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One of the most well-known and oppressive regimes to ever take power is the Nazi Party of twentieth-century Germany. Although the party was only in power from 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany’s policies had far-reaching effects that are still felt today. Much of the historical focus on Nazi Germany centers on their expansionist policies under Adolf Hitler, which played a large role in leading to the Second World War. Equally important are Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic policies and the Holocaust, in which eleven million Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, prisoners of war, criminals, and other “undesirables” were systematically killed by Nazi Germany in the midst of the Second World War. Despite the numerous journals, books, and movies covering the entirety of Nazi Germany’s history, the role of medicine and medical experimentation in Nazi Germany is not well known. This is somewhat surprising, as medical experimentation during the Holocaust is commonly regarded as the most abhorrent act during the entirety of the twentieth century.1 Although Nazi medical experimentation clearly had effects on medical ethics and international law, it led to no significant advances in medicine. The rise of medical experimentation in Nazi Germany began in the mid-1930s, not long after the Nazi Party came to power. Before the beginning of the Second World War, Germany was full of intelligent and skilled medical professionals, many of whom were aware of the unique opportunities they may benefit from under the Nazi regime. However, these doctors were limited in their ability to conduct experiments, as various laws and established medical ethics prohibited their use of human subjects. As the country moved towards its goal of creating an “Aryan state” free of Jewish “parasites,” these laws would soon change2. The first such change in legislation was “Aktion T4,” which allowed German doctors to grant citizens a “mercy death” at

1 Vivien Spitz, Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans (Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications, 2005): 2. 2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971) 153.


the doctors’ discretion3. Another important piece of legislation introduced early in the Nazi regime was the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring,” which was approved on July 14, 19334. This was only the beginning of core Nazi beliefs such as “eugenics,” which is scientific racism, and “racial hygiene,” or the attempt to purify the Aryan race by eliminating all “undesirables.5” Once the Second World War started, these doctors were given free rein to undertake any sort of medical experimentation they pleased. To carry out these experiments, the doctors were allowed to use the prisoners of concentration camps as their subjects. These subjects were primarily Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs, whom the Germans called “untermenschen,” meaning “subhumans.” Due to their perceived superiority over their subjects, Nazi doctors had no reservations when it came to medical experimentation during the Holocaust. The Nazi Doctors Being an advanced Western country, Nazi Germany’s actions are even more appalling. However, given its standing among the world’s superpowers, its abundance of doctors comes as no surprise. Of these doctors, roughly forty-five percent were members of the Nazi party6. While not all doctors in Nazi Germany took part in these heinous experiments, some of the most wellknown doctors did – Carl Clauberg, Hermann Stieve, Josef Mengele, Sigmund Rascher, Horst Schumann, and Carl Vaernet are the most widely known of the Nazi doctors. Of this group, Dr. Josef Mengele, widely-known as Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death,” is the most infamous7. Not only is Mengele infamous for his despicable acts at Auschwitz, he is also remembered as one of the 3 Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889 to 1936 Hubris (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000) 300. 4 Kershaw, Hitler 1889 to 1936 Hubris, 486. 5 Kershaw, Hitler 1889 to 1936 Hubris, 480. 6 Mark Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” The Times (London), June 28, 2004, 4. 7 Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” 4.


