Nazi Experimentation in Humans

The Nazi human experimentation was a series of medical experiments carried out with a lot of prisoners , by the Nazi Germany in its concentration camps during World War II . Prisoners, mostly Jews from all over Europe, but also gypsies , Soviet prisoners of war and disabled Germans, were coerced to participate and there was never an informed consent . Usually the experiments resulted in death, disfigurement or permanent disability, and are therefore considered as examples of medical torture .

One of the most controversial scientists was Josef Mengele , who conducted experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp . 1 In Auschwitz and other camps, under the direction of Eduard Wirths , inmates were selected to be subjected to various experiments intended to assist German military personnel in combat situations, the recovery of wounded military personnel and the promotion Of racial ideology backed by the Third Reich . 2 Dr. Aribert Heim conducted similar medical experiments at Mauthausen . Meanwhile, Carl Værnet is known to have conducted experiments on gay prisoners in an attempt to cure the homosexuality . After the war, these crimes were tried in what was known as the Doctors’ Trial . The rejection of the abuses perpetrated led to the development of the Nuremberg Code on medical ethics .


Medical Pavilion of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz .

According to the sentence in the Nuremberg trials, 3 4 experiments included the following topics:

Experiments in twins

Experiments in twin boys in concentration camps were created to show the similarities and differences in genetics and eugenics of twins, as well as to see if the human body can be manipulated unnaturally. The leader of these experiments was Josef Mengele , who performed experiments on more than 1500 pairs of imprisoned twins, of which only about 200 survived. 5 While attending the University of Munich (located in the city that remained as one of the central points of Adolf Hitler during the revolution) to studyphilosophy and medicine with an emphasis on anthropology and paleontology , Mengele was dragged by Nazi hysteria and even said That “this simple political concept finally became a decisive factor in my life”. 6 Mengele’s newly discovered admiration for the “simple political concept” led him to interspersed his medical studies with politics as his chosen career. Mengele received his doctorate for a thesis entitled “Racial Morphological Investigation of the Lower Jaw Section of Four Race Groups,” which suggested that a person’s race could be identified by the shape of his jaw. 7 The Nazi organization understood his studies as talented and Mengele was asked to be the principal physician and researcher at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in May 1943. 8

At Auschwitz, Mengele organized genetic experiments on twins. The twins were arranged by age and sex and locked in barracks between experiments, ranging from an injection of different chemicals into the eyes of the twins to see if they could change the colors until they were to sew the twins together to try to create Siamese . 9 10

Experiments with transplants

From September 1942 to December 1943 , experiments were carried out in the Ravensbrück concentration camp to study the regeneration of bones , muscles and nerves , as well as the transplantation of bones from one person to another. Sections of bones, muscles and nerves were extracted from subjects without anesthesia . As a result of these operations, many victims suffered intense agony, mutilation or permanent disability. eleven

Experiments with head injuries

In the summer of 1942 , in Baranovichi (present-day Belarus ), experiments were carried out in a small building behind the house occupied by the Nazi officer of the Sicherheitsdienst Dr. Wichtmann. In one of them, “a boy of eleven or twelve years was tied to a chair so that he could not move. A mechanical hammer was suspended above him, and every few seconds he fell on his head. ” 12

Freezing experiments

In 1941, the Luftwaffe conducted experiments on how to treat hypothermia . One study forced the subjects to resist in a tank of icy water for up to three hours. Another study placed naked prisoners in the open for several hours with sub-zero temperatures. In addition to studying the physical effects of cold exposure, experimenters calculated different ways to re-heat survivors. 13

