Lessons from Yesterday…Hope for Tomorrow

January 28, 2024
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It was the late 1990’s and, as the Director of the General Practice Residency Program at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, my residents and I participated in morning ‘rounds’ with the Oral Surgery faculty and residents.  One morning, after rounding on a newborn with severe deformities who required surgery to facilitate feeding, a conversation ensued that I will never forget.

After discussing why this infant was “allowed” to survive, we uncovered a startling deficiency in our residents’ knowledge and education.  None of the OMFS or GPR residents, all in their late 20’s or early 30’s, knew anything about the Holocaust.  The OMFS director, whose parents fled Nazi Germany and me, whose great grandmother and other family were killed at Auschwitz, were stunned.  We just assumed that people knew what we knew.


In an Orwellian replay, words are being used today by many inpositions of authority and influence to manipulate those who are susceptible to such persuasion.  Terms such as “Nazi”, “Hitler” and “Genocide” are meant to incite anger and revulsion, if not revolt against those who are the targets of these word-bullets.

It would be a mistake to assume that susceptibility to such Orwellian manipulation is solely due to a lack of education.  The The Lancet Commission on Medicine, Nazism and the Holocaust details the many factors that led Physicians, arguably among the most highly educated people, in Germany and Austria to be so influenced by the Nazi propaganda machine that they would;


Join the Nazi party in greater numbers than any other profession.
Be complicit in the persecution and dismissal of their Jewish colleagues.
Eagerly took over their Jewish colleague’s positions.
Become involved in the forced sterilization of over 300,000 people with alleged genetic defects.
Euthanized over 230,000 people with disabilities, mental and cognitive disorders.


The distortion of Physicians’ morality predated the Nazi party of the 1930’s.  What the Lancet Commission only briefly touched upon was the contribution of the academic and scientific communities through the popularization of “Eugenics” a term coined in 1883 by Charles Darwin’s cousin a statistician, Francis Galton.

After our “rounds” experience, we created a program to discuss the origins of the Holocaust.  It started with a discussion of “Eugenics”, a form of scientific racism which postulates among other ideas that the human race can be improved through selective breeding and genetic manipulation.  These ideas pandered to the common racist and xenophobic attitudes of the time, many of which are still present today.

Eugenics courses were common in the early 1900’s and found in many of the most prestigious institutions in the world including Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown in the United States.  Even after WWII, academics from Cambridge, Oxford and Glasgow were members of the “Eugenics Education Society”. In June 2020, the University College London denamed spaces named for “eugenicists” Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.

The slippery slope of dehumanization mainstreamed in the hallowed halls of academia, was promoted by government, and was put into action by healthcare professionals.  This is the lesson from the past which we have failed to learn and teach. Intelligent people, even well-meaning people, can do (and say) ridiculous things with dire consequences.

January 27th was designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.  It seems ironic that even many at the United Nations have failed to learn the lessons the Holocaust should have taught.

In the 20th century, while academia, government and others were successful in promoting a morally bankrupt ideology, they didn’t have the powerful tool of social media.  While the full implementation of the ideology was stymied, imagine what might have happened had they had such a weapon at their disposal?

One doesn’t have to imagine what would happen.  One just has to look at the current protests, speeches at the United Nations, by governments, and posts on social media where these word-bullets are being aimed and fired.

If the Judeo-Christian value of the sanctity of human life or the American value of All men are created equal rings true, where is the outrage over the loss of over 60,000 Russian and Ukrainian lives?  Where is the outrage over the 12,000 lives lostjust last year in Sudan?  Where is the outrage over the loss 613,407 Syrian lives in that country’s civil war?  Where is the outrage over the 132 hostages being held in Gaza?  Where is the outrage over the fact that many of the people who facilitated the atrocities of October 7th are being “hosted” by Qatar?

The lesson from the “eugenics” movement and its expression during the Holocaust is that it’s too easy to insert the word “some” into the Judeo-Christian value or substitute it for “All” in the American version.  And when this happens, who is the arbiter of “some”?  The slippery slope is in the definition of “some”.

Memorialization and remembrance are insufficient preventive agents.  Unless the lessons of the past are learned and internalized, people will be prone to the nefarious influence of others.  Lessons from the past might inoculate us, but as with any vaccine, they need constant boosters.  People forget too easily.

The Holocaust of 45-60 million people killed during WW II had its roots in words and ideologies.  We are again sliding down that slippery slope of “some”.  Words, their definitions, and ignorance can be deadly.

To learning from the past,


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Dr. Michael Goldberg is one of the leading educators on dental practice management in the United States.

Michael ran and sold a prestigious group practice in Manhattan and has been on Faculty at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Medical Center for 30 years including Director of the GPR program and Director of the course on Practice Management.

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