The Occupation of Kraków, 1939–1945, in the Autopsy Reports of the Office of Forensic Medicine Cover Image

Okupacja Krakowa 1939–1945 w protokołach sekcyjnych Zakładu Medycyny Sądowej
The Occupation of Kraków, 1939–1945, in the Autopsy Reports of the Office of Forensic Medicine

Author(s): Tomasz Konopka, Paweł Kwasek, Maciej Bochenek
Subject(s): History
Published by: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej

Summary/Abstract: During the Nazi occupation, the Office of Forensic Medicine in Kraków performed approximately 4,000 autopsies. In this period, the office was run by a German, Dr. Werner Beck, while the pre-war manager, Prof. Jan Olbrycht, spent the better part of the occupation in the Oświęcim (Auschwitz) concentration camp. The office performed autopsies of the remains of persons who died of unknown causes, suicide victims, accidents and murders. Approximately 3,700 protocols of autopsies performed them have been preserved. The protocols, despite the German administration, were surprisingly candid, documenting not only the autopsy results but also the circumstances surrounding the death. Bodies of persons shot in the city streets – during round-ups, resettlement, Jews attempting to escape concentration camps or random passers-by – were sent to the office. Prisons sent the bodies of the executed, on which doctors noted signs of torture – beaten with sticks, hanging by the hands until these broke, strangulation, trampling the body to death. Twice the bodies of victims of public execution landed in the office. The bodies of those killed by order of the Underground State – German bureaucrats, policemen and Gestapo informers – were also examined. In the collection of protocols at least 46 executions ordered by various independence organizations, described in writing elsewhere, were found, but an analysis of the protocols suggests there may have been several times more. The autopsy protocols reflect the entire history of the occupation, beginning from victims of aerial bombardment in the first days of September 1939, persons deported for work, the tragedy of the Jewish population, victims of street roundups as well as deportees from Warsaw dying in transports, and finally preparations for the coming of the front in 1945. The protocols also document the prose of life and death during the occupation – victims of the Typhus epidemic, the struggle for food, or transport accidents. One interesting file was found concerning the body of someone who died in a quarry accident, witnessed by Karol Wojtyła. Historians wanted to work on this collection of protocols for many years; however the specificity of this source requires medical knowledge as well as familiarity with forensic medicine to analyze it.

  • Issue Year: 13/2008
  • Issue No: 2
  • Page Range: 83-103
  • Page Count: 21
  • Language: Polish