During World War II, concentration camp prisoners underwent painful and horrible experiments from Nazi doctors. The practice of medicine by the physicians of the Third Reich was absolutely shocking. Experiments were conducted without the prisoner’s consent and they often resulted in loss of life.
Historical archives divide unethical medical experimentation of the Third Reich in three main categories.
1. The survival of Axis military personnel
Aiming to strengthen the military personnel by simulating the conditions the German army endured on the Eastern Front, Nazi high commandants from the German Air Force and from the German Experimental Institution for Aviation conducted freezing / hypothermia experiments. German physicians conducted high-altitude experiments at Birkenau, Dachau and Auschwitz, using an extremely low-pressure chamber, to simulate the maximum altitude from which German parachutes would have to jump for safety.
Konnilyn G. Feig in his book “Hitler’s Death Camps” (1981) describes:
“Prisoners were usually stripped naked and prepared for the experiment. An insulated probe which measured the drop in the body temperature was inserted into the rectum. The probe was held in place by a expandable metal ring which was adjusted to open inside the rectum to hold the probe firmly in place. The victim was then placed in the vat of cold water and started to freeze. It was learned that most victims lost consciousness and died when the body temperature dropped to 25 C.”
2. Testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods
Aiming at developing and testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods for infectious diseases and injuries, Nazi doctors mixed immunization compounds for the prevention and treatment of malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. Those experiments were mostly performed at Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme concentration camps. Bone-implanting experiments to test the effectiveness of sulphanilamide drugs were conducted at Ravensbrueck camp, while at Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen camps, the most infamous methods to test possible antidotes were the phosgene and mustard gas.
3. The Aryan race
In order to advance the racial and ideological doctrines of the Nazi theory (blonde hair, blue eye), Dr. Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death”, undertook infinite genetic experiments on Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals and individuals with socially deviant behaviors.
Robert Jay Lifton in his book “The Nazi doctors, medical killing and the psychology of genocide” (1986) describes:
“After the victims were unloaded off the trains and stripped naked and divided into men, women, and children, Mengele would sort through the thousands of people. Most went straight to the gas chambers and others to hard labor in the camps. The twins, dwarfs, and unique physical specimens were selected to be assigned to the experimental blocks. In many ways the majority who where killed in the gas chambers were much better off than the survivors that had no idea what horrors awaited them.”
Mengele directed also experiments on twins.
Dr. Miklos Nyiszli in his book “Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account” (1993) describes:
“Twins were examined from head to toe. Measurements of every inch were taken. Dr. Mengele demanded specific and careful exams. If any detail was missed the staff, usually a prisoner doctor, would be punished. The twins were allowed to keep their hair for the first several days of the examination. After all the living data was taken the twins would be killed by a single injection of chloroform in the heart. Care was taken to insure the twins died at the same time. The twins were then dissected with the organs being sent to Institute of Biological Racial and Evolutionary Research Berlin.”
Survivors of the Holocaust were often left amputated, enduring permanent disabilities, destabilized bodies, and mental compulsion. On August 19, 1947, the Nazi physicians were arrested by Allied forces and were put on the “Doctors’ Trial” in the United States. In majority, they claim in their defence speeches that they performed experiments, which however were not under any international law regarding medical experimentation. Unlike their victims, the majority of doctors were not convicted for their crimes against Humanity.