Table of “Exitus” (death) compiled by Dr Sigmund Rascher 14
Attempt No. Water temperature Body temperature when removed from water Temperature of the body at the time of death Time in the water Time of death
5 5.2 ° C (41.36 ° F) 27.7 ° C (81.86 ° F) 27.7 ° C (81.86 ° F) 66 ‘ 66 ‘
13 6 ° C (42.8 ° F) 29.2 ° C (84.56 ° F) 29.2 ° C (84.56 ° F) 80 ‘ 87 ‘
14 4 ° C (39.2 ° F) 27.8 ° C (82.04 ° F) 27.5 ° C (81.5 ° F) 95 ‘
16 4 ° C (39.2 ° F) 28.7 ° C (83.66 ° F) 26 ° C (78.8 ° F) 60 ‘ 74 ‘
2. 3 4.5 ° C (40.1 ° F) 27.8 ° C (82.04 ° F) 25.7 ° C (78.26 ° F) 57 ‘ 65 ‘
25 4.6 ° C (40.28 ° F) 27.8 ° C (82.04 ° F) 26.6 ° C (79.88 ° F) 51 ‘ 65 ‘
4.2 ° C (39.56 ° F) 26.7 ° C (80.06 ° F) 25.9 ° C (78.62 ° F) 53 ‘ 53 ‘

The experiments on hypothermia were carried out by the Nazi high command to simulate the conditions suffered by the armies on the Eastern Front , when German forces were ill-prepared for the icy cold. These experiments were carried out under the supervision of the commanders of Dachau and Auschwitz . SS physician Sigmund Rascher reported directly to Heinrich Himmler and published the results of his freezing experiments at the medical conference entitled “Medical Problems Arising from the Sea and Winter” (1942). 15 The freezing experiments were divided into two parts. The first was to establish how long it would take to lower body temperature to death; While the second focused on how to better resuscitate the frozen victim. The frozen tub method proved to be the quickest way to bring about a drop in body temperature.

The selections focused on young and healthy Jews or Russians. They were usually stripped and prepared for the experiment. An isolated probe that measured the drop in body temperature was inserted into the rectum . The probe was held in place by an expandable metal ring that was tightened to open into the rectum and hold the probe firmly in place. The victim was put in an air force uniform, then placed in the tub of cold water and beginning to freeze. It was learned that most subjects lost consciousness and died when body temperature dropped to 25 ° C. 16

Experiments on malaria

From February 1942 to April 1945, experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp to investigate immunization to treat malaria . Healthy prisoners were infected by mosquitoes or by injections of extracts from a mucosal gland of female mosquitoes. After contracting the disease, subjects were treated with various drugs to prove their relative efficacy. More than a thousand people were used in these experiments and of them more than half died as a result of them. 17

Experiments with mustard gas and phosgene

Several times between September 1939 and April 1945, experiments were carried out in the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen , Natzweiler and other fields on the effects of mustard gas . Prisoners were deliberately exposed to mustard gas and other vesicants (eg, lewisite that inflicted severe chemical burns on them). These wounds were tested to investigate the most effective treatment to cure them. eleven

Experiments on sulfamide

From July 1942 until September 1943, experiments were carried out in Ravensbrück to investigate the effectiveness of sulfamide , a synthetic antimicrobial agent. 18 Subjects were infected with bacteria or neurotoxins , such as Streptococcus , Clostridium perfringens (which causes gas gangrene ) and Clostridium tetani (which causes tetanus ). 19 The blood flow was interrupted to clog blood vessels at both ends of the wound and create a similar to a wound on the condition battlefield . The infection was aggravated by introducing wood chips and glass into the wounds. The infection was treated with sulfamide and other drugs to determine its effectiveness.