many Nazis who successfully fled to South America following the end of the war, thus avoiding prosecution8. The aims of the Nazi doctors in their experiments were relatively the same from doctor to doctor. Hitler and the rest of the Nazi party, including the aforementioned doctors, were intent on furthering Nazi Germany’s progression towards “racial purity” through extermination of the Jews as a whole9. While all Aryans and Nazis would benefit from the Final Solution, the doctors may have benefitted more than most other professions, as the doctors would now have a plethora of available human subjects to conduct a variety of experiments on. These experiments would both further the doctors’ own medical knowledge and increase their power within the Nazi party. Overall, the doctors conducted multiple tests, which can be categorized into three main subgroups: reproductive experiments, military experiments, and diseases and pharmaceuticals experiments. Experiments on Reproduction Although reproductive experiments are commonly associated with increasing fertility and birth rates, many reproductive experiments were focused on sterilization. This use of negative eugenics was intended to prevent future births of Jews, thus causing the Jewish population to eventually die out with no chance of repopulation10. Carl Clauberg, an endocrinologist, was one of the research doctors at Auschwitz. Much of his research was focused on sterilization; in particular, Clauberg was tasked with finding a nonsurgical way of sterilizing women. To achieve these sterilizations, Clauberg tried two methods – X-rays and injections. Clauberg projected X-rays onto his subjects in hopes that the radiation 8 “Search for Auschwitz Camp Doctor,” The Times (London), February 20, 1961, 7. 9 Kershaw, Hitler 1889 to 1936 Hubris, 363-364. 10 Kershaw, Hitler 1889 to 1936 Hubris, 78-79.


would make the women sterile. Clauberg’s most common form of injection used formalin, which he injected directly into his subjects’ wombs. Formalin caused inflammation and scarring, leaving his subjects infertile. Any women who survived these experiments were sent to the gas chambers once they were no longer relevant to the ongoing experiment. Ultimately, Clauberg is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of women at Auschwitz11. Dr. Horst Schumann, who conducted his research at Auschwitz, also played a role in sterilization. Unlike Clauberg, Schumann was not interested in non-invasive practices. Instead, Schumann invented brutal machines to do his work. With these machines, Schumann conducted many gruesome female sterilization and male castration experiments12. Hermann Stieve, an anatomist, focused much of his research during the Holocaust on ovarian function and the menstrual cycle. Compared to other prominent Nazi doctors, Stieve was often less draconian with his experiments. However, Stieve is well-known for one harsh experiment in particular – the effect of “highly agitating news” on menstruation. In this experiments, Stieve would sentence his subjects to death, then analyze the death sentences’ effects on his subjects’ menstruation. The subjects would then be killed. After dying, the subjects were returned to Stieve, allowing him to dissect their lifeless bodies.13 Surprisingly, following the end of the Second World War, Stieve was allowed to continue practicing medicine in East Germany, where he became one of the country’s most respected academic physicians14. While doctors like Clauberg and Stieve focused on negative eugenics, Dr. Josef Mengele, an anthropologist and physician, focused his research on increasing Aryan birth rates through positive eugenics. To do this, Mengele meticulously studied twins at Auschwitz, hoping to 11 12 13 14

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discover how to induce more births of twins in Nazi Germany15. Mengele’s experimentation was perhaps the largest of its kind in Nazi Germany, as he had nearly 1,500 pairs of twins at his disposal at Auschwitz between 1943 and 1945. Of these roughly 3,000 individuals, only 110 individual twins survived Auschwitz. This caused much emotionally suffering for the survivors, as they often lost their parents and sibling in the Holocaust16. The twins who were experimented on at Auschwitz were subjected to a number of invasive tests. However, due to their youth at the time, many survivors are unable to fully recall all types of experiments they were subjects of. The twins at Auschwitz were immediately identified as twins as soon as they reached the railroad ramp, and were separated into genderspecific barracks. Typically, regardless of gender, Nazis at Auschwitz attempted to keep each twin separated from his or her twin. Twins who were fortunate enough to see their sibling during their time at Auschwitz were few and far between. Some children were subjected to excruciating injections and other treatments to determine if twins were biologically different in any way from non-twins. Many twins were frequently measured to determine if twins had any empirical abnormalities when compared to non-twins. Perhaps the most common form of testing was on twins’ blood. Many Nazis hypothesized that twins’ blood must have a different makeup than nontwins’ blood17. By isolating this perceived difference in blood, Mengele hoped to discover how to increase twins births in Nazi Germany, thus increasing the population of the superior Aryan race. Despite his best efforts and vast knowledge of medicine, the results of Mengele’s experimentation on twins had little to no medical value18.

