Israeli researcher: Nazi doctors should be remembered alongside diseases named for them

"I say their names should not just be eliminated, but their infamous past should be remembered," Matthew Fox says.

Matthew Fox (photo credit: Courtesy)
Matthew Fox
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An Israeli teleradiologist has launched a counterintuitive campaign against eliminating the names of physicians who were Nazi supporters during the Holocaust from medical conditions and tissues they discovered.
Dr. Matthew Fox said instead of obliterating the names, they should be preserved and identified as belonging to Nazi supporters when the diseases are mentioned in medical textbooks and journals.
Fox, who privately interprets medical scans for hospitals in the US, is the son of an American-born mother and a father who lost numerous Romanian relatives in the Holocaust and worked in Yad Vashem and as a career diplomat.
Fox became aware of the issue when attending a history of medicine course given by Prof. Shifra Shvarts at Ben-Gurion University Medical School in 1996. Since then, he has researched medical eponyms, identified numerous conditions named for active Nazis or sympathizers and campaigned on behalf of his views.
At the Israeli Society of Medical History's annual conference on Medicine in the Holocaust Era last held in May in Nahariya, the issue was raised, and some of those attending thought it would be better to eliminate the eponyms of Nazi doctors so their memory would be wiped from human memory.
Usually, professional medical societies that learn of the inglorious past of doctors in their specialties call for removing the names, as it is embarrassing to them, Fox said.
“European medical journals have been more careful to eliminate the eponyms, but US journals are more lax,” he added.
Fox reasoned, however, that it would be preferable to keep the names but to add in textbooks and other medical literature that the doctors were Nazis and committed atrocities.
The Nahariya conference issued a resolution in keeping with Fox’s view, but it has not yet taken action on it.
Now Fox will appeal to the Israel Medical Association to establish an official position.
Dr. YoramBlachar, the former chairman of the IMA, also previously headed the WMA and still has friends there.
“It’s a myth that there were a few ‘bad apples’ among physicians in Germany during the Nazi era and that those that existed were persuaded by German propaganda,” said Fox. “In fact, physicians in Germany overwhelmingly enlisted in the Nazi party and the SS and they embraced the notion of eugenics to promote ‘Aryan genes’ and wipe out ‘deficient’ ones like those the Nazis said were in the ‘Jewish genome’. An exhibit on Nazi eugenics,” added Fox, "was on view at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington and will soon come to Israel.”
When Hitler came to power, many Jewish physicians were “kicked out and replaced by loyal Nazi doctors. The Jews were initially allowed to treat only Jews and then rounded up for the concentration camps. At first, said Fox, "non-Jews with all kinds of disabilities were singled out for destruction, and then this was expanded to the Jews in general,” he explained.
Fox knows of some 15 eponyms giving credit to Nazi sympathizers and Nazis who discovered diseases and conditions from various medical disciplines.
Eponyms are also used by medical students and physicians to help them memorize conditions.
“I say their names should not be eliminated, but rather their infamous past should be remembered,” Fox said.
For example, there is Wegener’s granulomatosis, a condition involving inflammation in blood vessels named for Dr.
Friedrich Wegener, who collaborated with Nazis who committed atrocities in the Lodz Ghetto. When Wegener was on his deathbed in 1989,, he received a medical award for lifetime achievement in pulmonary medicine, with no mention of his shameful past, said Fox.
Another eponym is Clara cells (in the respiratory tract) named for Dr. Max Clara, who conducted pathology research on bodies of political detainees executed by the Nazis.
Reiter’s syndrome, a kind of arthritis, was named for Dr. Julius Reiter, who personally conducted horrific and lethal “experiments” on internees of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Leriche’s syndrome, involving occlusion of the aorta , was named for Dr. Rene Leriche, who directly supervised the exclusion of Jewish physicians in Vichy, France.
Hallervorden-Spatz syndrome (involving degeneration of the brain) was named for Dr. Julius Hallervorden and Dr. Hugo Spatz, who both collaborated with the Nazis on exterminating the mentally disabled.
Other Nazi doctors or Nazi sympathizers after whom diseases and conditions were named include Murad Jussuf Bey Ibrahim.