Rating AJN’s Coverage of Nazi Atrocities: Is Silence Ever an Option for Nurses?


One of the feature articles in the August issue takes an unflinching look at a shameful yet little-known episode of nursing history: “The Third Reich, Nursing, and AJN by Mary Deane Lagerwey, PhD, RN, examines AJN’s coverage of events in Germany during the Nazi era—before and during WWII—and in the postwar years, and compares the reporting in this journal with that of other professional and popular journals of the day, such as Life and JAMA.

The atrocities committed by Nazi physicians during this period are notorious, but the complicity of many German nurses in the Holocaust is not nearly as well known. Lagerwey, an associate professor at the Western Michigan University Bronson School of Nursing, analyzed two decades of AJN’s articles on nursing-related developments in Germany and found that, in the interest of promoting an image of international unity and cooperation among nurses, this journal failed to report on the increasing marginalization and exclusion of Jewish nurses before the war and to hold nurses who were guilty accountable in the postwar period.

The relevance of Lagerwey’s historical analysis to nursing today is all too clear: she points out that in the past few years, a number of AJN Viewpoint columns and letters to the editor have debated the proper role of health care professionals in wartime (see the January 2005 Viewpoint, along with the letters we got in response to it; see also the January 2007 and June 2007 Viewpoints).

According to Lagerwey, “I hope to demonstrate in this article that one of the most important roles professional journals like AJN can play is to provide a forum for discussion of pressing issues and to show, through a look at past experience, how silence about the moral and political implications of nurses’ work does not serve the profession. Indeed, silence is not an option.”

And be sure to check out the podcast of my interview with Mary Deane Lagerwey.

Jim Stubenrauch, AJN senior editor
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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

One Comment

  1. […] AJN was among those who fell short in addressing the atrocities that occurred. As suggested by a post here last week, AJN has carried editorials, opinion pieces, and news reports about the Gulf War, […]

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