15 Nancy L. Segal, “The Twin Children of Auschwitz-Birkenau: Conference on Nazi Medicine/Research,” Twin Research and Human Genetics 16 (June 2013): 751-757. 16 Segal, “The Twin Children of Auschwitz-Birkenau,” 751-757. 17 Segal, “The Twin Children of Auschwitz-Birkenau,” 751-757. 18 Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” 4.


Along with many ethnic minorities, homosexuals also were part of the “untermenschen” in the concentration camps. In Nazi Germany, homosexuality was seen as unacceptable by the majority of the population. Nazi doctors believed that they could “cure” homosexuality, which would then create more Aryans who could help continue the growth of the Aryan race19. At Buchenwald, Dr. Carl Vaernet was tasked with “curing” homosexuality in prisoners. To do this, Vaernet often injected his subjects with hormones. Vaernet also infamously castrated a number of men in hopes of “curing” them of their homosexuality; ultimately, Vaernet’s use of castration led to the death of fifteen men20. Another focus of the doctors’ medical research during the Holocaust dealt with dwarfism and disabilities. One of the best-known cases is present in the Ovitz siblings, all of whom suffered from pseudoachondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Pseudoachondroplasia is defined as “a genetic disorder with a distinct but variable phenotype of short stature, normal facial features, and progressive joint problems starting in adolescence.21” Despite their physical limitations, the Ovitz siblings had normal mental capacities. Due to their Jewish heritage, the Ovitz siblings were deported from Romania to Auschwitz. Dr. Mengele, being a naturally curious individual, quickly noticed the Ovitz siblings when they arrived at the concentration camp. Mengele spared the Ovitz siblings, instead opting to use them as subjects in his experiments. In his experiments, Mengele conducted radiological and laboratory investigations on the Ovitz siblings. The records from Mengele’s experiments on the Ovitz siblings have never been found, but it is generally accept that no medical breakthroughs came as a result of Mengele’s experiments on pseudoachondroplasia and dwarfism.22 19 Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” 4. 20 Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” 4. 21 Oliver Muensterer et al., “Pseudoachondroplasia and the Seven Ovitz siblings Who Survived Auschwitz,” Pediatric Radiology 42.4 (April 2012): 475. 22 Muensterer et al., “Pseduoachondroplasia,” 478-479.


Military Experiments Military experiments, although less well-known, were also common in Nazi concentration camps. These experiments were equally brutal, as the limits of the human body were frequently tested with no regard for the safety of the subjects. Unlike the reproductive experiments, it can be argued that the Nazi doctors’ military experiments occasionally yielded useful results. A problem commonly faced by downed German Air Force pilots and stranded German sailors was a lack of potable water, which greatly limited the amount of time a pilot or sailor could survive without being rescued. Nazi Germany hoped to extend the time its pilots and soldiers could survive at sea, so doctors at Dachau worked to develop a method of desalinizing seawater to make it drinkable.23 In this experiment, which is commonly referred to as the “seawater experiment24,” Nazi doctors separated the subjects into four groups – one which would receive no water, one which would drink ordinary seawater, one which would drink seawater processed to conceal the taste of salt, and one which received seawater treated to remove salt.25 The subjects were also starved during the experiments, in an effort to simulate the effects of being stranded at sea. Periodically, doctors would perform liver punctures to examine the effects of dehydration on the subjects’ bodies.26 The subjects were also occasionally weighed during the month-long experiment to note the weight loss that accompanies severe dehydration.27 By the end of the seawater experiments,

23 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 157. 24 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, xiii. 25 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 158-159. 26 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 165. 27 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 169.


