An avalanche of recent scholarship
During the first three decades of the 20th century, Germany was the leading nation in all fields of science and technology (“the Mecca of science”). German medicine and medical research was the most advanced in the world; and Germany’s medical code of ethics for human experimentation, “Guidelines for Human Experimentation” (1931), was the most advanced in the world.
Prior historical narratives of the Holocaust focused on the wide parameters of mass extermination and highest ranking Nazi officials rather than on the academic scientists and physicians involved in the intricate lethal experiments on individual subjects. Historians overlooked both victims and the prominent academic perpetrators. While many of the victims were selected at concentration camps, many others were selected by leading doctors at world renowned medical research institutes at six T4 “euthanasia” killing centers that became experimental de facto medical murder centers.
This revised chronology of medical atrocities has been greatly expanded to incorporate recent scholarship based on massive newly uncovered documents, eye witness accounts, and a re-analysis of the fault lines that led a society whose achievements in science and medicine were without equal, to discard civilized standards and embrace a murderous racist ideology and an industrial technology aimed at genocidal murder. within the multi-faceted context. The updated scholarship dispels numerous false premises, some of which were based on myths that had been created to deflect the impact following the ghastly revelations at the Nuremberg Doctors Trial (1947).
“The same academic and research institutions that gave birth to modern medicine and medical science and medical education also fostered what was to become the greatest program of human destruction in the history of humankind.” (William Seidelman, MD. In Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany Edited by Francis Nicosia and Jonathan Huener, 2002)
Precisely because the United States is heir to Germany’s pre-eminence in science, medicine, and technology, the atrocities that happened during the Nazi era continue to be relevant. They serve to illuminate the catastrophe that can ensue if we fail to prevent current dangerous directions that are being forged by our own government in concert with the medical and health science establishment. The powerful American medical industrial establishment has gone so far as to introduce legislation that would radically depart from the ethical safeguards mandated by the Nuremberg Code in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
The legislation, 21st Century Cures Act. introduced in the U.S. Congress (May 19, 2015), seeks to exempt some research with human subjects from federal requirements of voluntary, informed consent. They do so, to fill the unmet need for human subjects. But their stated reason is to improve the health “greater good” of society. (Read Jerry Avorn. “The 21st Century Cures Act — Will It Take Us Back in Time?” The New England Journal of Medicine, June 25, 2015)
“The medical crimes of the Third Reich were the result of a dynamic triad involving the state, the medical profession, and an academic enterprise comprising the universities and the research institutes.” (William Seidelman, MD, “The Legacy of Academic Medicine and Human Exploitation in the Third Reich,” In Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 2000)
The driving force behind the 21st Century Cures Act is that same triad with the added corporate financial stimulus. The July 9, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books reviewed six important new books about Nazi concentration camps; all but one was published in 2015. (They are listed below.)
How did German medicine degenerate into a murderous discipline for torture and genocide? The answer is, a decisive paradigm shift in German medicine
The pivotal factor that led German physicians to become murderers was the usurpation of the medical profession’s traditional commitment to healing; whose focus is the best interest of the individual patient. This Hippocratic principle in medicine was replaced by preventive medicine which focuses on the application of interventions aimed at preventing and eliminating suspected genetic defects and disease for the presumed “greater good” of society.
Whenever doctors deviate from the Hippocratic ethical principle, “First, do no harm,” and use medicine for the “greater good” — as happens when doctors’ priorities are dictated by government — unspeakable evil results because neither doctor nor government officials bear personal responsibility. Dr. Leo Alexander, the key medical adviser to the American prosecution during the Nuremberg Doctors Trial, stated:
“We should never let doctors work for the government again.”
The paradigm of Nazi medicine deemed the interests of society to be “the greater good” on whose behalf individual interests may be sacrificed. The Nazi goal of eliminating those perceived as racially inferior turned into a mandate that most German and Austrian doctors accepted. That paradigm is morally abhorrent and must be rejected – in particular, wherever medicine is taught and practiced.
Eugenics (Greek term meaning good creation) and applied biology proved to be a potent lethal combination
The origins of a eugenic fantasy; the ability to create an “ideal” society populated by a selectively controlled population of “ideal” individuals can be traced to Classic Greeks who sought to control the quality of their population by regulating “marriages for mating” and killed deformed infants. (David Galton. Greek Theories on Eugenics, BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics, 1998) Nineteenth and twentieth century eugenics was crafted by biologists and anthropologists who gave it the veneer of “science.” Eugenics policies were implemented under the supervision of medical doctors and nurses — most of the doctors were psychiatrists inasmuch as many of the subjects were mental patients. The Nazi government enacted policies that enabled the State to gain control over the evolutionary process by “selecting” those they eliminated from the procreation pool—first through forced sterilization; then through murder of disabled children and adults; finally through racially selective genocide. They sought to orchestrate and control the biological future of mankind.
Eugenicists deemed specific populations as genetically inferior, and Nordic ethnic populations “superior” were based on widely accepted pseudo-scientific theories of racial and ethnic inequality. Those theories were supported by renowned anthropologists whose “science” focused on measuring in detail facial and anatomical features which they classified within a hierarchical developmental framework to demonstrate racial and ethnic differences upon which they placed great value. They sought to prove Nordic-Aryan superiority to justify policies of genocide.
