Little Grey Rabbit's Historical Skepticism Blog

Before the Roswell Autopsy: The Strasbourg Anatomical Institute

Posted in Experiments, Resistance and Psychological Warfare by littlegreyrabbit on January 12, 2011

Some time back I posted about some odd features of one of the corpses at the liberation of Buchenwald :  We are the Hollow Men.  The gist of which was that one of the corpses presented seemed anatomically impossible in as much it appeared to have a hollow head.  I would not claim enormous expertise in this subject, although I do possess an excellently functioning head of my own and also somehow managed to pass an undergraduate course in anatomy.  There is, however, another liberation set of photos that has provoked my puzzlement and that is the Strasbourg Anatomical Institute skeletonn collection alleged procured by Professor August Hirt.

Two vats allegedly stored the collection

The original album can be viewed here in a reproduction put together by JC Pressac and Serge and Beate Klarsfeld.  It includes the photos and a selection of the backing documentation that consists of a handful of letters between the various parties, the skeleton collection has been part of the charge in a couple of trials and the authenticity of this documentation has not been disputed.  Although August Hirt himself disappeared and it is claimed he committed suicide (although the evidence of this is sketchy and appears to involve secret exhumations by Mossad agents according to one otherwise reputable historians – but I digress).  The facts that seem to universally be agreed is that 87 Jews were gassed during August 1943 in a specially designed facility at Natzweiler-Struthof.  Then, according to Pressac: ‘As of September 1944, the 86 corpses were still steeped in alcohol, COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN. Pierre Henripierre stated quite succinctly: “Once the bodies had been preserved and placed in vats, THEY REMAINED THERE FOR A YEAR WITHOUT BEING DISTURBED BY ANYONE.”’ Further correspondence followed regarding what should be done with the skeleton collection (which was really a collection of fully fleshed corpses) during late 1944 until the liberation of Strasbourg at the end of November.  At which point one presumes the following photographs were taken, although the earliest dated documents I can recall seeing is a letter from the investigating judge, Major Jadin, dated February 1944.

The most famous photo is the following of Menachem Taffel, 107969, who had been transported from Berlin to Auschwitz in March 1943

Famous Skeleton Collection photo

This photo with the clearly visible tattoo number led to the identification of this individual and eventually the identification of all the names of the alleged 87 victims of this atrocity.  An English version is here, in summary I believe a document was claimed to have been found at Auschwitz of a list of prisoner numbers regarding a transfer into quarantine mid 1943, which included this prisoner number.

The first thing that struck me was the tattoo markings seemed particularly broad and strong, unusual from other tattoo photos after liberation – but this could simply be a result of photo retouching.  More significant is the surprising state of preservation of the body over a year since its death.  During my brief and unenjoyable study of Anatomy I did deal with one preserved corpse, and there is no way one could possibly mistake a body preserved in such a fashion for one recently deceased.  Any lengthy time in embalming fluid creates a very distinctive brown-grey skin hue and a very wet, water-logged appearance – quite unpleasant on the first viewing.

Another feature is corpses quickly lose any post-morteum rigor mortus stiffness, the muscle tissue breaks down somewhat and limbs become extremely pliable.  Whereas with the rear arm of Mr Taffel it appears that the fore finger is supporting the arm against the edge of the vat and there may be some tension in the forearm.

Dismembered Limbs in Vat

As a skeleton collection it left a lot to be desired in terms of anatomical good practice, particularly due to the fact that the parts were stored without order (nor is there any sign of any preservation alcohol here).  Towards the back and at the center is one of the odd torsos that can be seen in more detail in the photos below

Odd photo #1

I find these photos utterly beyond belief, in my limited experience with preserved bodies.  The gravity-defying stiff torso epidermal layers look impossible assuming they have not been embedded with some kind of wax.  The rigidity of the arms seem also implausible for a 14 month corpse.

Odd photo #2

Here is the second of these odd hollow torso photos

Odd photo #3

This is the final of the 3 photos showing both of the hollow torsos, the left arm of the back torso is still showing its rigid, gravity defying behaviour.

One of the original photo captions from NO-483

In fact, and this may be nothing more than a result of a lack of knowledge during 1945, the original photo captions had nothing particularly to do with Jews, but frequently referred to the victims being those of Russian POWs.

I post these photos and my interpretation as much for informed comment and correction, but to my limited experience in such matters I can’t believe in the authenticity of all the Struthof Album and it should be viewed, at least in part, as an example Greulpropaganda or Psychological Warfare on behalf of the Allies.

It reminds of a curious conversation I had when I was in Iraq during 2004.  I have no personal opinion on the fate of Uday and Quasay Hussein, but I do know that their demise was the subject of much fevered speculation by ordinary Iraqis at the time.

Mosul: the attack of the Hussein brothers' apartment

According to accounts I heard at the time it appeared to bystanders that the US Army just turned up and started blasting munition at an apartment building in Mosul – with no reports of fire coming from it or any attempt to gain entry by the military.  Certainly these soldiers don’t seem to be concerned about weapons being fired from the apartment as they have no cover at all.  The US military thoughtfully sent a photographer along to cover this epoch making event.

After the assault bewildered Iraqis gathered to puzzle over the eccentric behaviour of their new overlords and perhaps mutter amongst themselves that the new boss was not so different to the old boss.

Locals look on in bemusement

Uday Hussein was doubtless a modern Nero whose misdeeds included regular rape of young virgins, drinking cocktails (Bloody Marys) made with human blood and throwing non-performing football players to the lions (a much underrated technique in sports psychology)

Uday in happier days

The evening of the US assault on the non-resisting Mosul apartment block, the occupation authorities announced they had killed Uday and Quasay Hussein and to demonstrate this released photos allegedly of their corpses (Uday below).  These pictures were greeted with massive skepticism by the Iraqi on the street.

Uday Dead: the first version

In response the US military released the photo below – of a bearded man dead from causes unknown. 

Uday Dead: The Final Cut

 This scarcely seemed to be more convincing to the ordinary Iraqis at the time.  For my part I neither know or care who these individuals are or what may have happened to the junior Husseins.  I can, however, describe opinion at the British Basra base where I was being held as an involuntary guest at the time.  Iraqis were employed in various roles from cleaners to interpreters.  Those doing unskilled work were given US$3 a day, while those with a university education (usually interpreters) were paid a princely US$8 a day (and no, even in Iraq that didn’t go very far).  While I questioned the Iraqi interpreters on their views of what happened to the Hussein sons, one of them looked around carefully to see that no British soldiers could overhear us and whispered to me: “The Americans, everyone says they are experts at waxworks. Is it true?”  To which I replied I had no idea.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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