Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician and Major
General Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation, was one of 15 defendants
found guilty of war crimes at the "Doctors Trial." He was later executed.
by Peter Tyson
Back to Should They Be Used?
During World War II, Nazi doctors conducted as many as 30 different types of
experiments on concentration-camp inmates. They performed these studies without
the consent of the victims, who suffered indescribable pain, mutilation,
permanent disability, or in many cases death as a result. At the Nuremberg
"doctor's trial," which brought 23 German doctors to trial immediately after
the war, prosecutors found 15 defendants guilty of war crimes and crimes
against humanity; seven were hung. Here are some of the most notorious
1942, Sigmund Rascher and others conducted high-altitude experiments on
prisoners at Dachau. Eager to find out how best to save German pilots forced to
eject at high altitude, they placed inmates into low-pressure chambers that
simulated altitudes as high as 68,000 feet and monitored their physiological
response as they succumbed and died. Rascher was said to dissect victims'
brains while they were still alive to show that high-altitude sickness resulted
from the formation of tiny air bubbles in the blood vessels of a certain part
of the brain. Of 200 people subjected to these experiments, 80 died outright
and the remainder were executed.
To determine the most effective means for treating German pilots who had become
severely chilled from ejecting into the ocean, or German soldiers who suffered
extreme exposure on the Russian front, Rascher and others conducted freezing
experiments at Dachau. For up to five hours at a time, they placed victims into
vats of icy water, either in aviator suits or naked; they took others outside
in the freezing cold and strapped them down naked. As the victims writhed in
pain, foamed at the mouth, and lost consciousness, the doctors measured changes
in the patients' heart rate, body temperature, muscle reflexes, and other
factors. When a prisoner's internal body temperature fell to 79.7°F, the
doctors tried rewarming him using hot sleeping bags, scalding baths, even naked
women forced to copulate with the victim. Some 80 to 100 patients perished
during these experiments.
sliced open the leg of Ravensbruck survivor Jadwiga Dzido (shown here) and
deliberately infected the wound with bacteria, dirt, and glass slivers to
simulate a battlefield injury. They then treated the wound with sulfanilamide
the benefit of the German Army, whose frontline soldiers suffered greatly from
gas gangrene, a type of progressive gangrene, doctors at the Ravensbruck
concentration camp performed studies to test the effectiveness of sulfanilamide
and other drugs in curbing such infections. They inflicted battlefield-like
wounds in victims, then infected the wounds with bacteria such as
streptococcus, tetanus, and gas gangrene. The doctors aggravated the resulting
infection by rubbing ground glass and wood shavings into the wound, and they
tied off blood vessels on either side of the injury to simulate what would
happen to an actual war wound. Victims suffered intense agony and serious
injury, and some of them died as a result.
an effort to find ways to more effectively multiply the German race, Dr. Josef
Mengele performed experiments on twins at Auschwitz in hopes of plumbing the
secrets of multiple births. After taking all the body measurements and other
living data he could from selected twins, Mengele and his collaborators
dispatched them with a single injection of chloroform to the heart. Of about
1,000 pairs of twins experimented upon, only about 200 pairs survived.
Six weeks after Americans liberated
Buchenwald in April 1945, a guide shows an American soldier human organs the
Nazis removed from prisoners.
at Buchenwald concentration camp developed a method of individual execution by
injecting Russian prisoners with phenol and cyanide. Experimenters also tested
various poisons on the human body by secreting noxious chemicals in prisoners'
food or shooting inmates with poison bullets. Victims who did not die during
these experiments were killed to allow the experimenters to perform
determine if people had any natural immunities to tuberculosis, and to develop
a vaccine against the disease, Dr. Kurt Heissmeyer injected live tubercle
bacilli (bacteria that are a major cause of TB) into the lungs of inmates at
the Neuengamme concentration camp. About 200 adult subjects died, and
Heissmeyer had 20 children from Auschwitz hung in an effort to hide evidence of
the experiments from approaching Allied forces.
an attempt to find an antidote to phosgene, a toxic gas used as a weapon during
World War I, Nazi doctors exposed 52 concentration-camp prisoners to the gas at
Fort Ney near Strasbourg, France. Phosgene gas causes extreme irritation to the
lungs. Many of the prisoners, who according to German records were already weak
and malnourished, suffered pulmonary edema after exposure, and four of them
died from the experiments.
Bone, muscle, and joint transplantation
Nazis at Ravensbruck concentration camp amputated limbs from
prisoners in useless attempts to transplant them onto other inmates. Many of
the victims perished as a result.
learn if a limb or joint from one person could be successfully attached to
another who had lost that limb or joint, experimenters at Ravensbruck amputated
legs and shoulders from inmates in useless attempts to transplant them onto
other victims. They also removed sections of bones, muscles, and nerves from
prisoners to study regeneration of these body parts. Victims suffered
excruciating pain, mutilation, and permanent disability as a result.
come up with an effective means of sterilizing millions of people with a
minimum of time and effort, doctors at Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and elsewhere
conducted experiments on both men and women. They radiated the genitals of
young men, then castrated them to study the resulting changes in their testes.
A woman had caustic substances forced into her cervix or uterus, which caused
horrible pain, bleeding, and bursting spasms in the stomach. The thousands who
were sterilized suffered untold mental and physical anguish.
hearing that Dr. Carl Clauberg had successfully treated a high-level SS
officer's infertile wife, Heinrich Himmler ordered Clauberg to conduct
artificial insemination experiments. Some 300 women at Auschwitz subsequently
underwent artificial insemination at the hands of Clauberg, who reportedly
taunted victims strapped down before him by informing them that he had just
inseminated them with animal sperm and that monsters were now growing in their
Hans Eppinger and others at Dachau conducted experiments on how to make
seawater drinkable. The doctors forced roughly 90 Gypsies to drink only
seawater while also depriving them of food. The Gypsies became so dehydrated
that they reportedly licked floors after they had been mopped just to get a
drop of fresh water. The experiments caused enormous pain and suffering and
resulted in serious bodily injury.
Peter Tyson is editor in chief of NOVA Online.
Photos: (1) Hedy Epstein, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives;
(2,3) National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives;
(4) Courtesy of the U.S. Government Printing Office.
The Director's Story |
Timeline of Nazi Abuses
Results of Death-Camp Experiments: Should They Be Used?
Exposing Flawed Science |
Site Map |
Holocaust on Trial Home
Editor's Picks |
Previous Sites |
Join Us/E-mail |
About NOVA |
Site Map |
PBS Online |
NOVA Online |
© | Updated October 2000