This made-for cable film is based on the real-life story of Dr. Gisella Perl (Christine Lahti) as told in her autobiographical book, I Was a Doctor at Auschwitz. Originally published in 1948 and reprinted in 1997, the book is hard to find now. The film tells how Dr. Perl, a Jewish Hungarian gynecologist, is imprisoned and forced to be a camp doctor in Auschwitz during World War II.

Dr, Perl lost her parents, husband, and son during the war years. She had to relive her horrifying experiences and difficult moral choices as she faced an immigration panel in the U.S. in order to get her American citizenship after the war. Accused of collaborating with the Nazis, she was eventually exonerated and practiced in New York, later immigrating to Israel where she did important work. There were many other talented women who also fought to live but failed in their quests and Dr. Perl tells of the spirits of these women also.


This is a useful film for medical students and health care providers because it is the true story of a historic ordeal experienced by this courageous woman physician. The ethical issues are dealt with very openly as Dr. Perl tries to explain what it was like to be a camp physician and also survive at Auschwitz. Family relationships are laid bare and power relations both in the camp and in the immigration court are dramatically shown. Survival, loss, and death are all dramatic events and yet there are tender moments when goodness triumphs.


Based on the book, I Was A Doctor in Auschwitz, Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., North Stratford, NH. (1997). Teleplay by Anne Meredith.

Primary Source

Showtime (2004)