On a Health Inspection

Maurice Rossel was a well-respected general physician in Switzerland when he passed away a few years ago. As a young man, Dr. Rossel was a health inspector. He spoke several languages as many people from his home area around Bern did. That skill and his medical ability made him well-qualified to be an international health inspector. In that capacity, he worked with various organizations inspecting hospitals, schools, and even small towns to see if they met basic health standards. Once, as a young man, not too many years removed from his medical school, Dr. Rossel received a job order to inspect a town in north-western Czechoslovakia (today in the Czech Republic). He joined a team of two other inspectors that would inspect the town and make their report.

The town wasn’t too terribly large, but to thoroughly check out the various public facilities and institutions, to look at the general health of the population, it took Dr. Rossel and his team the better part of a day—eight hours, in fact. Meeting the mayor of the place, the dignitary described his town as a “normal country town,” and so it proved to be in Dr. Rossel’s opinion. He noted that the citizens received adequate nourishment, they enjoyed a standard of living that allowed them to be fashionably dressed, and they received a level of heath care in the town that he said proved that they were “carefully looked after.”

Dr. Rossel was a careful documentarian, and towards this end, he took photographs to back up his findings in the report he later wrote (one of his photos showing a group of happy, healthy kids is shown above). This is standard, best-practices stuff in public administration circles today, but, at the time, the photographs were an example of how Rossel went above and beyond to document what he found on the inspection of the town. He later said that photographs always allowed him to remain objective, detached, and unemotional when it came time to write his report. Organizations and towns always tried to put on their best “faces” during inspections, he had learned, and the photos could help him look at a situation long after he had left the sites. They helped jog his memory as he wrote.

Dr. Rossel and his two colleagues returned to their base, and he wrote a report detailing all he saw. The report, which is still available today, is objective, rational, and draws no conclusions other than from what he personally inspected and witnessed. In short, it is the type of report that a professional would write given the information presented to him. He reported no issues, photographed happy people and clean conditions, and gave the town a passing mark. The happy town administrators took great pride in pointing to the report and Dr Rossel’s photos to show that they indeed had created a good, safe, healthy place for its citizenry to live.

Detractors who question Dr. Rossel’s report of the town still today point to the fact that he was, at the time, to be sure, young and inexperienced and therefore possibly ignorant of what to ask and where to inspect in the town. His choice as an inspector, these detractors say, point to the indifference the organization he was representing, the International Red Cross, had towards the town and the inhabitants.

It was years later that Jewish documentarian, Claude Lanzmann, confronted Dr. Rossel and asked him why his report told the world that the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt was a wonderful, safe haven for Jews destined for death in the Holocaust.

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