Professors share insight on role of radiology during Nazi era

An exhibit about radiology during the Nazi regime opened at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, Israel, in advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 16; two radiologists offered their unique perspectives on this dark chapter in scientific history.

The exhibit details how the Nazis used x-rays for castration, sterilization and to irradiate prisoners; X-rays also were used to diagnose diseases such as tuberculosis. Those who were diagnosed with the diseases were usually murdered immediately.

In addition, the exhibit tells the story of Jewish radiologists, who either fled the country or were forced into camps by the Nazis.

“Your fellow radiologists took a part in excluding their colleagues from the profession, did nothing to defend them and helped them to ultimately leave the country or looked away when they were killed,” Professor Norbert Hosten, MD, president of the German Radiological Society, said in an interview with TLV1.

Professor Jacob Sosna, chairman of the department of radiology at the Hadassah Medical Center and president of the Israel Radiological Association, said he first saw the exhibit when it opened in Germany in 2014. Sosna said he had an immediate reaction to the exhibit both as a Jewish man with familial ties to the holocaust and as a radiologist.

“I’m a son of holocaust survivors and, for me, the Holocaust means a lot,” Sosna said, also in the TLV1 interview. “From a professional perspective, seeing that my profession was used not only to treat people, but rather to harm them, is something that is problematic.”

Sosna said the exhibit led him to look back at the history of radiology, starting from the beginning.

“I was thinking that radiology started in 1895 when [Wilhelm] Röntgen invented the x-rays that were used for the benefit of mankind, and 50 years later, it was used in order to harm people,” Sosna said. “The contradiction and difference between that gave me the idea that we need to collaborate and have the personal as well as the professional aspects brought together.”

Professor Sosna pointed out that, even with his chosen career path, the exhibit introduced him to a lot of new information.

“I’m a radiologist and didn’t know about those aspects until last year,” Sosna said. “It was not something that was well known to the public.”

Hosten said that this is news to just about everyone, and it was only brought to the surface when a young German radiologist found out her grandfather was directly involved.

Now that this information is out, he has observed a generational difference in how radiologists are reacting. While the older generation simply don’t want to know about it, younger radiologists see the value of learning about the mistakes of the past.

“The younger generation said, ‘Well, that’s a very good thing that we looked at that, and it can teach us that, as a doctor, you should not just do what you are told, you should follow your own conscious,’” Hosten said.