many subjects died. Those who were fortunate enough to survive suffered from diarrhea, convulsions, hallucinations, foaming at the mouth, and madness.28 The conditions faced by soldiers in the Second World War varied based on their location and branch of military. For German soldiers, freezing temperatures were often a source of concern, especially when fighting on the eastern front in the Soviet Union. German soldiers suffered greatly in the harsh Russian winter, increasing the need for additional research on the effects of freezing and hypothermia on the human body.29 In an effort to better understand the limitations of the human body, Dr. Sigmund Rascher conducted experiments at Dachau. Rascher’s experiments consisted of immersing his subjects in freezing water for various amounts of time. While his subjects were immersed in the freezing water, Rascher noted the effects of hypothermia over time. In the course of Rascher’s experiments on freezing and hypothermia, Rascher is believed to have killed at least three hundred of his subjects.30 There is no evidence of Rascher’s experiments leading to any notable advance in medical knowledge. Dr. Sigmund Rascher did not focus solely on freezing and hypothermia in his time at Dachau. Being a Luftwaffe physician, Rascher also sought to learn the effects of high altitudes on German pilots.31 Since the advent of modern warfare – that is, wars fought with airplanes – the likelihood of pilots surviving at high altitudes has always been an issue. In an effort to monitor the effects of varying altitudes on German pilots both without a parachute and without

28 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 173 29 Bill Barry, “Stopped Cold at Stalingrad,” World War II, 21.9 (January/February 2007): 35. 30 Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” 4. 31 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 65.


oxygen, subjects were locked in an airtight, low-pressure chamber. This chamber simulated the atmospheric conditions and pressures faced by pilots at altitudes up to sixty-eight thousand feet.32 To test high-altitude conditions on German pilots, four separate experiments were conducted. The first experiment was a slow descent without oxygen, while the second experiment was a slow descent with oxygen. These two tests were to simulate descents with an open parachute in which the descent would be rather gentle. The third experiment was to test the effects of free-falling without oxygen, and the fourth test simulated a free-fall with oxygen. This set of experiments was meant to test the effects of a rapid free-fall before a pilot’s parachute opened.33 For the high-altitude tests, approximately two hundred subjects were chosen. In an effort to increase the participation rate, Dr. Rascher informed the inmates at Dachau that volunteering for this experiment would allow the inmates to be released. As usual, this promise was not kept.34 This group of two hundred consisted of Russians, Russian prisoners of war, Poles, Jews, and German political prisoners. Although only forty of these subjects had received death sentences, seventy-eight died during the experiments.35 Rascher recorded that “only continuous experiments at altitudes higher than 10.5 kilometers (34,600 feet).”36 Rascher personally recorded the effects of these experiments following a particularly gruesome death. The following is from an autopsy report, which began roughly thirty minutes after the subject stopped breathing: When the cavity of the chest was opened the pericardium [the sac surrounding the heart] was filled tightly [heart tamponade – compression of the heart by pericardial fluid]. Upon 32 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 65. 33 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 66. 34 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 66. 35 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 66. 36 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 68.


opening of the pericardium eighty cc. of clear yellowish liquid gushed forth. The moment the tamponade had stopped, the right auricle [atrium] began to beat heavily, at first at the rate of sixty actions per minute, then progressively slower. Twenty minutes after the pericardium had been opened, the right auricle was opened by puncturing it. For about fifteen minutes a thick stream of blood spurted forth. Thereafter clogging of the puncture wound in the auricle by coagulation [clot formation] of the blood and renewed acceleration of the action of the right auricle occurred. One hour after breathing had stopped, the spinal marrow [soft organic material] was completely severed and the brain removed. Thereupon the action of the auricle stopped for forty seconds. It then renewed its action, coming to a complete standstill eighty minutes later. A heavy subarachnoid oedema was found in the brain [swelling within the membrane that forms the blood/brain barrier]. In the veins and arteries of the brain a considerable quantity of air was discovered.37 While all experimentation done by Nazi doctors was indefensible, the high-altitude experiments were particularly damning. In his official report, titled “Experiments on Rescue from High Altitude,” Dr. Rascher admitted that he knew the high-altitude tests were not scientific, saying, “Since the urgency of the solution of the problem was evident, it was necessary, especially under the given conditions of the experiment to forego for the time being the thorough clearing up of purely scientific questions.”38 In any two-front war, casualties are extremely heavy and therefore must be mitigated at all costs. One particular problem plaguing Germany was gas gangrene on the Russian Front during the winter of 1941. Being so far removed from German bases, many wounded soldiers 37 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 69. 38 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 83.


