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The Women of Block 10

In his book “The Women of Block 10”, author and journalist Hans-Joachim Lang gives the victims of medical experiments at the concentration camp Auschwitz a face, focusing on those who suffered rather than on the doctors by seeing events from their perspective. “The Nazi doctors considered women to be guinea pigs,” writes Lang.  “To me they are not anonymous victims but real people with names and histories.”

Under the supervision of “The Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS,” doctors tested methods of mass sterilization on nearly 800 Jewish female prisoners from every European country and carried out experiments on cervical cancer and rheumatism in the 2-story Block 10. Most of the women died painful deaths as a result; 300 survived the human experiments. Lang, an editor at the newspaper Schwäbischen Tagblatt, gathered facts with the aid of documents in the ITS (International Tracing Service) archive, trial testimony, autobiographical publications and additional witnesses.  He was also able to speak with several eyewitnesses.

The reader learns what becomes of the women and how the survivors come to terms with their experience. Lang talks about the daily routine at the trial stations and specific experiments, but he also portrays the extraordinary difficulty survivors had in returning to normal life: the haunting fear, serious health issues, suppression in the young Federal Republic and the lack of legal prosecution.

The author, who was born in Speyer in 1951, does not intend his book to be understood as a type of required moral lesson. “There needs to be a place such as Auschwitz as an affirmation of basic human rights and medical ethics,” Lang emphasizes. “Human rights do not have to obtain their measure of value by the negation of evil. We can only make sense of this when these women are not forgotten.”

Hans-Joachim Lang
Die Frauen von Block 10
(The Women of Block 10)
Medical Experiments at Auschwitz
Hoffman and Campe Publishers, Hamburg 2011
288 pages, €22.90