The tainted legacy of Hans Reiter

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2003 Feb;32(4):231-6. doi: 10.1053/sarh.2003.49997.


There is more than ample evidence that Hans Reiter, whose name has been eponymously linked to a rheumatologic syndrome, was a Nazi war criminal. He was responsible for heinous atrocities that violated the precepts of humanity, ethics, and professionalism. The authors suggest that Reiter's legacy is sufficiently tainted that the professional and ethical position of the medical community should be to no longer afford him this recognition. He should be remembered symbolically to remind us of our moral and professional responsibilities to prevent the kind of "experiments" he perpetrated as Director of the Nazi office for such matters. Medicine is a moral enterprise. Physicians serve to promote the welfare of their patients. Hans Reiter and others like him who have behaved in such a manner have acted beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior. These crimes by Reiter and others like him were transcendently aberrant and evil. We regard Reiter and others like him as tainted. We see no acceptable rationale to preserve any professional memory of Reiter and others like him within our medical culture except as a symbol of what our societal values obligate us to reject. We suggest reverting to or substituting other terms for the syndrome (such as spondyloarthropathy, spondyloarthritis, oligoarthritis, inflammatory oligoarthritis, reactive arthritis, [oligo-] arthritis with conjunctivitis/urethritis/diarrhea, etc) until pathophysiologic or other insights lead to better ones. (It should be noted that the description of this syndrome was not original to Reiter and that current nomenclature is probably in need of revision in any case because the terminology and classification is outdated and clinically imprecise.) We offer these recommendations because we cannot forget. We cannot forget that Reiter and others like him represented an abhorrent evil. We cannot forget that Reiter and others like him desecrated the traditions of our civilization. We cannot forget that Reiter and others like him violated the precepts of the Hippocratic oath. The legacy of Hans Reiter should be that we remember only this and resolve that such transgressions never again occur.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Reactive / history*
  • Eponyms
  • Ethics, Medical / history*
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • National Socialism / history*
  • Rheumatology / ethics
  • Rheumatology / history
  • War Crimes / history*