Gisella Perl was a successful Jewish gynaecologist in Sighet, Romania before the Second World War. She was best known for her innovative research into female reproduction. In 1944 she, along with almost all of Sighet’s Jews, was transported to Auschwitz, where she was put to work in the infirmary. Although she was relieved at the prospect of working as the inmates’ gynaecologist, believing that in this capacity she would be able to provide some good to her fellow prisoners, Dr. Perl was almost immediately forced to confront the radical hopelessness of camp medicine. Without any anesthesia to assist with the pain, or bandages and antibiotics to aid in the healing after, Dr. Perl performed surgery on hundreds of patients in the hospital at Auschwitz. Two types of surgery were particularly common — those on the pregnant women, and those to repair the damage done to women’s breasts through the brutality of the SS officers, who lacerated the breasts of prisoners with whips.
When Dr. Perl first arrived in Auschwitz, the fate of all pregnant women entering the camp was the same – an immediate trip to the gas chambers. Later, the fate of some became even more horrific: the women were subjected to gruesome medical experiments before being killed, or worse, burned alive without being murdered first. No one knew the truth about the work done at Auschwitz until it was too late. Upon her arrival as one of the new camp physicians, Dr. Mengele instructed Dr. Perl to inform him of any pregnant woman she discovered. The women were even taken away in ”Red Cross trucks” which turned out to be nothing more than disguised death-transports.
”He told me that he would send them to another camp, for milk, for better nutrition. So women began to run directly to him, telling him, ‘I am pregnant.’ I learned that they were all taken to the research block to be used as guinea pigs, and then two lives would be thrown into the crematorium. I decided that never again would there be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz.” – Dr. Perl
After Dr. Perl’s startling realization of the fates of the pregnant women discovered by Dr. Mengele, she began to perform surgeries that before the war she would have believed herself incapable of – abortions. In spite of her professional and religious beliefs as a doctor and an observant Jew, Dr. Perl began performing abortions on the dirty floors and bunks of the barracks in Auschwitz ”using only my dirty hands.”. Without any medical instruments or anesthesia, and often in the cramped and filthy bunks within the women’s barracks, Dr. Perl ended the lives of the fetuses in their mothers’ womb in the hopes that the mother would survive and later, perhaps, be able to bear children. In some instances, the pregnancy was too far along to be able to perform an abortion. In these cases Dr. Perl broke the amnionic sac and manually dilated the cervix to induce labor. In these cases, the premature infant (not yet completely developed), died almost instantly.
Without the threat of their pregnancy being discovered, women were able to work without interruption, gaining them a temporary reprieve from their death sentences.
After leaving Bergen-Belsen, her final destination, at the end of the WWII, she found out both her husband and son had died. She tried to poison herself and was sent to recuperate in a convent in France until 1947. Upon her arrival in New York City (March 1947), she was interrogated upon suspicion of being of assistance to the Nazi doctors of Auschwitz in carrying out human rights abuses. She was finally granted citizenship in 1951. She began work as a gynecologist in New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital and delivered around 3,000 babies in New York alone, becoming an expert in infertility treatment.
Read & watch more:
- Gisella Perl – Angel and Abortionist in Auschwitz Death Camps
- Gisella Perl – Wikipedia
- Dr. Gisella Perl – I was a doctor in Auschwitz, ISBN 0-405-12300-0
- Out of the Ashes – TV movie