would die from their wounds while being evacuated from the frontline. While the German soldiers were dying, the Allies were touting their “miracle drug,� sulfanilamide. By using sulfanilamide, German soldiers hoped to be able to treat wounds in the field, avoiding frontline hospitals altogether.39 To conduct this experiment, a total of seventy-five subjects were selected at Ravensbrueck.40 Of the seventy-five, fifteen were males and the remaining sixty were Polish women, who were then separated into five groups of twelve each. The fifteen men were used in preliminary experiments to determine the most effective way to artificially infect otherwise healthy inmates with gangrene. The chosen method of infection was to make a ten centimeter long incision into a chosen muscle. This incision would then be filled with wood shavings and infectious bacteria. After each preliminary experiment, Nazi doctors tried with varying success to make the infections worse.41 After these preliminary infections on the male subjects, the female Polish inmates were introduced to the experiment. Much like the male subjects, all of the Polish females had an incision made in a chosen muscle. In this stage of the experiment, three sets of ten Polish women were given the incision. The first group of women received the bacterial culture and fragments of wood in their incisions. The second group of women received the bacterial culture and fragments of glass in their incisions. The third group of women were given a mixture of the bacterial culture, fragments of wood, and fragments of glass. Much to the disappointment of the Nazi doctors, none of these infections caused death. In order to make the gangrene infections more severe, the circulation of blood through the infected muscles was stopped by tying off the 39 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 139. 40 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 139. 41 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 140.


muscles at either end. Tying off the muscles to stop the circulation of blood directly led to the death of five subjects – another six were executed by shooting later on.42 Despite the increase in deaths, Nazi doctors were still unsatisfied with the results of the experiment. The most common complaint among doctors was that the infections “were not typical of gangrenous battlefield infections.”43 To better simulate gangrenous battlefield infections, the doctors considered conducting their next series of experiments by inflicting actual bullet wounds on their subjects. Eventually, the doctors opted not to inflict bullet wounds on their subjects; instead, the decision was made to force streptococcus and staphylococcus into the existing wounds. This resulted in even more severe infections, high temperatures, and swelling. The doctors also made incisions on the lower parts of their subjects’ legs to allow for amputation at a later date. However, no amputations were made in this experiment.44 As is typical for Nazi medical experiments, the sulfanilamide experiments yielded no scientific success. In fact, these experiments were entirely unnecessary since similar results “could have been achieved by the treatment of wound infections of German soldiers normally contracted during the course of the war.”45 These experiments were made even more reprehensible by the fact that the subjects were arrested, interrogated, and sent to a concentration camp, all without being able to defend themselves in a trial, for allegedly being members of the resistance movement. According to the Hague Convention, all resistors, even spies, “shall not be punished without previous trial.”46

42 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 140. 43 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 143. 44 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 143. 45 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 156. 46 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 156.


