Undetailed horror opening:
She performed the abortion by candlelight.
Detailed horror opening:
The newly arrived woman had heard of her, fortunately for her life -- but not her unborn child's.
The doctor had arrived two hours after sunset to avoid detection by guards. As her assistant held a candle near the woman's crotch, the doctor looked carefully, then reached in -- without medical instruments -- and performed the abortion.
In the 1980s, if you were a pregnant woman in Israel, you might have made prenatal appointments with the woman once called Gisi doctor. She had gone from performing the most dangerous abortions on the planet to bringing as many children into the world as possible.
I didn't know how to begin.
I was going to start by telling you that in 1944, abortion was illegal basically everywhere, but that's not news.
Then I thought about putting you in that woman's position: death camp, 1944, Germany. (Nazi Germany seems a touch redundant.)
But in too many places in America, women and men would see the proximity of a doctor willing and able to perform abortions and note that if you're in North Dakota or Utah, ... well, you can finish that thought on your own.
The New York Times picked an after-the-fact opening in 1982.
How I begin ultimately matters more to me than to you. The headline -- title -- draws you in, and from there, I only need to present the facts.
1) Gisella Perl was a Jewish girl near Germany in the 1910s, which history has shown was a bad idea. I don't have statistics on exactly how many survived to 1946, but ... well. Holocaust and all.
2) Gisella Perl wanted to be a doctor. As a Jew near Germany in the 1920s. Now, obviously you know she became a doctor. She became one, against her father's wishes. She then promised him she'd remain a "good, true Jew."
3) The Holocaust.
4) Gisella Perl was a Jewish doctor in Auschwitz. Pick an unethical task and she had to do it.
The task that struck me last night as I was hunting through names looking for the Polish prisoner who had to herd people into the gas chambers and tried to herd himself in with them once is this:
The thing you maybe most of all did not want to be in Germany circa 1939-1945 was a pregnant Jew.
I'm giving you the basics. I'm not quoting anything. This shit is bad enough without details that make me want to hunt for pictures of puppies.
The alternative to torturing the mother and then burning her and her unborn baby alive was to have an abortion.
Perl estimated that she performed one thousand abortions from March 1944 until April 1945. Call that four hundred days, which means Perl performed two and a half abortions every night, or roughly one every four hours.
Dr. Perl daughter had been hidden with a non-Jewish family.
She'd found the corpses of her brother and sister-in-law. Her parents were dead -- her father still had that prayer book with him when he entered the crematorium.
Her husband had been beaten to death.
Her teenage son had died in a gas chamber.
But then poison didn't work, and she had to live.