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“Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” — Challenges for GFH Guides

“Deadly Medicine” is an extraordinary exhibition.  While it centers on the subject of medicine and physicians during the Nazi era, it also extends over a broad range of socio-philosophical issues. The exhibition’s matter is history, but it also, through a variety of displays, touches upon sociology, psychology, health care, design, mass media, education, and politics. The visitor has the difficult task of examining complex relationships and the different ways in which concepts from many and varied fields intersect. How was the distorted use of words such as “health,” “disease,” “sanity,” “future,” “money, anxiety,” and “education” created? How was a worldview established in which children, the elderly, the ill, and the disabled were put to death for the sake of the healthy and rosy future of the State?

The exhibition is filled with details, in various textual and graphic formats. These characteristics make “Deadly Medicine” a challenge for both the individual visitor and GFH’s guides.  Before leading groups, the guides must first acquire a fundamental acquaintance with the exhibits: a process that involves reading all the display texts, as well as numerous visits to the exhibition itself, to gain an in-depth familiarity with the exhibits’ contents and how these interrelate by their disciplines and thematically.

Guiding for this exhibition is divided into two main types. The first is for visitors grounded in medicine or ancillary fields: physicians, nurses, Red Magen David personnel, the IDF medical corps, et al. These visitors go through the exhibition in chronological order, surveying the historical and ideological development of medicine and medical professionals in Nazi Germany. The guide’s orientation presents the historical process while relating to contemporary dilemmas facing the medical profession today. For example, examining the principles underlying eugenics versus those on which today’s genetic medicine is based. Another angle is for physicians to explore the limitations on exercising their authority – scientific, social, and ethical – compared with the absence of such limitations during the Nazi era.

The second type of guiding makes use of elements in “Deadly Medicine” to emphasize, illuminate or deepen the understanding of specific issues the group has already encountered in other exhibitions during their visit, and as part of a central topic dealt with variously in those others. For example, an exploration of “red lines” – individual or societal – based on exhibit displays, text passages, and photo images in the exhibition.

In order to prepare for this second approach, a team was set up of GFH museum division guides and Center for Humanistic Education staff members. After joint discussions and meetings, a Guide’s Manual was compiled dealing with a variety of topics, such as “red lines,” “society’s treatment of the disabled,” “professionals’ ethical responsibility,” and “education for equality.” Each topic has an introductory workshop activity was created for each topic to prepare visiting groups for viewing the exhibition and enabling group members to deal with their group’s central issue.

Since “Deadly Medicine” opened on the international Holocaust Remembrance Day in late January, we have gained guiding experience in it. We’ve discovered that the exhibition stimulates great interest both among individual visitors and organized groups. Working together with visitor groups, GFH guides are examining and dealing with new, intriguing and challenging questions on how civilian society deals with a totalitarian, racialist regime, and the question of personal responsibility of the individual – particularly a member of the credentialed professions – for the actions of state and society.

We invite the public to come, see, and learn.

Paramedics from the Iaraeli Ambulance Corps: Megen David Adom Guides to Poland



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