History of Berlin Anatomy 1935 - 1945

at a glance:

1935 - 1945

During these years, anatomy developped from being primarily descriptive to a more functional approach. Anton Waldeyer, prosector from 1935, publishes a textbook, which becomes a forerunner of this approach. Its first edition appears in 1942. The well-known textbook by Alfred Benninghoff (1890-1953, Kiel and Marburg) appears in the same year and follows a similar approach.

The number of medical students rises during these years. In the winter term of 1938/39 more than 1200 students take part in the dissection courses. Even during the war years, these figures do not decrease as doctors for the army have to be produced. Such use  of the bodies of executed men and women was based on laws dating back to 1877, and, as such, was not based on typical "Nazi laws". Nevertheless, while executions had been a rare exception during the Weimar Republic, the number of executions rose quickly after 1933, and the justice system developped into an injustice system. Particularly during the war years, thousands of men and women were executed in Plötzensee and in other German prisons, mostly for political reasons. Willingly or not, German anatomists "benefitted" from a murderous justice system.

Hermann Stieve

From 1935 to 1952, Hermann Stieve (1886-1952) was director of the Institute of Anatomy. He was one of the few chairholders in German anatomy who did not join the NSDAP.

His main research interest regarded the anatomy and physiology of reproduction in man and animal, and particularly the ovary. His histological research results made him an opponent to Hermann Knaus. Stieve was largely right in his critique of Knaus' assumptions regarding the predictability of ovulation and of "safe" periods in the menstrual cycle.

Today, Stieve's research is controversial. While he was still called "a great anatomist who revolutionised the basis of gynaecology through his clinical-anatomical research" on his 100th birthday (Götz 1986), other authors have been very critical of his research on the organs of executed women from Berlin-Plötzense, stressing that Stieve benefitted from a system of obvious injustice and that - at least from today's point of view - he crossed ethical boundaries concerning the use of bodies for research and teaching (Winkelmann/Schagen 2009).

Likely driven by ambition as much as by a sense of duty, Stieve cooperated with  the National socialist Justice System for the sake of his research. The assumption, however, that he was able to "order" the date of an execution for his research according to the menstrual cycle of the women, has been proven wrong. See under Literature.

War damage

In February 1945 a bomb destroys the east wing of the building. In March 1945, another bomb destroys the big lecture hall.

During the last days of the war, the area around the anatomical institute sees heavy house-to-house fighting. Some of the walls still show bullet holes from that time.