Sitting on an operating table, deep inside the corridors of Azchwitz concentration camp, a man is listening to the Nazi gun fire outside. He hears the innocent screams as automatic weapons mow through crowds of families deemed “unfit to live”. Gradually silence falls, only to be broken again by the solitary pops of a pistol, finishing of those who did not die right off. It should be a sickening feeling for this man, he should feel anger and hate, and sadness for these newest additions to the Nazi stoves. But this man can no longer feel such sadness, such grief. Instead he feels only jealousy, jealousy for those who had died quickly, with a bullet to the brain or the heart. No doubt, considering what he’s been through, and what he will go through still, he considers the others to be the lucky ones. They will not boil. They will not freeze. They will not be diseased or hacked apart. They will not have their heads explode in a pressurised chamber.
They were the lucky ones, not chosen to act as guinea pigs to further science by dying a slow painful death at the hands of the most gruesome members of the Nazi party, the “Nazi Doctors”. When World War two ended in 1945, over eleven thousand people had been exterminated(p4 Freidman) in the Nazis’ effort to “racially purify” Germany and its’ territories. It seemed tat the vast majority of these killings had taken place in concentration camps, by releasing Zyklon-B(p68 Guthman) in gas chambers disguised as showers. As the allies began holding the first war criminal trials, however, it was quickly seen that a secret, genocide far more hideous than was previously suspected, had taken place. Worse still, the killers were not radical soldiers, but respected members of the German scientificand Medical community.
The German government had given the “Doctors of death” (p34, Gilbert) endless supplies of subjects to experiment on in any way they pleased. Some experiments were to benefit the army. They included high altitude tests, as well as the bodies reactions to freezing temperatures.(p2, Net) Other experiments were called for by the nazis themselves, such as tests in genetic traits, mind controlling drugs and mass sterilization.(p3-5, Net) There were medicine tests and more commonly, tests using diseases without any known cures. The most gruesome tests however, were fabricated in the twisted minds of the doctors themselves and are famous for their void of any purposes at all. The high altitude tests were experiments initiated by the nazi government and followed closely by Heinrich Himmler.(p36, Gilbert)
The experiments were conducted in a low pressure chamber that could simulate flight up to 68,000 feet above sea level.(p37, Gilbert) Their point was to record the subjects reaction to flight in high pressure areas, and in high and low oxygen areas. Through a small window, the scientists could watch and record the subjects exact point of death, usually from rupturing lungs.(p2, Net) One eye witness claimed that men would “tear their heads and faces off with finger nails”(p36, Gilbert) in attempts to relive the pressure from their eardrums. At least 200 prisoners are known to have died from these experiments. The second experiments for army use were the heating/freezing tests. These tests judged the amount of time a person could be exposed to freezing temperatures before they died.(p57, Guthman)
The results were meant to help determine how long Nazi soldiers could remain in trenches throughout the Russian winter. Test subjects were put naked into vats of 37 degree water. It was gradually lowered to 25 degrees.(p55, Guthman) The subjects body temperature was measured through the stomach or rectum until he died, at which point his body was analyzed to find the exact cause of death. It was usually heart failure.(p57, Guthman) One particular story of this torturous test was about two Russian POWs. In most tests, the men would last for one hour before dying. The two Russians were still living after two hours of freezing, when one was about to ask the German officer to just shoot them.
To the idea, the second replied “Don’t expect any sympathy from this Fascist dog!”(p32, FReidman) Instead, the men said their good-byes and awaited death. It took a total of five hours to come.(p32, Freidman) Often, when the cold tank was not usable, the experiment was improvised by strapping naked subjects to stretchers and set outside to brave the harsh winter night. At one hour intervals, the subject was drenched with ice water until he froze.(p18, Gilbert) Once frozen, the Nazis would test a verity of methods to resuscitate him. These methods included placing the subject under heat lamps, forcefully irrigating his body with near- boiling water, forcing sexual intercourse, and immersing him in a warm bath.(p4, Net) Of these methods, the most successful was the warm bath. (p4, Net)
Some tests were called for by the Nazi party itself, including genetic experimentation. The purpose of these experiments was primarily to create propaganda as to why non-Aryans were inferior.(p30, Freidman) The secondary goal was to determine what caused these said “defects”. Hundreds upon hundreds of samples, and measurements. were taken. Test results were bent to prove that Jews, gypsies and homosexuals had a different type of blood and were more prone to crime than straight Aryans. (p31, Freidman) Of all the Nazi doctors who worked in the field of genetics, no name is more infamous than Dr. Josef Mengele. Before the war, Mengele had studied philosophy and medicine. After being wounded in battle, he became the head doctor at Auschwitz,(P21, Carste) where he pursued an infatuation in the genetics of twins. He studied and photographed them, probed and examined them.