The women who suffered through the sulfanilamide experiments were subject to an even more inhumane experiment in their time at Ravensbrueck. In fact, these experiments were done during the same period of time.47 This particular experiment focused on the regeneration of bones, muscles, and nerves, as well as the transplantation of bones. In these experiments, sections of bone were removed, legs were removed at the hips, arms were removed, including the shoulder blades, and muscles and nerves were removed from the healthy concentration camp inmates, and then the attempt was made to transplant these body parts to other victims. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the subjects in this experiment died. The subjects who were fortunate enough to survive dealt with mutilation and permanent disabilities for the rest of their lives.48 There were approximately thirteen cases of experiments performed on the bones of inmates. These experiments could be separated into three separate groups – fractures, bone transplantations, and bone splints. Occasionally, some of the subjects would be operated on multiple times.49 Thankfully, the subjects of all leg operations were given anesthesia. However, this does not make the experiments any less gruesome. In the bone fracture experiments, the bones of the subjects’ lower legs would be broken into several pieces with a hammer. Then, the bone fragments would often be surgically removed for further research. Although this experiment was not in itself lethal, it obviously led to impaired mobility. Specific issues, such as osteomyelitis, were not uncommon in the subjects later in their lives.50

47 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 116. 48 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 115. 49 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 116-117. 50 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 117.


Sadly, inmates seen as “abnormal” were targeted in particular in this experiment. In one case, an “abnormal” woman was operated on. During the operation, her whole arm and shoulder blade were removed. This made it impossible to raise her remaining arm above the horizontal for the rest of her life.51 Mentally ill subjects received a similar fate, although their role in the experimentation was different because they were a part of “special operations.” Mentally ill inmates would often have their whole leg amputated at the hip joint. Others would have their entire arm and shoulder blade removed. Many of these subjects died during the “special operations.” Those who were able to survive the experiments were executed by means of Evipan injections. The detached limbs would then be taken to Hohenlychen, a hospital just north of Berlin.52 Sadly, the experimentation on the regeneration of bones, muscles, and nerves, as well as the transplantation of bones led to no medical advances. Dr. Sofia Maczka, a prisoner who was forced to work as an x-ray technician at Ravensbrueck, said that the ability to regenerate bones, muscles, and nerves “was not checked at all, or only insufficiently.”53 Despite this, Nazi doctors went forward with their goal to transplant body parts from inmates to wounded German soldiers. All of the women who were subjected to this operation were generally known as “rabbits” at the field hospitals. Once their operations to transplant body parts to German soldiers were conducted, some subjects were killed by an Evipan injection. In total, eleven inmates died or were killed, while seventy-one inmates remained invalids for life.54 Chemical warfare was another source of danger facing soldiers in World War Two, and German soldiers were no exception. The most common chemical agent used was Lost, which is 51 Spitz, Doctor from Hell, 117. 52 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 118. 53 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 118. 54 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 133-134.


more commonly known as mustard gas. Another suffocating chemical agent used was phosgene. Not only did Nazi Germany wish to further its use of chemical warfare agents on its enemies, it also needed to find a method of treating burns caused by chemical warfare agents used by its enemies.55 To conduct chemical warfare agent tests at Natzweiler, wounds were deliberately infected on camp inmates. Then, mustard gas was applied to the wounds. The application of mustard gas on open wounds resulted in swollen, extremely painful wounds. Other inmates were forced to inhale mustard gas, drink it in liquid form, or be injected with mustard gas. In a phosgene experiment, a group of approximately forty weak, middle-aged, and malnourished Russian prisoners of war were exposed to the deadly gas, then treated with an experimental anti-phosgene drug. After administering this drug, four of the forty men died. The thirty-six who survived suffered severe edema and had large amounts of fluid in their lungs.56 In total, approximately two hundred twenty Russian, Polish, Czech, and German inmates were used as involuntary subjects in chemical warfare experiments. Of this group, roughly fifty died as a direct result of the experiments. With the exception of being able to analyze the effects of chemical warfare agents on the human body, no medical advances came from these specific experiments.57 Incendiary bombs became a common weapon used on the by many militaries during World War Two. Due to their widespread use, the amount of wartime injuries resulting from incendiary bomb attacks increased dramatically. In an effort to mitigate the effects of the burns

55 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 135-136. 56 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 136. 57 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 136-138.


