We have previously shared the story of Stanislawa Leszczyńska, a midwife at Auschwitz who delivered almost 3,000 babies while imprisoned in the concentration camp.
But while Stanislawa delivered infants, another Jewish medical professional risked her life to save the lives of other women in Auschwitz: a gynecologist named Dr. Gisella Perl. Under the watchful, evil eye of Dr. Josef Mengele, Perl realized that in order to save the lives of the women in her care, she could not safely deliver babies like Stanislawa. Instead, Perl performed abortions.
Gisella Perl was born in Hungary in 1907, and showed signs of being particularly gifted early in life. At the age of 16, Perl graduated first in her secondary school class, becoming the first woman and the only Jew to have done so.
Her father was hesitant to support her academic aspirations, particularly in medicine, fearing that they would lead her to abandon her faith. She assured him that they would not. Perl later married a surgeon and was working as a gynecologist in Hungary when the Germans invaded in 1944.
That year, the Nazis sent Perl, her husband, son, parents and extended family to Auschwitz. A young daughter was hidden with a non-Jewish family just before Perl’s family was taken from the Hungarian ghetto.
Upon arriving at Auschwitz, the Nazis separated Perl from the rest of her family. Her son would die in a gas chamber, and her husband would be beaten to death shortly before the camp was liberated. Gisella Perl was spared, only to become an Auschwitz physician under the notorious Josef Mengele.
Initially, Perl was tasked with encouraging inmates to donate blood for use by the German army. When Dr. Mengele realized that Perl had been trained in gynecology, however, he saw an opportunity to obtain information about which inmates had arrived pregnant.
In addition to his experiments on twins, Mengele also performed horrific experiments on pregnant women, including vivisection (experimentation and, in some cases, autopsy-like surgeries performed on living, waking humans).
Mengele commanded Perl that she was to report all pregnancies to him directly. Pregnant women, he said, would be sent to a different camp – one with better care for mother and child. Having already seen the horrors that prisoners faced at the hands of the Nazis, Perl knew better than to believe him. She also knew that she couldn’t tell him about a single pregnancy. How she’d keep them a secret, however, she had yet to figure out.
Tragically, some women who overheard this conversation went to Mengele to tell him they were pregnant of their own volition. They were experimented on and, ultimately, died.