"The Gold of the Dead" (1925)

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"The Gold of the Dead" (1925)

Post by David Thompson » 23 Nov 2004 03:16

This unusual essay from 1925 was a defense exhibit in the WVHA or Pohl Case. The text is taken from Document Pook 11, in Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10. Vol. 5: United States v. Oswald Pohl, et. al. (Case 4: 'Pohl Case'). US Government Printing Office, District of Columbia: 1950. pp. 475-478.



Zahnaerztliche Rundschau [Dental Magazine]
Vol. [year] 1925 Nr. 39, pp. 605/606
Nr. 43, pp. 671 ff.

The Gold of the Dead by Dr. Albert Werkenthin (Berlin)

Motto: "All that lies quietly buried beneath the earth," Faust II, 1

* * * * * * *

The following question is obvious: What happens to the gold and platinum in the teeth which is either in them or fastened on them; the gold and platinum of fillings, crown and bridgework, if the person dies before he has lost all of his teeth? All kinds of possibilities are to be considered:

1. The precious metal is heedlessly buried with him. Then it remains underground for 30, 60 or more years. When new burial plots are to be created and the bodies are for that reason exhumed, this precious metal is "found". Then it neither benefits the heirs nor the general public, but the church or cemetery administration takes it over provided the workers don't pocket it as loot. There is also a possibility that it remains unnoticed underground and thus is completely lost to the national wealth.

2. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that while the body is still above ground the precious metal is secretly removed by unauthorized hands. The same could happen after cremation of the body is completed, when the ashes are being collected.

3. It would be feasible sometimes in agreement with the heirs and for their benefit to have the gold removed from the oral cavity by a dental expert before the body is buried or cremated.

Finally it would be conceivable for the state authorities to arrange legally in a very systematic, regulated way for the examination and manipulation applicable to every case. The state would then claim the metal for itself and pay the heirs only the corresponding value of the gold at the same time giving them to understand that they are to donate this amount, which is never very great in the individual case, for the benefit of the community.

I know of no case which would correspond to the third possibility. The excitement of the day of death, the reverence, the multitude of people, of opinions and interests who usually all have a say in decisions and finally the circumstance that a deep inner shame arises as soon as the least demand on such a so-called personal last possession is made. If one may say so, all these circumstances act together so that such aims as are suggested here do not even enter into the sphere of possibility. In this way only number one and two remain, one does not give it a thought or one rejects any thought which might arise.

* * * * * * *

In a few years there will be 10,000 dentists and at least 20,000 dental technicians in Germany.

If we assume that the following were the average yearly amount in each individual case: 240 cast or hammered gold fillings each 0.5 grams = 120 grams; 100 caps and crowns, each 3 grams = 300 grams; 36 pieces of bridgework each 12 grams = 432 grams; the total would be about 852
grams, and only 1/20 of this would remain in the mouth at death. In other words 42 grams this would mean 30,000 persons handling gold worth 3.8 million marks.

With the required platinum it would come to from four million gold marks a year.

This is a sum which even if it does not come that high should make us think. Countries which have an over abundance of gold such as North America, which moreover produces golds, might be in a position to neglect this loss.

Just as the bankrupt Imperial Majesty in the first act of the second part of Goethe's Faust listens closely when Mephistopheles points out the treasures hidden beneath the earth and promises to lift them so our poor country should earnestly endeavor to check any waste * * *.

A petition which the author directed to the Prussian Ministry of Finance was turned over to the ministry of the Interior, where it was absolutely rejected.

Perhaps these facts will stimulate a discussion of this question.

* * * * * * *

The scandalous occurrences at the municipal crematory in Dresden have meanwhile become known. "The bestiality of the criminals went so far that they broke the gold fillings (they probably were crown and bridgework for the main part) from the teeth of the dead in order to turn them into gold."

* * * * * * *

We are speaking here of parts of the national wealth, over which we ourselves, in consequence of our treaty obligations will not have the full and independent right of disposal for decades hence. Just think if it were possible to restore these neglected -four or five millions to the stream of active economy for 30 consecutive years, it would be 150 millions in gold, which would then be of use again to suffering human beings. We need and could use even a great deal more gold for the thorough- repair of human part-dentures than even this amount would cover, each look into the mouths of our patients tell us, especially of those who are "not so well of", who still have to be satisfied with the wretched makeshifts of rubber, silicate, and amalgam in huge numbers. "The American worker has more gold in his mouth, than the European has in the savings bank," the American Secretary of Labor recently said not without cynicism, but we must surely admit that the gold in the American workers mouth is not there for adornment or luxury, but because it really is the best, the only material worthy of being put into the mouth of a human being (apart, possibly, from porcelain and platinum).

* * * * * * *

What scares people is that the gold of the crowns and bridges would have to be removed from the dead person's mouth by the intervention of an expert, for which "congenial" activity, as the doctor and dentist, my colleague Buff thinks not many colleagues would probably be found willing.

That is the salient point: The apparent violence of the removal, which it seems impossible to reconcile with decency and because it is done for purely material reasonsif one believes he must put such a low estimate on the bringing back into the purposeful circulation of the living of this most precious substance which is only present in limited quantity on the earth.

Next, I would like to ask, referring to Buff's objection mentioned in the last sentence but one: that does a post mortem, a dissection look like? How does it come about that doctors not only undertake this "uncongenial" task, but that doctors even search in the most loathsome corpses of drowned people; that analytical chemists extract poisons out of parts of corpses and regard this conscientiously as an activity which falls to their lot, which is not confined to healing or to attempts to heal the living? Every doctor is an inspector of corpses and dares not refuse to ascertain the cause of death, because this activity might be "uncongenial" to him.

Then I refer to a declaration of my colleague C. Pfaff (Dresden) which has reached me and which completely shares my arguments and standpoint "In any case, the simplest way of getting back the gold and platinum would be to cremate all corpses." For then lt could be redeemed from the ashes without outraging decency.

Three hours after the body of a distant relation had been cremated there would be delivered to him on demand three perfectly preserved gold fillings and 14 porcelain teeth only slightly charred. Certainly no one will doubt my refinement of feeling and my deep emotional life if I say that I too, do not consider this the slightest outrage to decency. The ashes are completely depersonified residue, "belonging," as Goethe says, "to the elements." "So go hence," he continues.

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Post by Dan » 23 Nov 2004 04:08

Good question. If Bill Gates bought 40 billion in gold, and had it buried with him, and put in his will that it could never be dug up, is it right?

If a rich Japanese man bought a famous French or Dutch masterpiece, and desided to burn it, is that right?

If my son died in an auto accident, and his liver and heart and kidney et. al. would help the community, should they all be taken without the families' consent?

Great question. Let's discuss it.

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