Experiments with sea water

From July and September 1944, experiments were carried out in the Dachau concentration camp to study various methods of making sea ​​water drinkable . A group of 90 people was deprived of food and Dr. Hans Eppinger gave them only sea water to drink, leaving them severely injured. 15 They were so dehydrated that they were observed licking the newly washed soil to obtain water that they could drink. twenty

Sterilization experiments

From March 1941 to January 1945, sterilization experiments were conducted at Auschwitz , Ravensbrück and elsewhere by Dr. Carl Clauberg . 11 The purpose of these experiments was to develop a method of sterilization with which it would be possible to sterilize millions of people with a minimum of time and effort. These experiments were conducted by means of X-rays , surgery and various drugs. Thousands of victims were sterilized. In addition to this experimentation, the Nazi government sterilized about 400,000 individuals as part of its forced sterilization program . twenty-one

Intravenous injections of solutions that were speculated contained iodine and silver nitrate were successful, but had undesirable side effects such as vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, and cervical cancer . 22 Therefore, radiation treatment became the preferred choice of sterilization. Specific amounts of radiation exposure destroyed a person’s ability to produce eggs or sperm. Radiation was administered by deception. The prisoners were taken to a room and asked to complete forms, which took two or three minutes. At this time, the radiation was administered and, without the prisoners’ knowledge, they were left completely sterile. Many suffered burns from radiation. 2. 3

Experiments on typhus

From December 1941 to February 1945, experiments were conducted to investigate the effectiveness of spot fever and other vaccines. 11 In Buchenwald , large numbers of healthy inmates were deliberately infected with typhus bacteria to keep the bacteria alive; More than 90% of the victims died. 24 Other healthy inmates were used to determine the effectiveness of different vaccines and various chemicals. In the course of these experiments, 75% of the selected inmates were vaccinated with one of the vaccines or fed with one of the chemicals and, after a period of three to four weeks, were infected with point fever germs. The remaining 25% were infected without prior protection to compare the effectiveness of vaccines and chemicals. Hundreds of people died. Experiments were also conducted yellow fever , smallpox , typhoid, paratyphoid A and B, cholera and diphtheria . Similar experiments were conducted with similar results in Natzweiler . 25

Experiments with poison

Between December 1943 and October 1944, experiments were carried out in the Buchenwald concentration camp to investigate the effect of various poisons. The poisons were administered secretly in the food of the experimental subjects. The victims died as a result of the poison or were killed immediately to allow the autopsy . In September 1944, poisoned bullets were fired at experimental subjects who suffered torture and, finally, death. eleven

Experiments with incendiary bombs

From November 1943 until January 1944, experiments were conducted at Buchenwald to test the effect of various pharmaceutical preparations burns with phosphorus . These burns were inflicted on subjects with substances extracted from incendiary bombs . eleven

Experiments on high altitude impact

At the beginning of 1942, the prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp were used by Dr. Rascher in experiments whose objective would be to help the German pilots who had to be ejected at high altitudes. To simulate the conditions of altitudes of up to 20 km, a low pressure chamber was used in which the prisoners were enclosed. It is rumored that Rascher performed human vivisections in the brains of the victims who survived the initial experiment. 26 Of the 200 subjects, 80 died during the experiment and the rest were executed. fifteen


Many of the subjects died as a result of experiments conducted by the Nazis, while many others were killed once the tests were completed or to study the post-mortem effect . 27 Those who survived were often maimed, suffering from permanent disability, weakened bodies and psychological pressure. 28 15

On August 19, 1947, physicians captured by Allied forces were brought to trial in the US v. Karl Brandt et. to the. Which is commonly known as the Doctors Trial . During the process, several doctors argued in their defense that there was no international law concerning medical experimentation. However, in German medicine, the principle of informed consent was not original for issues surrounding the Second World War . In 1890, Dr. Albert Neisser infected patients (mostly prostitutes ) with syphilis without their consent. Despite the support of much of the academic community, public opinion led by psychiatrist Albert Moll was against Neisser. While Neisser was fined by a disciplinary court, Moll developed “a theory of a positivist legal contract in the doctor-patient relationship” that was not adopted by German law. 29 Finally, the Minister for Religious, Educational and Medical Affairs issued a directive stating that medical interventions, with the exception of diagnosis, cure and immunization, were excluded under all circumstances “if the subject was a minor or not competent for other reasons “Or if he had not given his” unambiguous consent “after a” correct explanation of the possible negative consequences “of the intervention; However, this directive was not legally binding. 29

