Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Innocent photo - Grave consequences

Here is a puzzle for you.

The first picture you see below: what kind of emotions does it trigger?

Want to guess what the story behind the photo is? Give it a shot, but do not peek at the text under the picture.

Let me help you a bit. Two women, one of them dressed in a white uniform taking a close look at the other woman's eye. Are you closer to a good guess?

The women look European. The hair style, dress and white uniform seem old fashioned. The colors of the photo look like faded old technicolor pictures. Got it?

If you are as ignorant as I am, you would guess this is a nurse in an eye clinic somewhere in Europe, 60 years or so ago. the nurse was probably doing some basic evaluation before the doctor comes in to examined the patient.

And, you would be close, yet very wrong.

Take a look at the full photo below. Notice the shiny metal instruments on the desk.

Give up on guessing? OK, here is the answer.

It sure was a clinic. And the 'angel of mercy' is a German nurse taking some measurements of the 'patient'. Measurements like color of the eyes, tone of the skin, and few skull dimensions.

The clinical question is 'Will the patient live or die?'

And the treatment plan? It all depends on the diagnosis, and it was one of two diagnoses.

If the measurements were 'right', the patient was deemed Aryan. And if so, they will be sent home and have a good long happy life among 'look-alike' fellow Aryans in a society where every one shared the same pure gene pool.

If the skull measurements and eye color suggested that the 'patient' was a Jew, Gypsy or Roma, then they would be sent where living was a bit less happy, and life was likely to be a lot shorter than for their Aryan fellows, such as in a slave labor camp and eventually in a concentration camp.

And, by the way, a simple identifying tattoo on the forearm of the 'impure' citizen was required, just to avoid any future confusion about what they are, and to avoid the need for future re-testing.

Now, do you still have the same feeling you had about the photo before you knew the truth?

I came across this photo in the Wikimedia Commons collection donated by the German historic archives about Germany in prewar times. I remember how neutral I was toward the photo till I read the description, then I suddenly had a knot in my stomach, and truly felt nauseous.

I guess the thought that a simple physical measurement can decide if a human must live or die, is hard to stomach.

Put yourself in that poor woman's seat. Think of your daughter's height or the shape of her skull, or your son's skin tone, and how curly his hair is. Think if any of these simple things was the major determinant of their stature in the society, the kind of school they can attend, or worse: if they must be removed from the society's gene pool for 'the benefit of the rest of us'.

Pretty easy to get nauseated and physically sick at the thought. Yet, millions have endured that: Gypsies, Jews, Roma in the 1930s and 1940s Germany, and Tutsi and Huto in 1990 Rowanda. And much more millions knew about it, and did nothing for so long.

I saw photo above for the first time about 2 months ago. I was not sure how to make a post out of it, but I knew I want to post how it made me feel, so I saved it. And just today, a Jewish friend emailed me the cartoon below, and I felt it was time to write this posting.

As for the cartoon, it speaks for itself.


Original description of the photo (translated from German)
Crime Rassehygienische and Biological Research Center of the National Health .- woman with a white gown (nurse Eva Justin?) In determining the color of eyes of a young woman (Gypsies / Roma?)"


  1. Great post. We need consistent reminders to remain proactive, live in harmony with others without compromising our principles and not take anything for granted. No matter how civilized our set ups appear to be, human mind is a dangerous place expecially when intoxicated by superiority complex, power and wealth.

  2. I've been reading your writings for a bit more than 6 months, you've given me much to think about. This photo is chilling, the cartoon is moving. Blessings upon you, sir, for providing me with the opportunity to see them both. Hope with me that I never forget either of them.

  3. Incredible how easy it is to forget what has happened and how people suffered and maybe that is why history keeps repeating itself. Or is it because humans are the worst of all primates and kill others simply out of want not out of need

  4. Nice work, Khaluda.

    Keep i tup.