I had to remain alive. . . . It was up to me to save the life of the mothers, if there was no other way, then by destroying the life of their unborn children.
For a woman in Auschwitz there were few, if any, "crimes" greater than pregnancy. Normally, as numerous survivors attest, only if the baby perished did the mother have a chance to prolong her life. In that place there was little respite from the inhuman: "No one will ever know what it meant to me to destroy those babies," Dr. Gisella Perl testifies in her memoir, I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz, which was first published in 1948. To destroy life to preserve life--that "choiceless choice" was among the monstrous cruelties forced uniquely on women during the Holocaust and at Auschwitz in particular.
A Hungarian Jew, Dr. Gisella Perl was an obstetrician and gynecologist who practiced medicine in her hometown of Sighet. Her husband was a surgeon; before the Germans arrived in 1944, they operated a small hospital. Except for her daughter Gabriella, who was hidden during the war with a non-Jewish family, Perl and her family were seized by the Gestapo and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele "selected" her to run a "hospital" ward within the confines of the death camp. Under the most primitive conditions--no beds, bandages, drugs, or instruments--she tended the tortured, starving, diseased, and dying with her only remedies: "words, encouragement, tenderness."
When the Red Army approached in January 1945, the Germans evacuated Perl to Berlin, then to a labor camp near Hamburg, and finally to Bergen-Belsen. Liberated by the British in April 1945, she never again saw her parents or her