April
28
 

Role of nurses in Third Reich “overlooked”

The work of Nazi doctors is a well-documented lesson in medical ethics. There was even a separate trial for them at Nuremberg and seven were hanged. But what about the nurses who assisted them? Their role has been airbrushed from history, says an Australian academic. Professor Linda Shields, of Curtin University, expressed her concerns in Nursing Review three weeks ago. “There has been a great deal of scholarship on the role of doctors and what they did in Nazi-occupied Europe, what has been neglected or overlooked is the role of nurses,” Shields said. “And yet most of the killings that we are looking at occurred in hospitals where nurses made up the bulk of the workforce. Nurses were very much involved in the killings and the camp experiments,” she said.

Survivor testimonies and available documents state that nurses actively and voluntarily participated in Nazi euthanasia programs, killing over 10,000 people, many of them children. Some estimates are as high as 30,000 victims. While it is impossible to find exact figures on the number of nurses involved - as most of the information was destroyed after the war - Shields says it was a minority of nurses but most have not been held to account for their crimes.

“The bulk of nurses working in Nazi-occupied Europe cared for their patients appropriately, but there were a handful of nurses who chose, and the word is chose, to follow the regime that declared that some of their patients should be killed. These nurses were not forced to do it. The nurses who did these things did them of their own free will,” says Shields, whose historical research into the Nazi era has earned her a place in an international nursing hall of fame, which she will formally receive in August.

Many nurses were allowed to relocate to other hospitals because they disagreed with the objectives of the programs, records state. “There is no record of anyone being sent to a concentration camp. There is no record of anyone losing their job over refusing to participate in the sterilisation or euthanasia programs,” Shields says. She and fellow researcher Dr Susan Benedict will publish a book of their research later this year. ~ Nursing Review, Apr 3

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