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Police Order on Tuberculosis X-Rays

An order from German authorities announces mandatory X-ray screenings in occupied Poland.
Muzeum Okregowe w Rzeszowie

Although Adolf Hitler ruled Nazi Germany as a dictator, there was disagreement among Nazi Party leaders on many topics—including modern medical science. For example, the regime embraced the use of new technologies like X-rays, but many German racial theorists feared that the radiation of X-rays would cause cancer and genetic mutations in patients. German eugenicists warned that such damage "weakens the genetic profile of the people."

Focused on cultivating the health and strength of a so-called  "German racial community" (Volksgemeinschaft), the Nazi regime organized mass X-ray screenings for tuberculosis, cancer, heart disease, and other ailments.1 For example, the University of Munich began requiring X-ray screenings of its students in summer 1933 as mobile X-ray units began to test German factories’ entire workforces. In 1939, an "SS X-ray battalion" screened virtually the entire population of Mecklenburg and Pomerania for tuberculosis–roughly 650,000 people.2 During World War II, special "X-ray troops" with the German army conducted X-ray screenings for lung and heart diseases among German personnel on the eastern front.3

Printed in both German and Polish, the featured poster shows how the hierarchical racial ideology of the Nazi Party can be seen in the regime’s public health policies. The poster announces a series of mandatory X-ray screenings for tuberculosis in the city of Rzeszów in occupied Poland in November 1943. German public health officials in occupied Poland expressed the racist belief that Poles were a “half-civilized people” who were incapable of maintaining their own basic hygiene, and they greatly feared that contagious diseases would spread to German occupation personnel.4

These German medical professionals were primarily concerned with protecting the health of Germans, but this X-ray order also required certain groups of Poles to get tested. Although Nazi leaders back in Berlin expected to cause the deaths of thousands of Poles and Jews in occupied Poland by denying them medical care and encouraging diseases to spread, German public health officials in occupied Poland worried about the health of German occupation personnel if contagious diseases among the Polish population turned into epidemics. While the first day of X-ray testing in Rzeszów was reserved exclusively for Germans, Poles who worked in German homes and businesses were required to submit to X-ray screenings two days later. No other Poles were to be screened, and the order does not mention Jews at all.5

Heart disease, cancer, and tuberculosis were the leading causes of death among Germans during the 1930s.

 For more on the Nazi regime, tuberculosis, and X-rays, see Robert N. Proctor, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 83–93. 

The Nazi regime also supported German medical professionals' experiments with X-rays as a means of sterilizing large groups of people quickly and without their knowledge. For more on medical professionals in the Nazi era, see the Experiencing History collection Medical Care, Nazism, and the Holocaust. Robert N. Proctor, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 83–89.

For more on German public health officials' attitudes toward Poles, see Christopher R. Browning, "Genocide and Public Health: German Doctors and Polish Jews, 1939–41," Holocaust & Genocide Studies 3 (1988): 21–36.

The last remaining inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto in Rzeszów had been deported to Auschwitz two months before this order was issued. To learn more about the history of the Rzeszów ghetto, see The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol II: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe, Part A, edited by Geoffrey P. Megargee, Martin Dean, and Melvin Hecker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012): 567–9.

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Police Order

concerning the performance of a TB X-ray mass screening in the Reichshof administrative division [Kreishauptmannschaft] on November 13 and 15, 1943.

Pursuant to the Order Concerning the TB X-ray Mass Screening of August 15, 1943 (Verordnungsblatt für das Generalgouvernement, p. 460), the following is mandated for the area of the Reichshof administrative division: 

§ 1.

On Nov. 13 and 15, 1943, a TB X-ray mass screening will be performed inside the NSDAP building, 17 Schlosstrasse.

§ 2.

The following are required to appear for the TB screening:

1.) on Nov. 13, 1943

a) from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., the male Germans

b) from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the female Germans and German children age 3 and up

2.) on Nov. 15, 1943

a) from 8 a.m., those German men, women, and children who for compelling reasons cannot undergo the screening on Nov. 13, 1943

b) from 10 a.m., the non-German males who work in German retail shops and constantly come into contact with Germans here

c) from 2 p.m., the female non-Germans who work in German retail shops and constantly come into contact with Germans here

d) from 3 p.m., the non-German domestic workers who work in German households.

§ 3.

Exempt from the mandatory screening are:

a) members of the Wehrmacht and members of the police and SS units

b) German and non-German officials of the Eastern Railway [Ostbahn]

c) persons who have already taken part in the TB X-ray mass screening in 1943

§ 4.

Members of the German and Polish police who want to undergo the X-ray screening process voluntarily will be allowed to take part in the screening.

§ 5.

Anyone who dodges the TB X-ray mass screening or provides false or incomplete information during the screening will be penalized under § 8 of the Regulation on Measures to Combat Tuberculosis, June 21, 1943 (Verordnungsblatt für das Generalgouvernement, p. 411).

Also subject to punishment are employers who refuse to allow their personnel to take part in the X-ray screening.

Reichshof, November 3, 1943.

The Kreishauptmann

signed Dr. Ehaus

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Muzeum Okregowe w Rzeszowie
Source Number N64936
Date Created
November 3, 1943
Author / Creator
Dr. Heinz Ehaus
Language(s)
German
Polish
Location
Rzeszow, Poland
Document Type Poster
Description A poster announcing a series of mandatory X-ray screenings for tuberculosis in the city of Rzeszów in occupied Poland in November 1943.
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