|The coffin containing the remains of victims of Dr August Hirt, |
is carried at the Strasbourg-Cronenbourg Jewish cemetery, eastern France
A Polish Jew whose body parts were pickled in a test tube by a sadistic Nazi doctor has finally been laid to rest 70 years after he was murdered.
Menachem Taffel, a dairy merchant who lived in Berlin, died a hideous death so Dr. August Hirt could preserve the skulls and bones of 'these sub-humans' so the 'degeneracy and the animality of these Jews', could be documented.
At the weekend, 72 years after they were killed in the pursuit of perverted medical science, the last two victims of the demon doctor, including Taffel, were buried in an emotional ceremony in France.
In August 1943, these two people - only one of whom could be identified as Taffel - were among a group of 86 Jews plucked from the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and transported to France for the sole purpose of being murdered.
There were no family members to say Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, for Taffel on Sunday. However, the story of what was done to him, his family and the millions of others who perished in the Holocaust lives on.
Taffel was born on July 21, 1900, in the Russian Empire called Galicia, now part of Poland, and in 1938 he and his family moved in with his wife Clare's parents in Berlin as the tempo of persecution against the Jews was stepped up in the Third Reich.
In March 1943, the family, including daughter Esther, who was 15 and a volunteer helper at a local nursing home, were shipped to Auschwitz.
His wife and children were gassed upon arrival. Taffel, who bore the number 107969 inked on his left forearm, had the misfortune of crossing the path of S.S.-Hauptsturmführer Dr August Hirt - a man who perverted the Hippocratic oath as he climbed the tawdry ladder of Nazism.
Born on April 28, 1898, in Mannheim, Germany into a family from Strasbourg in France, Hirt was the son of a Swiss businessman. In 1914, he volunteered to fight in World War I on the German side.
The corpse of Polish Jew Menachem Taffel (pictured) was pickled in alcohol on the orders of Dr. August Hirt
In October 1916, he was wounded in the upper jaw by a bullet and received the Iron Cross. He returned to Mannheim in 1917.
He went on to study medicine at the University of Heidelberg and in 1921, he took German citizenship.
In the early 1930s he became involved with the Ahnenerbe institute, an S.S. think tank devoted to buttressing the Nazi philosophy that only 'Aryans' were worthy of life and that Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs were sub-humans who needed to be eradicated.
He joined the Institute of Anatomy at the Reichsuniversität in Strasbourg early in 1941 and soon became chairman of the anatomy department.
He was a confidante of S.S. overlord Heinrich Himmler and privy to the top secret plan formulated at the Wannsee Conference outside Berlin for the 'final solution' - the mass murder - of the Jews in all lands conquered by Germany.
He submitted a paper to Himmler in February of 1942 stating that he wanted to create a collection of skulls and skeletons of the 'sub-humans' destined to die for research.
Because the gas chambers of the secret killing centres were working at a furious pace, Hirt was worried that Europe's Jewish population would soon be eliminated - at which point 'Jewish skeletons would be as rare and precious as a diplodocus'.
Demon doctor August Hirt (pictured) submitted a paper to Himmler in February of 1942
stating that he wanted to create a collection of skulls and skeletons of the 'sub-humans'
It was rumored that Hirt, who was venal as well as sadistic, toyed with the idea of setting up a skull mail order business for other Reich doctors, as a way of earning extra money.
Himmler responded enthusiastically to Hirt's request for bodies for his collection saying he was 'prodigiously interested' and considered the project to be of 'enormous value'.
A letter used as evidence during the post-war Nazi trials at Nuremberg includes an attachment with a report on 'securing skulls of Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars for the purpose of scientific research'.
It initially allowed Hirt to begin his gassings of Auschwitz Jews at Natzweiler-Struthof. This was the only Nazi murder camp on French soil, close to his research center and chosen as the place where the victims would die.
Himmler greenlighted to project and it was decided that Auschwitz would provide the prisoners for the macabre scheme.
Initially, 115 people were selected, a number eventually whittled down to 87. Half of them were Greek Jews from Thessaloniki, the others an assortment of German, Polish, Austrian, Russian and Lithuanian victims.
The guinea pigs were held in a quarantine section of Auschwitz before being shipped in rail cars to Natzweiler-Struthof in July 1943.
It was run by a man called Joseph Kramer, described by the Allies who would hang him after the war, as 'brutality incarnate'.
A gas chamber was built into an old refrigerator room and hydrogen cyanide was chosen as the method to kill the victims.
On August 17, 1943, Taffel, and his fellow prisoners were killed over a three-night period in the name of Third Reich medicine.
Kramer later testified: 'One evening, about 9pm, the prisoners arrived. I led about fifteen women to the gas chamber. I told them they were going to be disinfected.
'With the help of some of the S.S. guards, I got them completely undressed and pushed them into the gas chamber.
'When I closed the door they began to scream. I put some of the crystals that Hirt had given me into the funnel above the observation window.
'I would watch everything that was going on inside through it. The women continued to breathe for half a minute and then fell to the floor. I turned on the ventilation and when I opened the door they were lying dead on the ground.
'I told some of the male S.S. nurses to put the bodies in a truck and take them to the Institute of Anatomy at 5.30 the next morning.
'I felt no emotion while accomplishing these tasks because I had received an order to execute the prisoners in the manner that I have described to you. That is simply how I was brought up.'
There were 87 victims originally chosen, but one of them, a woman, was shot by a guard as she struggled to escape the gas chamber. Her body was not sent to Strasbourg with the others because it was considered 'spoiled'.
Professor Hirt's assistants, Otto Bong and Henri Herypierre, began placing the bodies into vats of synthetic alcohol to preserve them when they arrived at his institute. Herypierre took the stand at Nuremberg after the war to describe the bodies.
He said: 'They were still warm. Their eyes were wide open and shining. They appeared congested and red and protruded from the socket.
'There were traces of blood around the nose and mouth. There was no rigor mortis. It is my opinion that these victims had been poisoned or asphyxiated.'
The bodies were left pickling in alcohol when the Allies liberated France. It seems Hirt was given other, more important work to do by his Nazi bosses researching the effects of poison gas in combat situations.
Himmler ordered the destruction of the cadaver collection, but the Allies beat him to it. Most of the bodies were buried on October 23, 1945, in the municipal cemetery of Strasbourg-Robertsau before being transferred in 1951 to the Strasbourg-Cronenbourg Jewish cemetery.
Hirt fled Strasbourg in September 1944, hiding in Tübingen in southern Germany. He committed suicide on June 2, 1945.
It wasn't until July this year that the remains of Taffel and his unidentified soulmate in death were found in laboratory jars at the institute.
All these years later, a post mortem was able to discern that his last meal on earth was potato peelings, consumed the night before he was murdered.
Historian Raphael Toledano revealed that a forensics professor by the name of Camille Simonin, who was investigating Hirt, had preserved some of the remains despite the belief they had been buried in 1945.
Several hundred people gathered for a sombre ceremony at the Strasbourg-Cronenbourg Jewish cemetery on Sunday, throwing an earth on a single coffin holding their collective remains.
The victims of Hirt's skeleton collection have been honored across the world through publications, articles, and memorials.
On December 11, 2005, a memorial was unveiled at the anatomy institute of Strasburg hospital, and at the Strasbourg-Cronenbourg Jewish cemetery. The unveiling was attended by relatives of Hirt's victims from Thessalonica, London, Germany, Israel and France.
The plaque reads: "Souvenez-vous d'elles pour que jamais la medecine ne soit devoyée" (Remember them so that medicine never be corrupted again).