On May 23, 2012, the German Medical Association issued a Declaration and apology at Nuremberg, at last taking responsibility for the crimes and atrocities committed by German doctors who, the Declaration acknowledges, were "guilty of scores of human rights violations."
“These crimes were not the actions of individual doctors but involved leading members of the medical community…and should be taken as a warning for the future…
Outstanding representatives of renowned academic medical and research institutions were involved” in organizing and carrying out the mass extermination of millions, and participating in barbaric medical experiments. Doctors were not forced to participate in the atrocities, the statement admitted, but were often enthusiastic supporters and even Nazi leaders…"
Indeed, the criminal actions by German physicians predated the expulsion of Jews to concentration camps and the pseudo-scientific experiments on concentration camp inmates. German doctors were key to the forced sterilization and euthanasia of disabled children, the mentally ill and others deemed "unworthy of life."
The Declaration, unanimously adopted by the delegates of the Physician’s Congress, states that contrary to popular belief doctors were not forced by political authorities to kill and experiment on prisoners but rather engaged in the Holocaust as leaders and enthusiastic Nazi supporters.
The apology is to the victims both living and dead: "Doctors, remember the living and deceased victims and their descendants, and ask them for forgiveness."
In an editorial on MSNBC, bioethicist Art Caplan stated : "In the history of apologies for crimes and abuses carried out in the name of medicine this is the most important ever made. It does nothing to soften the horror of the Holocaust but it both ascribes responsibility where it belongs and ends any further efforts to deny or obfuscate what actually happened."
Inhumane, unethical medical experimentation carried out on concentration camp inmates during the Third Reich may be divided into three categories.
1. Experiments aimed at facilitating the survival of military personnel. These included high-altitude experiments, using a low-pressure chamber, to determine the maximum altitude from which crews of damaged aircraft could parachute to safety; freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia; and used prisoners to test various methods of making seawater potable.
2. Experiments aimed at developing and testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods for injuries and illnesses which German military and occupation personnel encountered in the field. At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme, doctors tested vaccines and sera for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. The Ravensbrueck camp was the site of bone-grafting experiments and experiments to test the efficacy of newly developed sulfa (sulfanilamide) drugs. At Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen, prisoners were subjected to phosgene and mustard gas in order to test possible antidotes.
3. Experiments that sought to advance the racial and ideological tenets of the Nazi worldview. The most infamous were the experiments of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz, who conducted medical experiments on twins. But equally hideous experuments were conducted by Werner Fischer at Sachsenhausen who infected inmates with contagious diseases, in order to determine how different "races" withstood them. Other gruesome experiments aimed at furthering Nazi racial goals were a series of sterilization experiments at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck.
We believe that the Obama Administration is treading on a very dangerous slippery slope when it proposes to conduct an anthrax vaccine safety trial in children who would derive no direct benefit, but would be exposed to serious risks of harm. See: Anthrax Vaccine Trial Ethics? Science?
Below is the German Medical Association Declaration.
Posted by Vera Sharav
Group of children liberated at Auschwitz, the site of numerous sadistic medical experiments, Januray 1945
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has more on Nazi medical experiments.
Related podcast: Dr. Michael A. Grodin »
USHMM Library Bibliography: Medical Experiments »
USHMM online exhibition — Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race »
USHMM Online Exhibition: The Doctors Trial »
Nürnberger Erklärung: Deutscher Ärztetag bittet Opfer der NS-Medizin um Verzeihung
Der 115. Deutsche Ärztetag hat in seiner Nürnberger Erklärung den Opfern der Verbrechen von Ärzten in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus gedacht: „Wir bekunden unser tiefstes Bedauern darüber, dass Ärzte sich entgegen ihrem Heilauftrag durch vielfache Menschenrechtsverletzungen schuldig gemacht haben, gedenken der noch lebenden und der bereits verstorbenen Opfer sowie ihrer Nachkommen und bitten sie um Verzeihung“, heißt es in der Erklärung des Deutschen Ärztetages.
Die Delegierten wiesen darauf hin, dass die Initiativen gerade für die gravierendsten Menschenrechtsverletzungen nicht von politischen Instanzen ausgegangen seien, sondern von den Ärzten selbst. „Diese Verbrechen waren auch nicht die Taten einzelner Ärzte, sondern sie geschahen unter Mitbeteiligung führender Repräsentanten der verfassten Ärzteschaft“, erklärte der Ärztetag. Ebenso seien medizinische Fachgesellschaften, herausragende Vertreter der universitären Medizin sowie renommierte biomedizinische Forschungseinrichtungen beteiligt gewesen.
Das Ärzteparlament erklärte: „Wir erkennen die wesentliche Mitverantwortung von Ärzten an den Unrechtstaten der NS-Medizin an und betrachten das Geschehene als Mahnung für die Gegenwart und die Zukunft.“ Der Deutsche Ärztetag verpflichtete sich ferner, darauf hinzuwirken, die weitere historische Forschung durch die Gremien der deutschen Ärzteschaft sowohl in Form finanzieller als auch institutioneller Unterstützung zu fördern.
May 25, 2012
By Art Caplan, Ph.D.
The German Medical Association has issued a remarkably blunt and straightforward apology, more than six decades after the end of World War II, for the role it played during the Holocaust in the mass murder, sterilization and barbaric medical experiments done on Jews and many other groups.
The apology, made Wednesday at the Bundesärztekammer (German Medical Association) meeting in Nuremberg, makes no excuses.
Unanimously adopted by the delegates of the Physician’s Congress, the declaration says that contrary to popular belief doctors were not forced by political authorities to kill and experiment on prisoners but rather engaged in the Holocaust as leaders and enthusiastic Nazi supporters.
The apology notes that “outstanding representatives of renowned academic medical and research institutions were involved” in organizing and carrying out the mass extermination of millions.
In the statement, the German doctors said they “remember the living and deceased victims and their descendants and ask them for forgiveness."
I don’t know if forgiveness will be forthcoming. But in the history of apologies for crimes and abuses carried out in the name of medicine this is the most important ever made. It does nothing to soften the horror of the Holocaust but it both ascribes responsibility where it belongs and ends any further efforts to deny or obfuscate what actually happened.
My father was there to see some of it. On April 29, 1945, Army Sgt. Sidney D. Caplan was among the troops that liberated the Dachau death camp outside of Munich Germany. By the end of the war, nearly 6 million Jews and countless others had been killed.
The Nuremberg trials that followed the defeat of the German Reich showed the intimate role that medicine had played in the Holocaust. Many know about Dr. Josef Mengele’s gruesome experiments, but now the actions of mainstream medicine have been acknowledged.
German medicine as a field has remained silent about it all these decades – until today.
The world must still grapple with the Holocaust as genocide carried out in the name of science and medicine. But it no longer needs to try and push those involved in German medicine to speak about their role. They have done so and they deserve full credit for it.
The world should acknowledge that medicine has finally stared its worst crimes directly in the face and shuddered.