Over at Street Anatomy, you can find some utterly stunning anatomical images from a series of books called Pernkopf Anatomy; really, it’s beautiful stuff, with artfully posed models and exquisite detail. If you get on Amazon and look up the books, you’ll see that you might be able to find used copies for $500 and up — far out of my price range, but for the quality, they might well be worth that.
Except, unfortunately, for this little detail…
Like Pernkopf, the artists for his atlas were also active Nazi party members. Erich Lepier even signed his paintings with a Swastika, which up until 15 years ago remained in editions of the atlas, but have been airbrushed out since then.
In 1995, an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, summarized the history of the University of Vienna in 1938. They found that the Anatomy Institute of the University of Vienna, where Pernkopf worked, received the cadavers of prisoners executed during the Holocaust. The University of Vienna conducted their own investigation and found that in fact 1377 bodies of murdered victims, including children, were taken into the Anatomy Institute. It is also known that Pernkopf willingly accepted the bodies of murdered adults and children to the Institute. Therefore, it is almost without a doubt that Pernkopf used these bodies for the dissections from which the anatomical illustrations were drawn.
I’ve often said that I’m not a spiritual person, and that I don’t believe in any kind of spirituality at all. I do believe, however, that objects can be imbued with meaning beyond their simple physical parameters; they can carry a burden of history and intent that, when you know it, can trigger deeper feelings than mere matter would warrant. If I were to own such an item, I know that I could not touch it without feeling revulsion for its authors, and reverence for its victims, and that I would set it aside from my ordinary library as something more than just a book.
Don’t mistake that for a belief in the supernatural, or that there is some greater metaphysic that surrounds our material existence. Ghosts and gods do not sanctify portions of our world. The resonance of a book like Pernkopf Anatomy comes from the fact that it is anchored in purely human evil, and purely human sacrifice—it is a morbid reminder of what we can do.