Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Out of the Ashes

by Gad Nahshon

In The New York Public Library you can find a unique book: I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz. It was written by a gynecologist, Gisella Perl, a native of Sighet, Hungary. There was a flourishing Jewish community there. Many distinguished Jews such as Elie Wiesel were born there. Gisella Perl grew insight and became a doctor. But in 1944, the Nazis pushed the Jews, Perl, her husband and son into the ghetto but later they were sent to Auschwitz. The family was murdered but Perl was lucky to survive as a gynecologist in Auschwitz. She was nominated by the Nazis to be the head of the women's infirmary, a role she chose in a desperate effort to save the lives of her fellow prisoners. It was a terrible mission since one of her bosses was the Angel of Death himself, Dr. Mengele. But in the Nazi inferno, in the belly of the Nazi cannibals, Perl managed to save the lives of many females.

Gisella, for example, aborted many fetuses in order to save the lives of the mothers. She had to live with unprecedented dilemmas, to kill life when her life's mission as a physician was to save life. The most horrible situation was when Perl saw Dr. Mengele's experiments on human beings or twins. The story of Dr. Perl, who died in Israel many years ago (she moved there from the U.S. Her sister lives in Israel) is the story of Out of the Ashes. It is a production of Showtime. The screenwriter was Anne Meredith who wanted "...to show Gisella's determination to start her life where she left off." The director was Joseph Sargent. The film was produced in Canada and Lithuania. The famous actress Christine Lahti was cast as Gisella Perl. Bruce Davidson was Peter Schuman and Jonathan Cake as Dr. Mengele. Marianne Maloney was the executive producer.

The film deals with many issues which link to the "other planet." Can we judge those who were victimized by the Nazis? What should we say about those who collaborated with the Nazis as "capos" or Jewish policemen in the Nazi ghettos? This was one dimension of Dr. Perl and other physicians who served the Nazis. After the war, Dr. Perl immigrated to the U.S. She had to explain her role in Auschwitz. There were cases in which physicians were charged after the war with Nazi crimes. Did they have a choice? Often the courts and public opinion expressed the opinion that these physicians had a choice or went out of their way to please the Nazis or even to please Dr. Mengele who died in Brazil under mysterious circumstances. (His family lives in Germany and owns a factory of agricultural machinery named: Mengele!) The family did not even bother to change their name. Israel tried to bring him to justice but after the Eichman Trial the topic vanished from the national agenda. Dr. Perl was under a black cloud but today, we know that she was innocent of any crimes against human beings. Her friends, people from Sighet, only praised her behavior in Auschwitz.

Dr. Perl had to overcome the horrors of the Holocaust. She had to return to normalcy. She made efforts to become a gynecologist who serves society, a mission which she accomplished before the coming of the Nazi inferno to Hungary.


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