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MedUni Vienna research project into the history of brain research on Nazi victims extended by three years

A large number of previously unidentified specimens from the Nazi period discovered
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(13 July 2020) Since July 2017 and within the framework of a joint international initiative, MedUni Vienna has been working on a research project into the use of mortal remains from Nazi victims for scientific purposes in institutions of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and/or the Max Planck Society. On the basis of the research so far – which, amongst other things, brought to light previously unidentified specimens from the Nazi period in Frankfurt am Main – it has been agreed to extend the project.

The background: the project entitled "Brain research at institutions of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in the context of Nazi injustices: brain specimens in institutions of the Max Planck Society and identification of victims" was started in July 2017. The project was originally granted funding of €1.5 million for a period of 40 months; the Max Planck Society has now authorised additional project funding of €2.5 million for the second phase (up to 31 October 2023), €902,500 of which is allocated to MedUni Vienna's subproject.

The project leaders are Gerrit Hohendorf (Technical University of Munich), Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes University/Leopoldina) and Herwig Czech (Medical University of Vienna in collaboration with Berliner Charité); also associated with the project are Volker Roelcke (University of Gießen) and Patricia Heberer-Rice (US Holocaust Memorial Museum). MedUni Vienna is participating via its History of Medicine Chair in its organisational unit for Ethics, Collections and History of Medicine in the Josephinum.

Herwig Czech explains: "The aim of the research project is to name and document those people who can be regarded as Nazi victims, whose brains were used for research by scientists from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and/or the Max Planck Society during and after the Second World War. The research networks for neuropathological research (Note: on Nazi victims) before and during the war are also being reconstructed and investigations are being carried out to identify which publications were produced on the basis of research conducted on Nazi victims. Based on current knowledge, the total number of Nazi victims is assumed to be between 1,800 and 2,400." The vast majority were victims of the Nazi killing of the sick ("euthanasia"); however, they also used brains from Jewish victims of the occupation in Poland, from people executed by Nazi justice, from Allied prisoners of war and from the inmates of concentration camps.