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Myron Winick. Hunger Disease

Отправлено от Anonymous - Saturday, October 01 @ 00:00:00 MSD

Hunger Disease:

Studies by the Jewish Physicians in the Warsaw Ghetto:

Their Historical Importance and Their Relevance Today

By Myron Winick,

Williams Professor Emeritus of Nutrition, Columbia University

This lecture will tell a story that is, and that we can only hope will remain, unique in the annals of medicine. It is the report of a scientific study by physicians condemned to die of the same disease they were studying: hunger and subsequent starvation. The time was 1940, the place the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. The Nazis had sealed several hundred thousand people off from the outside world, determined to starve them to death. Amid the destruction, starvation, and rampant infectious disease, a group of physicians decided to undertake a careful medical investigation of hunger and starvation. To undertake such a study in a fully equipped hospital using a well-trained staff would have been difficult enough; to undertake the study in a hospital within the ghetto walls which was poorly equipped and staffed by personnel who themselves were starving was remarkable. The details of the study had to be worked out in secret meetings, the essential equipment had to be smuggled into the ghetto, personnel had to be trained, and the entire operation had to be kept secret from Nazi conquerors who wanted none of this exposed to the outside world. Even the final manuscript, written in Polish, had to be smuggled out to the Aryan side. It was entrusted to Professor Orlowski, Director of the Department of Medicine at Warsaw University, who buried it until it could be safely uncovered.

In 1945 the manuscript was recovered and given to the American Joint Distribution Committee. Shortly thereafter several hundred copies were printed in Polish. During the 1950s a few copies of a French translation became available. Because of its limited availability the study was almost completely unknown to the world scientific community. In 1979 I had the opportunity to edit an English edition translated by the late Martha Osnos and published by John Wiley & Sons under the title, Hunger Disease. The publication in English has resulted in acceptance by the scientific community of the remarkable contribution made by these physicians. I hope it has also achieved one of the objectives of the doctors carrying out the study: the recognition of the enormous contribution of Jewish medicine and science even under the deplorable conditions that existed in the Warsaw ghetto.

Only two of the major doctors taking part in the study survived. One was the cardiologist Emil Apfelbaum, who lived just long enough to retrieve the manuscript and ironically died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. The other was Henryk Fenigstein, who immigrated to Canada where he had two successful medical careers, one as an obstetrician and the second as a psychiatrist specializing in the problems that confronted many of the holocaust survivors and their families. My wife and I had the pleasure of celebrating his 70th birthday with him and his wife about twenty years ago. I told him that I was thinking of writing a novel about the study. He encouraged me to do so, for he felt strongly that the world should know not only about the findings of the study but also about those who contributed to carrying it out and to make sure the manuscript survived.

The novel, which is now finished, also points out how the findings in the study remain extremely relevant today. For example, if we had known these findings when the concentration camps were liberated, perhaps thousands of lives might have been saved. Today, with starvation still rampant throughout the third world, we have learned from the study how to treat these people. We will discuss other findings in the study that have influenced the way in which we now treat chronically malnourished children and adults.

Thus the discussion will be not only about a study unique in the annals of medical history but also about the doctors and nurses who carried it out, the smugglers who brought in the equipment and took out the manuscript, and the people on the Aryan side who realized the importance of the findings and hid the manuscript in a safe place.

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