French Uni ‘may be storing Nazi victims’ skeletons’

A new documentary about the scale of Nazi medical experiments has reopened old wounds in France as one of the country's leading universities investigates whether its stores still contain the remains of some Jewish victims.

French Uni 'may be storing Nazi victims' skeletons'
The main university building at the University of Strasbourg. Photo:Jonathan Martz/Wikimedia Commons
Dr Michel Cymes, the star of a French television medical advice programme, believes that the remains of some of the 86 Jews tortured and mutilated by SS doctor August Hirt may still be in the anatomy collection of the University of Strasbourg.
He first raised the theory in his 2015 bestseller, “Hippocrates in Hell”, and repeated the claim in a new film of the same name shown on French TV this week.
The documentary, which trended on Twitter after it was broadcast, raised awkward questions about how part of the “Jewish skeleton collection” Hirt assembled at the university during the war may have survived in its stores.
The remains of Jews on which Hirt tested mustard gas at the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp near the Alastian city were supposed to have been buried after it was liberated in 1944.
But after Cymes' claims, the university is now conducting an inquiry using outside experts into the contents of 20 boxes found in its collection which bear Hirt's name.
The Swiss-born anatomist was “one of the worst Nazi figures”, according to Dr Raphael Toledano, a specialist on Nazi medical experiments. He was convinced that the Jewish race was on the point of extinction and
wanted to study the skulls of “Judeo-Bolsheviks”.
Cymes, both of whose Polish-born grandfathers perished at Auschwitz, said he had little idea how extensive Nazi medical experiments had been until he started his own investigation.
“I knew about doctors like Josef Mengele and Carl Clauberg and I thought they were two or three others like that, but then I discovered how vast the phenomenon was,” he told AFP.
His eyes were opened when he began looking in detail at the Nuremberg trials of 23 doctors which began in 1946, and in particular a postwar account of the Nazis' activities by the French naval physician, Francois Bayle.
His now almost forgotten book was a “mine of information”, Cymes said. “He noted down everything he heard, it's encyclopaedic, an enormous piece of work”.
When he came to write his own book Cymes said he tried to use his medical knowledge to “describe what the victims would have felt so that people would realise the suffering of these (human) guinea pigs”.
Nearly 70 percent of German doctors were members of the Nazi party, according to Cymes' documentary.
From 1933 onwards when Hitler came to power, medical ethics “were turned upside down”, Cymes said. “The individual was nothing, the people was everything.”
The small number of doctors tried for war crimes at Nuremberg either worked in concentration camps or used prisoners for medical experiments of “unspeakable cruelty”, said Telford Taylor, the prosecutor at the trials.
Others took part in the “Aktion T4” programme to “eliminate people were considered to carry hereditary illnesses”, said Sorbonne historian Johann Chapoutot, who reckons that between 70,000 and 200,000 died in the push between 1941 and 1945.
In the film, Cymes used testimony from experts such as Evelyne Shuster, of the University of Pennsylvania, and the surgeon and historian Yves Ternon from the University of Montpellier to show the scale of the cruelty and slaughter.
He concentrated on the atrocities committed by Karl Gebhardt, the personal physician of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, and his assistant Dr Herta Oberheuser.
But he also noted how the head of the “Aktion T4” programme, Viktor Brack, wanted to sterilise all Jews using X-rays, which he thought “be good value for money”, writing to Himmler that it could be “carried out on several thousand subjects in a very short time”.
While Sigmund Rascher, the SS doctor at the Dachau camp near Munich, tested how the body stood up to the cold and a lack of oxygen.
Cymes said that the documentary and the investigation into Hirt will not be the end of his inquiries.
“The subject is very personal for me and even though it is psychologically hard maybe I will continue digging for other films,” he said.


Outrage in France after Nazi massacre memorial defaced

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday vowed that everything would be done to find out who defaced a memorial for one of the worst single massacres in France by the Nazis during World War II.

Outrage in France after Nazi massacre memorial defaced
The word 'martyr' was crossed out and the word 'liars' written in its place. Photo: Pascal Lachenaud/AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday vowed that everything would be done to find out who defaced a memorial for one of the worst single massacres in France by the Nazis during World War II.
Politicians from across the spectrum denounced the desecration of the main entrance sign for the memorial at Oradour-sur-Glane in central France, where 642 people were slaughtered on June 10, 1944 by a German SS division.
The word “martyr” was crossed out in the sign with white paint.
A blue cover was placed over the sign on Saturday, but images on social media accounts indicated the word in French for “liar” had been added next to it along with other slogans claiming to deny the massacre had taken place.
The inscriptions were discovered on Friday morning when the memorial centre opened, its president Fabrice Escure told AFP.
“It is a complete outrage,” he said, adding that a legal complaint had already been filed and security cameras may be able to provide evidence.
On June 10, 1944, Nazi forces sealed off the village after reports a senior SS commander had been captured by the French resistance.
They grouped together all the men of the village in barns and shot them and then forced the women and children into a church which was set on fire.
 After the war, resistance leader and later president Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village not be rebuilt but left in ruins as a reminder. A new village was built nearby.
The memorial centre, now visited by 300,000 every year, was later constructed to assist visitors.
“Everything will be done to ensure that the authors of this are brought to justice,” Macron said in a statement released by the Elysee Palace, adding that he condemned in the most vehement terms this “unspeakable” act.
“To violate this place of reflection is also to violate the memory of our martyrs,” added Prime Minister Jean Castex.
The incident comes amid growing concern in France over remembering World War II, after repeated vandalisation attacks on Jewish cemeteries.   
“What shocks me is that we do not realise that children and women lost their lives in excruciating pain,” Robert Hebras, 95, the last man still alive among half a dozen men from the village who survived the massacre.
“What I fear is that everyone will now talk about Oradour for 48 hours and then that we stop and then we will forget,” he told AFP.