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Encyclopedia > Human experimentation in Nazi Germany

During World War II, the Nazi regime in Germany conducted human medical experimentation on large numbers of people held in its concentration camps.


At Auschwitz concentration camp, Josef Mengele carried out medical experiments.


Mengele's experimentation included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing various drugs on them, freezing them to death, and various other usually fatal traumas. Of particular interest to Mengele were twins; beginning in 1944, twins were selected and placed in special barracks. Almost all of Mengele's experiments were of dubious scientific value, including attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various amputations and other brutal surgeries, and in at least one case attempting to create artificial "siamese twins" by sewing the veins in two twins together; this operation was not successful and only caused the hands of the children to become badly infected.


The full extent of his work will never be known because the two truckloads of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute were destroyed by the latter. Subjects of Mengele's experiments were almost always murdered afterward for dissection, assuming they survived the experiment itself.


Whilst Mengele was the most notorious of the Nazi doctors, his behavior was not an isolated aberration, as many other medical experiments were also carried out at other concentration camps, including Dachau concentration camp, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.


According to the indictment at the Nuremberg trials, these experiments included:

  • High altitude experiments. In early 1942 prisoners at Dachau concentration camp were tortured so the Nazi Air Force (Luftwaffe) could find out the capacity of the human body to endure and survive high altitude. A low-pressure chamber was used where conditions at altitudes of up to 68,000 feet could be duplicated. Victims of the experiments were forced to suffer these simulated altitudes within the chamber. Many suffered death or serious injury as well as severe pain.
  • Freezing experiments. Later in 1942 prisoners at Dachau concentration camp suffered experiments so the Luftwaffe could learn how to treat hypothermia. One set of experiments forced victims to endure a tank of ice water, sometimes for as long as 3 hours. Victims rapidly developed extreme rigor. Unsurprisingly many of these unfortunate victims died. Nazi experimenters assessed different ways of rewarming survivors. Other prisoners at Dachau concentration camp screamed with pain when they were forced to remain naked in the open for several hours with temperatures below freezing.
  • Malaria experiments. From about February 1942 to about April 1945 experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp in order to investigate immunization for and treatment of malaria. Healthy concentration-camp inmates were infected by mosquitoes or by injections of extracts of the mucous glands of mosquitoes. After having contracted malaria the subjects were treated with various drugs to test their relative efficacy. Over 1,000 involuntary subjects were used in these experiments. Many of the victims died and others suffered severe pain and permanent disability.
  • LOST (mustard) gas experiments. At various times between September 1939 and April 1945 experiments were conducted at Sachsenhausen, Natzweiler, and other concentration camps for the benefit of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) to investigate the most effective treatment of wounds caused by LOST gas, a poison commonly known as mustard gas. Wounds were deliberately inflicted on the subjects who were infected with LOST. Some of the subjects died as a result of these experiments and others suffered intense pain and injury.
  • Sulfonamide experiments. From about July 1942 to about September 1943 experiments to investigate the effectiveness of sulfonamide were conducted at the Ravensbrück concentration camp for the benefit of the German Armed Forces. Wounds deliberately inflicted on the experimental subjects were infected with bacteria such as streptococcus, gas gangrene, and tetanus. Circulation of blood was interrupted by tying off blood vessels at both ends of the wound to create a condition similar to that of a battlefield wound. Infection was aggravated by forcing wood shavings and ground glass into the wounds. The infection was treated with sulfonamide and other drugs to determine their effectiveness. Some subjects died as a result of these experiments and others suffered serious injury and intense agony.
  • Bone, muscle, and nerve regeneration and bone transplantation experiments. From about September 1942 to about December 1943 experiments were conducted at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, for the benefit of the German Armed Forces, to study bone, muscle, and nerve regeneration, and bone transplantation from one person to another. Sections of bones, muscles, and nerves were removed from the subjects. As a result of these operations, many victims suffered intense agony, mutilation, and permanent disability.
  • Sea water experiments. From about July 1944 to about September 1944 experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp, for the benefit of the German Air Force and Navy, to study various methods of making sea water drinkable. The subjects were deprived of all food and given only chemically processed sea water. Such experiments caused great pain and suffering and resulted in serious bodily injury to the victims.
  • Epidemic jaundice experiments. From about June 1943 to about January 1945 experiments were conducted at the Sachsenhausen and Natzweiler concentration camps, for the benefit of the German Armed Forces, to investigate the causes of, and inoculations against, epidemic jaundice. Experimental subjects were deliberately infected with epidemic jaundice, some of whom died as a result, and others were caused great pain and suffering.
  • Sterilization experiments. From about March 1941 to about January 1945 sterilization experiments were conducted at the Auschwitz and Ravensbrück concentration camps, and other places. The purpose of these experiments was to develop a method of sterilization which would be suitable for sterilizing millions of people with a minimum of time and effort. These experiments were conducted by means of X-ray, surgery, and various drugs. Thousands of victims were sterilized and thereby suffered great mental and physical anguish. (Aside from its experimentation, the Nazi government sterilized around 400,000 individuals as part of its compulsory sterilization program)
  • Spotted fever (Fleckfieber) experiments. [It was definitely ascertained in the course of the proceedings, by both prosecution and defense, that the correct translation of Fleckfieber is "typhus". A finding to this effect is contained in the judgment. A similar initial inadequate translation occurred in the case of typhus and paratyphus which should be rendered as typhoid and paratyphoid.] From about December 1941 to about February 1945 experiments were conducted at the Buchenwald and Natzweiler concentration camps, for the benefit of the German Armed Forces, to investigate the effectiveness of spotted fever and other vaccines. At Buchenwald numerous healthy inmates were deliberately infected with spotted fever virus in order to keep the virus alive; over 90 percent of the victims died as a result. Other healthy inmates were used to determine the effectiveness of different spotted fever vaccines and of various chemical substances. In the course of these experiments 75 percent of the selected number of inmates were vaccinated with one of the vaccines or nourished with one of the chemical substances and, after a period of 3 to 4 weeks, were infected with spotted fever germs. The remaining 25 percent were infected without any previous protection in order to compare the effectiveness of the vaccines and the chemical substances. As a result, hundreds of the persons experimented upon died. Experiments with yellow fever, smallpox, typhus, paratyphus A and B, cholera, and diphtheria were also conducted. Similar experiments with like results were conducted at Natzweiler concentration camp.
  • Experiments with poison. In or about December 1943, and in or about October 1944, experiments were conducted at the Buchenwald concentration camp to investigate the effect of various poisons upon human beings. The poisons were secretly administered to experimental subjects in their food. The victims died as a result of the poison or were killed immediately in order to permit autopsies. In or about September 1944 experimental subjects were shot with poison bullets and suffered torture and death.
  • Incendiary bomb experiments. From about November 1943 to about January 1944 experiments were conducted at the Buchenwald concentration camp to test the effect of various pharmaceutical preparations on phosphorus burns. These burns were inflicted on experimental subjects with phosphorus matter taken from incendiary bombs, and caused severe pain, suffering, and serious bodily injury.

