May 18, 1974
San Francisco, California, USA
The screen in the large convention hall lit up with the image of a German Messerschmitt 109 fighter crashing in the foreground as a pilot drifted in his parachute, down towards a blue-black sea. The roaring sound of the diving
fighter-bomber awoke those doctors dozing in their seats after their midday meal. Quite an unusual way to start a medical paper, mused Dr. Michel Katz as the audience hushed.
The presenter was standing at the podium. Dr. Robert Small, the moderator, had introduced the speaker, Dr. Jürgen Hauptman. The topic: “Hypothermia in Trauma.”
The name Hauptman—was that the name Martin had mentioned? I can’t remember…I was so disturbed at the time.
Doctor Katz felt queasy. And something else was bothering him…the strong German name, Hauptman…a “hypothermic study.”
Martin said I would see Hans Bloch at this presentation, but it’s been thirty years. Will I recognize him?
“Doctor Hauptman is a practicing general surgeon who has studied hypothermia in surgery over the past thirty years,” said Doctor Small. “He is one of the few investigators who has gathered his data outside of a university system.”
“Thank you for that grand introduction,” said Doctor Hauptman, with a curt nod.
Oh my God, Hauptman is…Bloch?
Michel’s world started to spin. It took everything he had to stay in the present moment.
“I am pleased to be here among this world-renowned faculty,” Doctor Hauptman was saying.
He had the air of a distinguished German professor, his English perfect, with just a slight German accent. His hair was white and perfectly combed, and he sported the traditional navy blue suit worn by most of the speakers.
“During World War II, many airmen lost their lives after successfully parachuting out of their planes into the cold Atlantic waters. The winter temperatures of the Baltic and North Seas hovered around 5 to 10 degrees Centigrade. Even if the pilots were able to get into a rubber raft, the cold air and wet clothing caused them severe hypothermia within two hours of entering the ocean.”
Doctor Hauptman spoke with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. “These tragedies led to studies which demonstrated the various stages of hypothermia leading to death. Initially, with the body’s core temperature cooling down to 36 degrees Centigrade, there are findings of tachycardia, increased blood pressure and peripheral vascular resistance, as well as an increase in cardiac output. Taking the body temperature below 35 degrees Centigrade is associated with bradycardia, decreased blood pressure, and markedly reduced cardiac output.”
Becoming animated, Doctor Hauptman described the sequence leading to death. “As the core temperature drops below 30 degrees Centigrade, ventricular fibrillation may occur, leading to asystole.”
Michel bolted upright at that last fact.
It must be him!
He listened intently as Hauptman continued.
“The heart basically stops, but patients can be successfully resuscitated
from this state with proper attention to cardiac rhythms, core temperature monitoring, and acid-base balance. Of interest: If the head and neck are fully or partially submerged, death occurs more rapidly.”
Looking closer at the speaker, Michel recognized the bluish hemangioma, a birthmark at the left hairline. It was the man he had followed to the hotel yesterday afternoon…Herr Doktor Hans Bloch.
Martin was right. Hans had taken on a different identity. He scanned the room nervously to see if Martin, his worrisome nemesis, had slipped into the auditorium. He didn’t see him. Michel started sweating, his heart pounding like a sledgehammer in his chest.
Feelings from the past began to overtake him, and once again, rage swept through his body. He had watched this man’s treacherous experiments. Then, as now, Hans never blinked or changed facial expression when the death of his subjects was mentioned. Michel’s mind raced as he clenched his hands into fists. He wanted to jump up, but remained anchored in his seat, unsure of his next move.
What should I do? How do I make this right?
After the interesting and curious introduction to his medical paper, Doctor Hauptman went on to detail his experimental studies that preceded his invention of a revolutionary new device—a cooling blanket to be used in surgery that would lower the body temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. He said the initial experimental procedures had been carried out for the military in San Antonio and left no doubt about the safety of this new approach.
That is a lie.
The audience, now riveted, didn’t seem to notice that the doctor laughed as he talked about the ease in getting volunteers for his study.
“In conclusion,” Doctor Hauptman stated, “our hypothermia studies have now given us information that allows us to safely operate on complex neurosurgical, cardiac, and multiple trauma patients.”
Michel’s chest burned with pain, and sweat formed on his brow. He knew where these “volunteers” had come from. His distress increased with every memory now resurfacing of his time in the death camps. He waited in agony until the doctor finished discussing his paper.
During the crucial question-and-answer period, a physician approached the microphone. “Tell me, Doctor, these days, how difficult is it to get permission to carry out potentially dangerous studies on human volunteers?
Doctor Hauptman responded, “In the usual university hospital setting, this could be a problem. But remember, we were working with, how should I say, ‘willing’ servicemen as volunteers.”
A hushed laugh circulated in the ballroom.
Michel forced himself up from his chair and hesitantly approached the microphone in the aisle
What should I say? Am I crazy? No, I have to do this
He paused. An eerie silence filled the room as he spoke slowly, yet clearly, for all to hear: “I am Doctor Katz, Michel Katz. Those studies were not carried out in Texas. They were completed in Poland at a German concentration camp—Auschwitz, to be exact—some thirty years ago.”
A soft murmur rushed through the audience.
“I should know…” Michel went on.
Oh my god. What am I doing…?
“I was there—as an inmate and a doctor. I did the autopsy and tissue studies on the twenty men who died after this man deliberately chilled them.” He paused, his throat tightening up. “I still carry the shame and guilt for my role in these experiments—and worse, my lack of courage to try and stop them.” The hall was stunned silent. Michel stood shaking in front of the elevated stage. Finally, he realized he had nothing more to hide. The barriers he had constructed to protect himself and shield others were gone. The pressure in his chest mounting, and on the verge of collapse, he fought to stay clear and alert.
“This man is Maj. Hans Bloch of the SS, not Jürgen Hauptman. And not only is he a liar here today, but he is a war criminal for having conducted these studies. Moreover, and more despicably, he did these and other horrific things under the guise of medical science.”
Hans Bloch stood paralyzed as Michel spoke. His face reddened with fury, he jumped from the stage and charged down the aisle, crying, “Lousy Jew pig! I will finish off what we should have done thirty years ago!”
Stiletto in hand, Hans raced toward Michel…
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