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Human Experimentation in Nazi Germany
The Nazi’s were infamous for their cruel and unusual experiments on humans. Although they played a small part of Nazi Germany’s attempt at racial hygiene, these experiments desecrated and exterminated thousands of humans (Lifton 269). “The Nazi medical experiments of the 1930’s and 1940’s are the most famous example of recent disregard for ethical conduct ” (Polit & Hungler 127). For the sake of science, thousands lost their lives “I have no words. I thought we were human beings. We were living creatures. How could they do things like that?” (Auschwitz survivor as quoted in Lifton 269).Was it really science, or was it murder?
After the Nazi’s seized power in 1933, patients no longer had protection by law from German scientists. These scientists could use any method of “research or treatment”. “Terrible experiments carried out in the concentration camps were symptomatic of this amoral attitude of the German scientific community” (Friedlander 131).Prior to 1933, scientists promoted radical measures in the study of racial science. “Prominent eugenicists-anthropologists, geneticists, psychiatrists-influenced both Nazi ideologues and a generation of scientists and physicians” (Friedlander 123). Literature from these scientists influenced Adolf Hitler and many scientists during the Nazi period (Friedlander 123).
Science in Germany quickly adjusted to the ideas of race and eugenics. “The enthusiastic participation of the scientific and medical establishment in the sterilization program was an indication of the fact that its ideology meshed with that of the Nazi movement’ (Friedlander 125). The concept of racial hygiene was the foundation of Germany’s eugenic and racial policy. State hospital directors and scientists founded institutes and departments for researching heredity. In order for scientist to move up in rank, they were coerced to comply with racial hygiene as prescribed by the regime. “Loyalty to ideology determined access to research grants and job opportunities” (Friedlander 126).
Euthanasia became a solution to the problem of the slow process of mass sterilization. German scientists were eager to benefit from this program. Researchers took part in the killings right from the start. T4 (operation known as adult euthanasia) provided experience for new inexperienced doctors. Friedlander quotes Henrich Bunke saying, “It provided the opportunity to collaborate with experienced professors, to do scientific work, and to complete my education.” as his excuse for joining T4 (127). Autopsies were the greatest opportunity for these young physicians. As a result, human organs were available for research (Friedlander 127).
With the beginning of this program, scientists made the decision to utilize the killing program to benefit research. Two institutes for research took a great part in benefiting from the killings. “The clinic for Psychiatry and Neurology of Heidelberg University, directed by Professor Carl Schneider, and the observation ward and research station at the state hospital in Brandenburg-Gorden, headed by Hans Heinze” (Friedlander 127).
The experiments done on the camp prisoners can be divided into two categories. The first was created to help the war effort and was performed by the medical services of the German military. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) performed high altitude experiments on camp prisoners to test conditions experienced by pilots. Other examples of military experiments were inducing hypothermia, human toleration of seawater ingestion, and immunization experiments against several diseases (Friedlander 132).Women were used in military experiments to test treatment of combat wounds. “Deliberately inflicted wounds were treated with the antibiotic sulfonamide to test its efficacy while other experiments tested bone, muscle, and nerve regeneration as well as bone transplants” (Friendlander 132). Additionally, doctors performed private research in the camps to their own beneficence.
The second category of experiments was created to further the ideal goals of political agenda regarding racial hygiene. The prime example being sterilization. “Sterilization as negative population control had been used by the regime throughout the 1930’s against those considered diseased” (Friedlander 132). The usual process for sterilization was too costly and took too much time when considering sterilizing large number of people. Researchers were authorized to find a method of rapid, mass sterilization to be performed anonymously (Friedlander 132).
One renowned physician, Joseph Mengele, of Auschwitz-Birkenau (a German medical site) performed experiments to determine genetically how multiple births (primarily twins) occurred. A twin would be selected and injected with a form of disease, which would result in a severe illness. On their next examination, responses to the disease would be documented though not treated. Finally, as their disease progressed, they would require hospitalization. No food, water, or medication was given while in the hospital. Once death occurred, the other twin would be injected with phenol into the heart causing death. Autopsies were done on both bodies comparing diseased organs to healthy organs (Caplan 5).
Mengele was involved with the selection process that took place on a “ramp” close to the railways where prisoners were transported. He made sure that twin subjects were selected for his research. Mengele also made selections in hospital wards for research or for death in the gas chambers. He would send people to the gas chamber if they had any imperfections in appearance such as a blemish or scar. “Specific prisoner responses to Mengele’s selections were dominated by a special quality of fear and helplessness” (Lifton 345). Mengele also did some of the killing himself. Phenol injections given without any expression of emotion as well as shooting several of the prisoners himself were ways he killed. “In selecting for death or in killing people himself, the essence of Mengele was flamboyant detachment-one might say disinterestedness-and efficiency’ (Lifton 347).
Specialists in law, history, and medical genetics have evaluated testimonies of those who survived Auschwitz. The results of these evaluations identified the experiments of Auschwitz without scientific value.
The acts of grievous bodily harm and the mutilation of the bodies and souls of the victims were perpetrated by Mengele under the guise of scientific experiments, but in truth these investigations had no apparent scientific value. Mengele’s experiments were performed through coercive means upon helpless prisoners. They were part of an extensive system of pseudo-investigation conducted by Nazi medical practitioners who had violated the Hippocratic Oath (qtd. in Caplan 287).
These experiments performed on humans in the name of science and medicine failed to be justified due to their criminal nature. “Doctors and scientists, many holding university and medical appointments, did make men, women, and children suffer and die in the name of advancing knowledge in science and medicine” (Caplan 65). The German anthropological and psychiatric scientists trapped themselves with their own mythological beliefs. “Every science at its beginning builds on its own mythological foundations. As it progresses, those parts which can no longer be integrated into the whole are dropped” (Muller-Hill 101). The scientists of the Third Reich proved to be malicious and destructive and “in the last analysis, stupid” (Muller-Hill 101). German scientists proved themselves to be traitors to science as they spilled the blood of innocent victims to consecrate their myth (Muller-Hill 101).
Caplan, Arthur L. When Medicine Went Mad. Totowa: Humana Press, 1992.
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genicide From Euthanasia to the Final
Solution. Chapel Hill: London: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Lifton, Robert J. The Nazi Doctors. New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1986.
Polit, Denise F., and Bernadette P. Hungler. Essentials of Nursing Research.
Philadelphia: New York: Lippencott-Raven, 1997.
Muller-Hill, Benno. Murderous Science. Oxford: New York: Tokyo: Oxford
University Press, 1988.