caused by incendiary bombs, Nazi doctors wanted to test multiple skin ointments at Buchenwald, particularly R-17.58 To conduct these tests, five subjects were used. In the experiments, the phosphorus mixture would be applied to the subjects’ bare skin. Each of these subjects received a different fate with the phosphorus mixture. One subject simply had the mixture applied and removed. The other four, however, suffered much more. The remaining four subjects had the phosphorus on their body ignited for periods of thirty seconds, forty seconds, fifty-five seconds, and sixty seconds, respectively. Healing ointments such as R-17 were then applied to the burns. After the ointments were applied, swelling, blisters, and scabs occurred. It took up to six weeks for the subjects’ burns to fully heal. Even then, the subjects still suffered from permanent disfigurement. None of the experimental ointments, including R-17, were found to contribute to the healing of phosphorus-caused burns.59 Experiments on Diseases and Pharmaceuticals A third type of medical experimentation done by Nazi doctors during the Holocaust was focused on advancing knowledge of diseases and pharmaceuticals. In theory, the main beneficiary of these experiments would be German society as a whole, as the citizens would no doubt benefit from enhanced disease prevention. Once again, the Nazi doctors used their prisoners, mainly Jews, as their test subjects. One of the most sadistic tests done by Nazi doctors is the experiments with poisons and their effects. Although there was no scientific objective, the doctors at Buchenwald were curious as to the pain and agony poisons inflicted, as well as the time it takes for a human to die from 58 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 213. 59 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 214-217.


various forms of poisoning. However, the Nazi doctors alleged that their testing was in preparation for “possible use of poisoned bullets by the enemy,” in which case they would need to administer antidotes.60 The poison experiments were conducted in a variety of ways. In one test, four Russian prisoners of war were given poison in their food, unbeknownst to them. All four of the men survived, but were later strangled on hooks in a crematorium to allow autopsies to take place.61 Other tests were done by shooting five inmates in the thigh with bullets that contained crystallized poison. Two of the subjects’ thighs were shot straight through, which allowed them to avoid the effects of the poison. The other three inmates slowly began to salivate and foam at the mouth. Eventually, they began to vomit and choke. After two excruciating hours, all three of the inmates died from the poison.62 One of the largest experiments conducted by Nazi doctors was focused on malaria research. This research was done at Dachau from 1942 to 1945, and it consisted of more than one thousands inmates of various nationalities. These inmates were either infected by malariainfected mosquitoes or injected with malaria-infected blood. Many of the infected inmates died from tuberculosis, dysentery, and typhus. Overall, malaria directly caused thirty deaths, while its complications and side effects caused between three hundred and four hundred deaths.63 As usual, despite the amount of work put into these experiments, no medical advances came. Another disease studied in the concentration camps is typhus. Dr. Horst Schumann was the foremost Nazi doctor who researched typhus. Schumann’s goal was to find a cure to typhus through his research. In an attempt to find a cure, Schumann took the blood from prisoners with 60 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 209. 61 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 210. 62 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 211-212. 63 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 103-106.


typhus and injected it into his subjects. He then used a variety of substances in hopes to cure his subjects of typhus. However, Schumann was unsuccessful, and his infected subjects went on to suffer from their symptoms.64 Medical Advances and Outcomes Overall, the Nazi doctors’ experiments had mixed results in terms of medical advances produced by the findings of their experiments. The experiments focused on reproduction – specifically those conducted by Clauberg, Schumann, Stieve, and Mengele – yielded little to no advancement in medicine or scientific knowledge. Therefore, the countless hours of work conducted by the Nazi doctors, as well as the resources and subjects allocated for the experiments, were almost entirely wasted. The military experiments conducted by Nazi doctors were also largely a waste of time, resources, and lives. The only tangible effects came from seeing the effects of certain types of weapons and wounds, which were, for the most part, already known by the doctors. However, the various experiments allowed the doctors to use human guinea pigs in their research. As with reproductive and military experiments, research conducted on diseases and pharmaceuticals also yielded negligible results. As is customary with Nazi medical experimentation, the only outcome of these experiments was the ability to analyze human suffering. There were no significant outcomes or cures that resulted from experimentation on diseases and pharmaceuticals. Instead, the parameters of the human body were measured and noted. Laws and Justice

