Nazi Medical Experiments

The drive to create a superior race.

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Reprinted with permission from Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (Yad Vashem).

A series of brutal pseudo-scientific medical experiments were performed in Nazi camps from 1939 to 1945. Approximately 7,000 Jews, Gypsies, and prisoners of war were used as human guinea pigs in these experiments, conducted by trained Nazi medical doctors.

Nazi Ideology

The Nazis' penchant for medical experiments and operations came to light as soon as Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933. Between 1933 and 1937, some 200,000 young Germans were sterilized after the Nazis supposedly found that they suffered from genetic diseases. In Nazi ideology, purity of the superior German race was of utmost importance, and any sign of bad "blood" was cause for immediate destruction.

In addition, approximately 200,000 chronically and mentally ill patients were exterminated as part of the euthanasia program--hiding behind the innocent, even kind term "mercy killing" was the cold-blooded murder of regular German citizens who did not fit in to the Nazis' social or racial code. Finally, the Nazis also set up genetic research departments to identify people with pure Aryan "blood."

Academic Motivation?

From 1942 to 1945 some 70 medical research projects were carried out in Nazi camps. About 200 doctors were posted at the camps; their job was to conduct selections and participate in these medical experiments, which were initiated by German and Austrian universities and research institutes. Each medical experiment needed to be approved by SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who was especially interested in them.

swastikaThe medical experiments carried out in the camps can be divided into two major categories. The first category includes experiments that were not ethically problematic in and of themselves--in fact, their aims might have been acceptable under other circumstances--but the way in which they were carried out violated ethical codes. The second category includes experiments that both violated medical ethics in the way they were conducted and in their very purpose of being.

Ethics & Torture

The first category consisted of two types of experiments: experiments dealing with survival and rescue, and experiments dealing with medical treatment. Survival and rescue experiments tested the abilities of a human being to survive under harsh conditions and to adapt to those conditions, and figured out how to save lives in various situations.

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