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Nazi human experimentation

Nazi human experimentation was medical experimentation on large numbers of people by the German Nazi regime in its concentration camps during World War II.


According to the indictment at the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, these experiments included

Freezing experiments

A cold water immersion experiment at Dachau concentration camp presided over by Professor Holzlohner
A cold water immersion experiment at Dachau concentration camp presided over by Professor Holzlohner (left) and Dr. Rascher (right). The victim is wearing a Luftwaffe garment.

Later in 1942, the Luftwaffe conducted experiments to learn how to treat hypothermia. One study forced subjects to endure a tank of ice water for up to three hours. Another study placed prisoners naked in the open for several hours with temperatures below freezing. The experimenters assessed different ways of rewarming survivors.

The freezing/hypothermia experiments were conducted for the Nazi high command. The experiments were conducted on men to simulate the conditions the armies suffered on the Eastern Front. The German forces were ill prepared for the bitter cold. Thousands of German soldiers died in the freezing temperatures or were debilitated by cold injuries.

The experiments were conducted under the supervision of Dr. Sigmund Rascher at the concentration camps at Birkenau, Dachau and Auschwitz. Rascher reported directly to Heinrich Himmler, and publicized the results of his freezing experiments at the 1942 medical conference entitled "Medical Problems Arising from Sea and Winter".

The freezing experiments were in two parts. First, to establish how long it would take to lower the body temperature to death, and second how to best resuscitate the frozen victim.

The icy vat method proved to be the fastest way to drop the body temperature. The selections were made of young healthy Jews or Russians. They 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 an 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 subjects lost consciousness and died when the body temperature dropped to 77°F (25°C).

Malaria experiments

From about February 1942 to about April 1945, experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp in order to investigate immunization for treatment of malaria. Healthy inmates were infected by mosquitoes or by injections of extracts of the mucous glands of mosquitoes. After contracting malaria, the subjects were treated with various drugs to test their relative efficiency. Over 1,000 people were used in these experiments.

Lost (mustard) gas experiments

At various times between September 1939 and April 1945, experiments were conducted at Sachsenhausen, Natzweiler, and other camps to investigate the most effective treatment of wounds caused by Lost gas, commonly known as mustard gas. Wounds were inflicted on the subjects, who were then tested with Lost to investigate the most effective treatment of the wounds.

Sulfonamide experiments

From about July 1942 to about September 1943, experiments to investigate the effectiveness of sulfonamide, a synthetic antimicrobial agent, were conducted at Ravensbrück. Wounds inflicted on the 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.

Sea water experiments

From about July 1944 to about September 1944, experiments were conducted at Dachau to study various methods of making sea water drinkable. Some of the subjects were deprived of all food and given only chemically processed sea water.

Sterilization experiments

From about March 1941 to about January 1945, sterilization experiments were conducted at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, 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. (Aside from its experimentation, the Nazi government sterilized around 400,000 individuals as part of its compulsory sterilization program.) Intravenous injections of solutions speculated to contain jodipin, iodine, and silver nitrate were successful, but had unwanted side effects such as vaginal bleeding and severe abdominal pain. Therefore, radiation treatment became the favored choice of sterilization. Specific amounts of exposure to radiation destroyed a person’s ability to produce ova and sperm. The way the radiation was administered was through deception, much as the gas chambers were disguised as showers. Prisoners were brought into a room and asked to fill out forms, which took two to three minutes. In this time, the radiation treatment was administered and, unbeknownst to the prisoners, they were rendered completely sterile. Many suffered severe radiation burns.

Typhus (Fleckfieber) experiments

From about December 1941 to about February 1945, experiments were conducted to investigate the effectiveness of spotted fever and other vaccines. At Buchenwald, numerous healthy inmates were deliberately infected with typhus bacteria in order to keep the bacteria alive; over 90% of victims had died. 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% of the selected inmates were vaccinated with one of the vaccines or nourished with one of the chemical substances and, after a period of three to four weeks, were infected with spotted fever germs. The remaining 25% were infected without any previous protection in order to compare the effectiveness of the vaccines and the chemical substances. Hundreds of the subjects 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.

Experiments with poison

In or about December 1943 and October 1944, experiments were conducted at Buchenwald to investigate the effect of various poisons. 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 September 1944, experimental subjects were shot with poisonous bullets and suffered torture and death.

Incendiary bomb experiments

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

Doctors Trial

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.

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