Dr. Gisella Perl was a Jewish gynecologist who was forced to work with one of humanity’s most grotesque creations – Josef Mengele, a Nazi SS ‘doctor’ who provided ‘services’ at Auschwitz. Gisella is often held up as a hero by those in favor of human abortion for her work at Auschwitz killing prenatal Jewish children. But was she really a ‘pro-choice’ hero or a victim of her circumstances?
Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, conducted brutal and inhuman medical experiments on the prisoners of Auschwitz, specifically targeting pregnant mothers for vivisection, a fate resulting in the horrific death of both the mother and her child.
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.”
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 (estimated at around 3,000) 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.
Is it fair then to use Gisella as some ‘pro-choice’ hero? The Holocaust was an event unlike any other in our human experience. The events that unfolded at places like Auschwitz cannot be used to determine what is right and what is wrong in our daily lives. What Gisella was forced to do was against her beliefs. What the mothers of the children she killed were forced to do were against their better nature. Gisella did not kill those children, Josef Mengele killed those children. The circumstances presented in a place like Auschwitz malforms our application of basic human values and forces decisions that would never be tolerated outside of that cruel setting. Just as we accept cannibalism in certain extreme situations, we must accept what Gisella had to do in her position.
This unimaginable situation is similar to a pregnancy that will result in the death of both the mother and her child. One such example is an ectopic pregnancy. In almost every case, if the baby is not removed from the mother’s body, the mother will die along with her doomed child. Treating an ectopic pregnancy is not electively induced abortion. The death of her child is forced on her by circumstance. Analogously, Josef Mengele was an ectopic pregnancy forced on the pregnant mothers of Auschwitz and their doomed children. Gisella was simply working to salvage one life instead of losing them both. ”No one will ever know what it meant to me to destroy those babies, but if I had not done it, both mother and child would have been cruelly murdered.”
After the war, Josef Mengele avoided capture and escaped to South America where he continued his depraved practice as an abortionist, continuing to electively destroy the lives of innocent human beings.
Dr. Perl was finally liberated from the horrors of the Nazi death camps and found her way to America. From the time that she arrived in New York after liberation, until she moved to Israel in 1979, Dr. Perl delivered over 3,000 healthy babies. She became an expert in infertility, and helped many women who previously could not get pregnant. Until her death in 1988, Dr. Perl did all she could to bring life into this world. And before she delivered each baby, she would silently pray to herself, “God help me, I should be able to give back life today.”