In response, doctors Leo Alexander and Andrew Conway Ivy produced a ten-point memorandum entitled “Permissible Medical Experiment” which was known as the Nuremberg Code . 30 The code addresses the need for voluntary patient consent, avoiding unnecessary pain and suffering, and the assumption that experimentation will not end in death or disability; 31 nevertheless, it was not cited in any of the discoveries against the prisoners and never became a German or American medical law. 30

Ethical issues

Modern medical knowledge of how the human body reacts to the freezing to the point of death is based almost exclusively on Nazi medical experiments. [ Citation needed ] This, coupled with the recent use of information from Nazi biomedical research on the effects of gas phosgene has been controversial and presents the dilemma of ethics for modern physicians who do not agree with the methods used to obtain this information . 20 Similarly, it has created a very serious controversy over the use of the results of tests on biological weapons conducted by Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army ; 32 however, the results of the 731 Squadron were held classified by the United States and pardon was granted to most of the physicians involved. 33


  1. Back to top↑ [1] , United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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  9. Back to top↑ Black, Edwin (2004). War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race . United States: Thunder’s Mouth Press. ISBN  1568582587 . Consulted the 14 of April of 2008 .
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  13. Back to top↑ Bogod, David (2004). “The Nazi Hypothermia Experiments: Forbidden Data?” , Anaesthesia , 59 (12): 1155.
  14. Back to top↑ The Dachau Concentration Camp, 1933 to 1945 . International Dachau Committee. 2000. p. 183. ISBN  978-3-87490-751-4 .
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  16. Back to top↑ «The Doctors Trial: Testimony» . United States Holocaust Memorial Museum . Archived from the original on December 1, 2015 . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  17. Back to top↑ Distel, Barbara (1972). «Text of Museum booklet about Dachau Concentration Camp» . . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  18. Back to top↑ Schaefer, Naomi. The Legacy of Nazi Medicine , The New Atlantis , Issue 5, Spring 2004, pp. 54-60.
  19. Back to top↑ Spitz, Vivien (2005). Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans . Sentient Publications. ISBN  1591810329 . Accessed January 4, 2008 .
  20. ↑ Jump to:a b Cohen, Baruch C. «The Ethics of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments» . Jewish Law: Articles . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  21. Back to top↑ Piotrowski, Christa (July 21, 2000). “Dark Chapter of American History: US Court Battle Over Forced Sterilization” . News Center . Archived from the original on December 1, 2015 . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
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  23. Back to top↑ «Medical Experiments at Auschwitz» . Jewish Virtual Library . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  24. Back to top↑ «The horrors of Buchenwald» . The Guardian . April 18, 1945 . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  25. Back to top↑ «Medical experiments in Natzweiler-Struthof» . . Accessed March 22, 2008 .
  26. Back to top↑ Cockburn, Alexander (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press . Verse. ISBN  1859841392 . Accessed January 4, 2008 .
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  28. Back to top↑ «Sterilization Experiments» . Jewish Virtual Library . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  29. ↑ Jump to:a b Vollman, Jochen; Rolf Winau. ‘Informed consent in human experimentation before the Nuremberg code’ . BMJ . Archived from the original on December 1, 2015 . Retrieved on April 8, 2008 .
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  31. Back to top↑ “Regulations and Ethical Guidelines: Reprinted from Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10, Vol. 2, pp. 181-182 . Office of Human Subjects Research . Washington, DC: US ​​Government Printing Office. 1949. Archived from the original on December 1, 2015 . Retrieved on March 23, 2008 .
  32. Back to top↑ “Unit 731: Japan’s biological force” . BBC News . Accessed March 27, 2008 .
  33. Back to top↑ Reilly, Kevin; Stephen Kaufman, Angela Bodino (2003). Racism: The Global Reader . ME Sharpe. ISBN  0765610590. Accessed March 27, 2008 .