The Angel of Auschwitz

Beyond Band of Brothers

Forced into an inhumane situation, Gisella Perl saved women’s lives by performing abortions on them

Perl’s book about her experiences

Gisella Perl was born into a Hungarian Jewish family in 1907 in the town of Máramarossziget (located in present-day Romania). She graduated from high school as the first in her class, even though she was the only girl and the only Jew. She wanted to be a doctor, but her father was reluctant to support her as he didn’t want to risk her breaking away from her faith. He finally gave his consent when she swore on a prayer book that she would always remain a true Jew.

Perl married a surgeon and worked as a gynecologist until 1944, when the Nazis deported both her and her husband to Auschwitz, where she was forced to work for Dr. Josef Mengele. Having to work in a hospital with no beds, medicine, bandages or instruments, she frequently had to operate on patients without anesthetics, trying to calm them down by telling them stories and promising a better future.

Expectant women faced a terrible fate in Auschwitz. Mengele wanted to use pregnant women as subjects for his experiments, ordering everyone to reveal any pregnancies to him. Women who were not reported would be eventually and inevitably discovered by the guards, beaten, tortured, and murdered – sometimes by being thrown into the crematorium still alive.

Dr Josef Mengele, the nazi Angel of Death

Learning of this, Perl decided to save women from this fate the only way she could. She would go around the barracks at night, giving medical aid to those in need and performing abortions under unsanitary conditions with her bare hands. In her own words:

 

“I learned that they were all taken to the research block to be used as guinea pigs, and then two lives would be thrown into the crematorium. I decided that never again would there be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz… No one will ever know what it meant to me to destroy those babies, but if I had not done it, both mother and child would have been cruelly murdered.”

She ended the lives of about 3,000 fetuses in the hope that their mothers might survive, and may be able to bear children again later.

The arrival of Hungarian Jewish people to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.

In January 1945, with the Soviet army moving swiftly across Poland from the east, Perl was transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. When the camp was eventually liberated by British forces, she was in the process of delivering a baby, who became the first child to be born free at the camp.

After the war was over, Perl went in search of her family. She soon learned that her husband had been beaten to death shortly before liberation and her son had died in the gas chambers. Overcome with grief, she tried to poison herself but survived the suicide attempt. She settled down in New York City in 1947, where she had to endure interrogations and accusations of human rights abuse due to her function as an assistant to Nazi doctors. She was eventually naturalized as an American citizen in 1951. Perl became friends with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who convinced her to return to practicing medicine. She found employment at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where she became an infertility specialist would offer up a prayer every time she entered the delivery room:

“God, you owe me a life – a living baby.”

Dr Gisella Perl after World War II

Perl was eventually reunited with her daughter, Gabriella Krauss Blattman, who survived the war by hiding. The both moved to Israel and settled down in Herzliya, where Perl died in 1988.

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