64 Henderson, “German Doctors Urged to Shake Off Nazi Horrors,” 4.


Despite the vast amounts of needless deaths and scientific failures, medical experimentation was not without any positive, long-lasting impact. The only positive results of the Nazi doctors’ medical experimentation during the Holocaust came in the form of the establishment of international laws, medical ethics, and human rights. As a result of Nazi medical experimentation, an international agreement on the laws of medical experimentation was clearly necessary. To solve this problem, the Nuremberg Code was created. Its main goal was to “attempt to establish the substantive standards and procedural guidelines for permissible medical experimentation with humans.”65 One of the largest issues within Nazi medical experimentation is that the majority of the subjects were experimented on against their will; those who volunteered did so under false pretenses. Medical ethics have also become established and recognized since the end of the Nazi medical experimentation. Before this, medical ethics were centered on the Hippocratic Oath, which, when translated into modern language, states, “… Physicians must use all of their skills to treat patients and help them recover from illnesses and other physical mischief to the best of their ability. [Physicians] cannot dispense poisonous drugs or abortive remedies. [Physicians] cannot inflict harm….”66 With the creation of the Nuremberg Code, these issues were addressed by focusing on “respect for the autonomy of the potential participants in research, the risk of harm, the value and quality of the research, and aspects of justice.”67 Another key outcome of the Nazi medical experiments is the movement towards a universal recognition of human rights. This eventually culminated with the Universal Declaration

65 George J. Annas and Michael A. Grodin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code (New York: Oxford University Press), 121. 66 Horst H. Freyhofer, The Nuremberg Medical Trial, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing), 120-121. 67 Tony Hope, Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press), 100.


of Human Rights, which was agreed upon on December 10, 1948.68 Although not all nations have recognized all of the declared rights, this is no doubt a step in the right direction. One nation in particular, the United States, has not ratified the majority of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.69 In the United States, in extreme cases, informed consent of a subject is not required to use experimental procedures or products. This is particularly troublesome, as it goes against the precedent established by the Nuremberg Code.70 Aside from legislation and medical ethics, perhaps the largest post-Holocaust focus was on justice. Dr. Zofia Maczka, a prisoner at Ravensbrueck, asked, “What kind of recompence can the world offer to those who were operated on in such a manner? What kind of justice has the world for those who carried out such operations?”71 Although this was a tall task, the International Military Tribunal aimed to achieve whatever amount of justice they could.72 Surprisingly, none of the previously mentioned Nazi physicians were tried by the International Military Tribunal. In fact, some were able to continue their careers, whether it be in practice or in academia. In total, twenty-four individuals were tried in the “Doctors’ Trial.” Of these twenty-four, eight were acquitted. Despite being responsible for thousands of deaths which resulted in no valuable medical advances, only seven physicians were executed – Viktor Brack, Karl Brandt, Rudolf Brandt, Karl Gebhardt, Waldemar Hoven, Joachim Mrugowsky, and Wolfram Sievers were hanged. All other convicted physicians faced no more than fifteen years of imprisonment for their crimes against humanity.73

68 Annas and Grodin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code, 178. 69 Annas and Grodin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code, 178-179. 70 Steve Schwalm, “FDA Approves Human Guinea Pigs – Sometimes,” Human Events 52.44 (November 22, 1996): 4. 71 Spitz, Doctors from Hell, 115. 72 Annas and Grodin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code, 4. 73 Annas and Grodin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code, 120.


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Nazi Medical Experiments  

Nazi Medical Experiments