At one point they were given a gastral intestinal examination without anesthesia.(p17, Carste) Other times they had to have all their body hair plucked out. After a three week experiment, the twins were exterminated and dissected. (p18, Carste) Another set of experiments devised by the nazi party involved mind control. Subjects were issued chemicals ranging from hallucinogens similar to LSD to barbiturates similar to coffee suspected of crushing will power.(p4, Net) Many of the drugs were experimental and several test subjects died. Mass sterilization’s were the last subject Hitler wanted researched. He knew that even if all the impure races were not wiped out during the holocaust, he could still use sterilization to prevent the Jews from bearing children. The most hyped method of sterilization and castration used by the Nazis involved x-ray radiation.(p5,Net)
The victims of these experiments were most often the mentally handicapped and insane.(p34,Freidman) During World War two, much was learned about various diseases by the Nazi doctors. Their was always a hefty number of prisoners in the concentration camp with any given disease. This was due to the cramped and dirty living conditions. For instance, when Dr. Klaus sought to study malaria at Dachau prison camp, he brought in mosquitoes to infect 300 subjects.(p67, Gilbert) Within a few days, he had caused a 1000 man epidemic.(p67, Gilbert) Besides malaria, Nazi test subjects were exposed to countless other diseases, including typhoid and phlegmones.(p5, Net) These particular diseases, for some reason, were tested heavily on prisoners of religious vocations. Twelve preists are known to have died and eigrt to have been tortured with phlegmone membrane inflations.(p5, Net)
The most gruesome of all the Nazi medical experiments were those conducted for no plausible rhyme or reason. In truth, the only point they served was the sick satisfaction of the doctors conducting them. The allies found the remains of these experiments when they liberated Auchwitz. There were vats and bins full of healthy amputated limbs.(p6, Net) Some of the victims themselves still hobbled about. One such woman testified at the Nuremberg trials. She told the story of how her leg was sliced open to the bone for no apparent reason several times over the course of a year.(p67, Freidman) Others had had bones broken several times over in the same manner. When the Germans lost the war, most of the doctors knew their research would soon become public and fled the country. Others steadfastly denied any knowledge or involvement.(p46, Carste)
At the Nuremberg war criminal trials, only twenty-three doctors were brought up on charges and of them, only seven were sentenced to death.(p47, Carste) Where did the rest of the mad scientists vanish to? Every now and then one turns up, sometimes in some rather surprising places. In 1993, Scientist Hubertus Strughold’s name was removed from The National Air Force library and his mural removed from the “Medical Heroes” wall at Ohio University. Known as “The father of US space medicine”, (p55 Carste)Strughold was recently discovered to have been among the doctors who approved the water and pressure chamber experiments during World War Two. Fearing prosecution at Nuremberg, he fled to the US in 1945 and began working with the space program.(p6, Net)
Had the Holocaust been run by space creatures or by some cosmic or religious force, it would most likely lose its unbelivability. It seems like an act man would be incapable of, so much terror and gore that it easier to believe it was not mans’ doing at all. “Perhaps Hitler was Satan himself….” one guesses. That would be easier to believe, that the devil was running the war and his soldiers were disciples of hell. But it is simply not true. Hitler was as much a man as the next, as were his soldiers, his followers, and even his doctors. This is that appalling, uncomprehendable fact. What led these trusted men, men sworn to the helping of others, to jovialy carve up innocent lives?
Was it fierce nationalist pride and faith in Hitler’s speeches? Or was it something by far more frightening? That when left to their own devices, unchecked and unbound by the everyday courtesies of society, these doctors reverted back to the most natural, basic tendencies of man. In doing so, they might have discovered somthing far more unsettling than the experiments themselves; that the essence of man, when allowed to move freely, was uncomprimisingly evil.
Carste, Edward. War Crimes. Meriweather Printing. New York, 1993. Freidman, Ina. The Other Victims. Houton Mifflin Company. Boston, 1990. Gilbert, Norman. The Nazi Doctors. Altonbury Press, New York. 1982. Guthman,Israel. The Holocaust. .MacMillan Publishing Company. London, 1990. Medical Experiments of the Holocaust and Nazi Medicine. http;//remember.org/educate/medexp.html. 5/31/98.