Trigger warning for graphic descriptions of violence related to the Holocaust
Gisella Perl is one of my heroes, and one of the most overlooked figures in Holocaust history and Jewish history. There’s only one book about her (which is quite a princely sum on Amazon) and a smattering of articles on her work. But what work it was, she was The Angel of Auschwitz, and saved the lives of countless Jewish women by performing abortions on women who were in the camp.
She was a gynecologist who was sent to Auschwitz to perform as the camp’s OBGYN. She had no tools, no medicine, no equipment, no way of maintaining any type of hygiene, let alone sterility, and not even any food to nourish herself or her patients. But in spite of these harsh conditions, without any bandages, drugs, sick beds, laundry, forceps, anaesthetics, or hospital gowns, she saved lives by performing abortions on women in the camp. What awaited them if their pregnancy was discovered became very clear to Dr. Perl in the camps: “They were surrounded by a group of SS men and women, who amused themselves by giving these helpless creatures a taste of hell, after which death was a welcome friend. They were beaten with clubs and whips, torn by dogs, dragged around by their hair and kicked in the stomach with heavy German boots. Then, when they collapsed, they were thrown into the crematory – alive.”
From Holocaust History:
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.
In an interview with Nadine Brozan for the New York Times in 1982, Dr. Perl recalled her initial experiences with Dr. Mengele’s “cure” for pregnancy in Auschwitz. ”Dr. Mengele told me that it was my duty to report every pregnant woman to him,” Dr. Perl said. ”He said that they would go to another camp for better nutrition, even for milk. 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.
In spite of having no equipment, no sanitation, no tools, and being a religious, observant Jewish woman, Dr. Perl lived up to her promise, and performed abortions at Auschwitz, “using only my dirty hands”. With her hands, she saved the lives of thousands who would have otherwise been subject to grotesque torture before dying. What Dr. Perl did is considered a Mitzvah, a blessing, because she saved countless lives and helped women in Auschwitz in their hour of greatest need. She was among the bravest women I’ve ever heard of.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because right now, there is an Anti-Choice group promoting a film which dares compare abortion to the Holocaust, in a gross revision of history meant to suit their own political agendas. It’s to be shown in high schools, substituting authentic education about the Holocaust with someone else’s twisted wish to turn future generations anti-choice. I want to say now, as a Jew, as the owner of a uterus, as a pro-choicer, and as someone who feels the legacy of the Holocaust intertwined with my personal history and my ancestry, that this is obscene beyond belief.
How dare the tragedy of the Holocaust be trivialized in this fashion, how dare the survivors and dead alike be disregarded, how dare they wish to elevate ignorance and lies to the same level as historical truth. The Holocaust has been appropriated countlessly by third party groups, from PETA to creationists, some of whom slyly think that putting a Jewish face on the front of it makes it somehow less offensive. But it remains an eternal reminder that even the greatest of sorrows are not sacred to those who think only of their own agenda.
Eternal shame upon the misogynist, anti-semitic, historically ignorant fools who brought about this campaign.