The Perpetrators



August Hirt

August Hirt
Sammlung Hans-Joachim Lang

August Hirt: His carreer


August Hirt was born on April 29, 1898 in Mannheim, Germany. He was the son of a Swiss plasterer who later became a liqueur manufacturer. Hirt was a comparatively poor student who had to repeat the 9th grade in 1912 because of his bad grades in Math and French. In 1914, at the age of 16, he voluntarily became a soldier in WWI. He stayed in the military for two years until a shot through his jaw temporarily brought the young teen back to his senses. Hirt returned to his high school in Mannheim and earned his degree in 1917.


August Hirt enrolled as a medical student at the university in Heidelberg. It was here that he also applied for the Swiss nationality in addition to his German citizenship. He also joined the nationalist fraternity “Normannia”. After 1930, Hirt, who had in the meantime become a university lecturer, organized paramilitary sports activities. By 1933, he had risen to become a professor of anatomy. On April 1st of that year, he also became a member of the SS. Later on, a colleague who had experienced Hirt as his instructor at the University of Heidelberg described him as a being a “parvenu arrogant person”


During those years in Heidelberg, Hirt conducted research on the renal nervous system. It was also during that time that he developed a new type of fluorescent microscope with the pharmacologist, Philipp Ellinger. The instrument would later become known as the “intravital microscope”. This technological innovation made it possible for the very first time for scientists to investigate living tissues that had been previously treated with a special dye. Hirt and the older, more experienced Ellinger, took out a patent on their discovery and the Zeiss company commercialized their idea. Despite this success, the relationship between the two scientists disintegrated. Ellinger was a Jew; and as a member of the SS, Hirt wanted nothing to do with him. After Ellinger immigrated to the United States, there was nothing or no one to hold his former partner back from reaping the scientific credits and financial royalties that came from the patented microscope.


In 1936, Hirt finally received a long hoped for career advancement in the form of a professorship at the Anatomy Department of the University of Greifswald. Two years later, he exchanged this appointment for a faculty position in Frankfurt am Main. It seems the wife of his Frankfurt colleague found the climate in the urban metropole as intolerable as Hirt’s own wife had found the weather at the Baltic Sea. Due to the time he spent as a volunteer military physician on the front, Hirt did not spend a great deal of time in the research activities of the Frankfurt faculty. As he had done in Greifswald, Hirt also served as the director of the Anatomy Department in Frankfurt. In the summer of 1941, when Hirt was hired by the University of Strasburg, he was also given the same position once again.  


A few months after his arrival in Strasbourg, Hirt developed a plan with the SS scientific Society for ancestral heritage, the “Ahnenerb”e. The research plan would involve the expansion of the anthropological collection of his institute. The project would increase the collection, as Hirt formulated, “in accordance with modern perspectives”. Animal and human specimens had already been made available to physicians and the general public since the 18th century. In the early 19th century, the newly erected university institutes of anatomy and pathology had also begun to assemble such collections. The graphic nature of these collections served to amass and transmit knowledge about healthy and unhealthy bodies. In Germany, the most important museum of this ilk was founded by Rudolf Virchow at the end of the 19th century at the famous university clinic in Berlin, the Charité. Virchow recognized how much could be achieved within his discipline via this museum. The collection in Strasbourg was enlarged by the German anatomist, Gustav Schwalbe (1844-1916).

Hirt wanted to have skeletons extracted from the bodies of 86 Jewish men and women, whom he would have murdered in the Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp. Using these skeletal remains, he planned to expand the anthropological collection of the institute in accordance with the racial ideological theories of the time. In addition to his inhuman experiments on other concentration camp prisoners to test antidotes for poisonous gasses, this plan added to his criminality. From local prison camps, Hirt also collected the bodies of Russian POWs which he used in various ways for instruction.

Before the arrival of the Allied Forces in Strasbourg, Hirt made his way to the German city of Tuebingen where the Reich University of Strasbourg and several institutes had already relocated. Once there, the anatomist was unable, however, to resume normal scientific activities.   A few days before the French troops marched into Tuebingen, on the 19th of April 1945, the anatomist fled once again. He reached the Schluchsee, a reservoir lake in the Black Forest. One there, he first lived in a cabin deep in the woods, before then moving in with a local farmer’s family. On June 2, 1945, he committed suicide.



Wolfram Sievers