After the war, these crimes were tried at what became known as the Doctors' Trial, and revulsion at the abuses perpetrated led to the development of the Nuremberg Code of medical ethics.


References

  • The public domain official trial record: Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10. Nuremberg, October 1946-April 1949. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O, 1949-1953, referenced online at http://www.ushmm.org/research/doctors/indiptx.htm, 6 February 2004.

  Results from FactBites:
 
BIGpedia - Nazi human experimentation - Encyclopedia and Dictionary Online (1287 words)
Whilst Mengele was the most notorious of the Nazi doctors, his behavior was not an isolated aberration, as many other medical experiments were also carried out at other concentration camps, including Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.
Wounds deliberately inflicted on the experimental subjects were infected with bacteria such as streptococcus, gas gangrene, and tetanus.
Experimental subjects were deliberately infected with epidemic jaundice, some of whom died as a result, and others were caused great pain and suffering.
Third Reich: Definition and Much More from Answers.com (5083 words)
Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich, refers to Germany in the years 1933 to 1945, when it was governed by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP), or Nazi Party, with the Führer Adolf Hitler as chancellor and, from 1934, head of state.
Ideologically, the Nazis endorsed the concept of "Großdeutschland", or Greater Germany, and believed that the incorporation of the Germanic peoples into one nation was a vital step towards their national success.
Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 and on the eve of the invasion, Hitler's former deputy, Rudolf Hess, attempted to negotiate terms of peace with the United Kingdom in an unofficial private meeting after crash-landing in Scotland.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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