The Master Plan by Heather Pringle

The Master Plan by Heather Pringle

Author:Heather Pringle [Heather Pringle]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780007383887
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Published: 2006-07-14T16:00:00+00:00

HIRT WAS THIRTEEN years older than Beger and was a man that many found impossible to forget. As a young teenaged soldier during the First World War, he had received a severe gunshot wound to his upper and lower jaw.28 When the injury finally mended, his face took on a fierce, scarred, rather cavernous look that tended to unsettle people. Hirt tried to compensate for this with a jocular, friendly, outgoing demeanor.29 Some people found this bluff manner charming and were greatly drawn to him.30 But others were unable to get beyond his scarred appearance.31

Despite his terrible injury—or perhaps because of it—Hirt studied medicine at university, becoming a talented anatomist. He specialized in the human nervous system, and together with a Jewish colleague, he pioneered an early form of medical imaging that permitted researchers to inject dyes into the organs of living animals and study their function under fluorescent light.32 But the long hours he sunk into his research did not stop him from getting involved in extremist politics. While he was a member of the medical faculty at the University of Heidelberg, he joined the SS, swiftly becoming its campus leader. And on the strength of his research and the strong connections he was beginning to forge to the SS, he rose to prominence in the German medical establishment.

In 1939, shortly before the German invasion of Poland, Hirt joined one of the army’s Panzer divisions as a military doctor and spent the next two years tending the wounded in a series of field hospitals. After Germany’s annexation of the long-disputed French territory of Alsace-Lorraine in 1940, he received an important new position in Strassburg. The Reich Ministry of Education had transformed the city’s four-hundred-year-old university into a new type of educational institute, the Reich University of Strassburg. Staffed with German scientists and scholars, the university was intended to be a showcase of Nazi research and pedagogy.33 It hired Hirt as the director of its anatomical institute. From the start, he paraded his authority as an SS officer, turning up at classes dressed in an SS uniform complete with a revolver slung in his holster.34

In Strassburg, Hirt began searching for war-related research projects. He believed that a dye he used in his medical-imaging research—trypaflavine—might help heal the terrible burns suffered by soldiers caught in a mustard-gas attack.35 The German army had employed mustard gas in the First World War, and many Germans feared that the Allies would one day turn the tables. Hirt wanted to test the dye treatment, claiming that he had enjoyed some success with it while assisting a pharmacist accidentally exposed to mustard gas. But the treatment had no scientific merit. Trypaflavine is in itself a toxic substance—so much so, in fact, that researchers handling the chemical today in laboratories are warned to wear “a long-sleeved laboratory coat or gown, rubber gloves, safety goggles and a face mask as a minimum standard” of safety.36

Nevertheless, Hirt proceeded.37 He exposed laboratory rats, as well as dogs and pigs, to mustard gas, then attempted to treat them.


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