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La série du NEJM ‘Recognizing Historical Injustices in Medicine and the Journal’ continue : ‘Nazism and the Journal’

Points clés

En décembre 2023, j‘ai présenté une série d’articles du NEJM (New ENgland Journal of Medicine), avec un éditorial et un article sur l’esclavage. J’ai eu des commentaires bienvenus. La série, Recognizing Historical Injustices in Medicine and the Journal,  continue avec :

  • le 4 janvier 2024 : Indigenous Americans — The Journal’s Historical “Indian Problem”
  • le 1er février 2024 : Explaining Health Inequities — The Enduring Legacy of Historical Biases
  • le 2 mars 2024 : “Ridding the Race of His Defective Blood” — Eugenics in the Journal, 1906–1948
  • le 30 mars 2024 : Nazism and the Journal

Les articles de la série ont un avertissement

nejm slavery

Un premier article en 1935

Hitler was first specifically mentioned in the Journal in 1935, in an article by Michael M. Davis, a noted American health expert and reformer, and his collaborator Gertrud Kroeger, a leading German nurse. Yet between this article and 1944, when Nazi war crimes were first explicitly acknowledged in an editorial, the Journal remained all but silent regarding the deeply antisemitic and racist motives of Nazi science and medicine and the threat to the “ideals” of civilization, as Albert Einstein put it in an open letter to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

L’article suivant en 1944…  après presque 10 ans de silence

But when the Allied powers liberated the concentration camps, it became clear, as the so-called Doctors’ Trial (1946–1947) categorically demonstrated, that the medical profession in Germany embraced Nazism’s antisemitic and eugenic ideology and was deeply complicit in the implementation of mass extermination. The crimes of the Nazi state could no longer be ignored. The first Journal article explicitly damning Nazi medical atrocities is a 1949 article by Leo Alexander, a Viennese-born American neuropsychiatrist, who gathered evidence for the trial of the Nazi doctors at Nuremberg.

Par contre, le JAMA a publié les ‘Berlin letters’ (2 à 4 par mois pendant quelques années)

More relevantly, the fact that Jewish physicians were being persecuted was well known in medical circles. The Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA), for instance, which had a “Berlin correspondence,” frequently informed its readership about the detrimental impact of Nazi rule on medical practice. During the first year after Hitler’s accession to power, two to four “letters” per month were written by various JAMA correspondents around the world, including from Berlin. (The Berlin letters would appear every month until 1940.) In 1933, under the new heading “Foreign Medical News,” JAMA published a report entitled “New Regulation of German Medical Practice,” detailing the persecution of Jewish physicians, including the restriction of their practice and access to medical education.

Un article de 1973 dans Bulletin of History Medicine sur ces lettres.


J’ai lu deux fois cet article, sans pouvoir juger les comportements des journaux pendant la seconde guerre mondiale. Cela nous questionne sur le rôle des journaux scientifiques dans les conflits actuels, ce qui sera l’objet du billet de demain.

The Journal paid only superficial and idiosyncratic attention to the rise of the Nazi state until the liberation of the camps in 1944–1945. Perhaps it was this complacency or lack of careful attention to the pernicious nature of Nazi rule that allowed Davis and Kroeger’s article to be published in the first place. As we explore historical injustices in the Journal and beyond, we must consider not only expressions of explicit and implicit bias, discrimination, racism, and oppression, but also how rationalization and denial may lead to silence, omission, and acquiescence — considerations that are critical to understanding systematic historical injustices and their powerful, tragic legacies.

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