well as the list of those who refused to provide heritage. It is difficult to approach such a sore subject in a matter such as this, however, I feel that it is necessary to talk about this part of medical illustration history.
Pernkopf’s Atlas: Lung cross-section
“Some of these were deported to concentration camps like Theresienstadt and Dachau, in which only a few survived. Others committed suicide and the fate of others are unknown. In his official speech to his selectively chosen faculty, Pernkopf reminded them of their professional duty “of eliminating the genetically unfit and defective . . . by sterilization and other means” (Ruiz. Pernkopf Anatomy Atlas, 2007).”-(AHRP)
Pernkopf and his Nazi Illustrators.
Pernkopf published an atlas of his own in 1933, illustrated by his Nazi artists. It was called Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy. The artists who featured their illustrations were Erich Lepier, Ludwig Schrott, Karl Endtresser and Franz Batke.
“The source of Pernkopf’s Atlas illustrations was the macabre spoils of Nazi murder; the slaughtered bodies of men, women, and children.”(AHRP)
Edward Pernkopf Atlas illustration
Years after the atrocities had ended, efforts were eventually made to approach the atrocities that had taken place. A statement was mailed to the University of Vienna:
“it is therefore within the individual user’s ethical responsibility to decide whether and in which way he wishes to use this book.” (Hildebrandt, 2006).
Today, the officials of the Univerisity of Vienna are attempting to retrace the past and seeking buried information, in hopes that they might aid the next generation to approach these atrocities. Third generation students and scholars are morally outraged and seeking full access to the documents and locations of the victims’ remains. They hope to properly bury the victims and memorialize them. Sources: “1933–1953: Eduard Pernkopf’s Atlas-.” AHRP, AHRP, 31 Aug. 2015, Riggs, G. “What should we do about Eduard Pernkopf’s atlas?” Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 1998,
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One thought on “Pernkopf-Nazi Doctor, and Medical illustrator.”

  1. Oh my gosh, what a riveting ethical dilemma and a horrible but compelling story. It makes me realize something I had never thought about: how we teach people about bodies is deeply political. I’ve always known that about education, but thinking about medical illustrators as teachers and artists– not just scientists– makes it even clearer to me that they have the power to shape culture, not just science as a pure entity (as if that could ever exist anyway). Really fascinating post!

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