The first objective of Nazi medicine was to eliminate Germany’s “unfit” “inferior” disabled population. The Nazis took the concept of “selection of the fittest” to its logical conclusion, by enacting policies that enabled the State to gain control over the evolutionary process by “selecting” those they eliminated from the procreation pool—first through forced sterilization; then through murder of disabled children and adults; finally through racially selective genocide. (Read more about Eugenics)
Eugenics, Applied Biology and IBM cutting-edge technology facilitated the Holocaust
Eugenics & Applied Biology
- Laughlin’s Model Sterilization Law (1922)
- Sterilization Law 1933
- Nuremberg Laws 1935
- Human Subject Experimentation 1939 –
- Eugenic Infanticide 1938-1945
- Disabled Adults T4 Eugenicide 1939 -1941
- The Final Solution: IBM Technology*
- Murdered Victims’ Body Parts
Biologists and anthropologists provided a “scientific eugenic” rationale for racism and policies to “purify” society by “weeding” out “worthless” lives; medical doctors eagerly contributed for “the greater good” of the German Volk ; they used their medical knowledge to torture and murder; and IBM provided the customized cutting-edge technology — an efficient population tracking tool — that enabled Hitler to carry out genocidal policies with extraordinary efficiency and speed.
Earlier historians had never examined or tried to document the central role played by IBM in facilitating the Holocaust. That task was accomplished by Edwin Black, an investigative reporter who specialized in corporate misconduct. Black, the author of numerous copiously researched books dealing with the history of that period, documented in great detail how IBM and its wholly owned European subsidiaries provided Hitler the cutting edge technology — predating modern computers. His book, IBM and the Holocaust (2001; Revised & Expanded in 2012) documents how IBM was involved in every step of the planning and tracking process; systematizing and organizing the execution of all phases of the Holocaust. He makes the case that IBM enabled the Nazis to execute their genocidal process with maximal efficiency at high speed. (Read more here)
“From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclusive punch card technology and its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler’s anti-Jewish program, step by step facilitating the tightening noose. The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special project work, such as population census and identification, was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York, and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, known as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.”
Scholars are reassessing medical researchers’ extreme racism and the magnitude of their complicity with murderous medicine
They are also reassessing the limited impact the Nuremberg Code had on the ethical conduct in research with human subjects; indeed, the perpetrators of atrocities, for the most part continued to be respected within the medical profession. Several scholars point to the shortcomings of the Doctors Trial; partly due to its limited selection of defendants and narrowly focused evidence presented which related only to the few individuals on trial. Overlooked entirely was the significant role played by a wide circle of the most respected academic institutes and professional medical networks; all of who were complicit beneficiaries in the atrocities.
Earlier historical accounts merely re-iterated atrocities documented in Nuremberg Trial documents — which focused solely on a limited number of experiments conducted by a limited number of doctors, on inmates at concentration camps and death camps. Current Holocaust historians – especially third generation German historians – have dug deeper, and they have shaken the medical academic establishment by demanding full disclosure about the research activities of its faculty and the source of skulls, bones, and brain tissue specimens in the laboratories of premier medical teaching institutes and academies of medicine and anthropology.
Germany’s medical academics who were the leading medical researchers in the world at the time, sought to conquer new frontiers of science. They embraced the Nazi – eugenic ethic of biological population control and enthusiastically adopted the State ideology wherein the rights and welfare of individuals are sacrificed for the good of the mythical German Volk. This was a critical, consequential shift in medical ethics which doctors interpreted as a license to suspend medical ethical boundaries under certain circumstances, when the subjects are deemed “unfit subhumans.”
Doctors seized the opportunity that the State provided; conducting human experiments in which ethical boundaries were suspended. They also recognized that their own careers would be advanced by the new research opportunities; including increased salaries and professional promotion in status accompanied by prestigious titles. The admission process to both T4 “euthanasia” killing stations and concentration death camps provided doctors with the opportunity of selecting individuals who were of “medical interest” for research purposes.
Germany’s moral degradation was amplified by the inhumanity of its leading physicians at renowned medical research institutes who violated every professional and human moral precept. Medical atrocities escalated from the acquisition of dead bodies for anatomical experimentation from prison executions, to experiments on living people destined for execution. The experimentation on “future dead” persons represented a major moral paradigm shift in medical research.
Doctors experimented with various killing methods on German children and adults in mental institutions and sanatoriums in preparation for the mass extermination of the entire European Jewish population. Gypsies, Slavic peoples, Soviet POWs, and homosexuals were concomitantly swept up in Hitler’s genocidal apparatus. The ultimate goal was to breed a master Aryan race and control the biological future of mankind. The populations that were deemed genetically inferior served as the pool from which human subjects were conscripted for experimental medical atrocities.
Medical scientists had what seemed an unlimited supply of human subjects whom they dismissed as “specimens”, “experimental material”, and “rabbits.” When given the opportunity by the governing regime, and funding from the military, industry and various public health agencies, German and Austrian doctors demonstrated the danger that arises from the clinical detachment of physicians from those whom they regarded as morally or genetically inferior. Once they disavowed their humanity, doctors demonstrated depraved indifference to the real human suffering they caused.
Doctors subjected their victims to excruciatingly painful and dangerous invasive medical interventions that had never been tried before on humans; they measured and observed their physiological endurance under extreme stress; in freezing temperatures, and starvation diets. They destroyed reproductive organs with X-rays and chemicals; forced abortions and dissected the fetuses; in a word, they applied their medical knowledge to torture, mutilate, and dissect living and dead human beings; selecting body parts to be harvested – eyes, testicles, brains, whole skeletons – and collected vast amounts of blood – for further research. It is now estimated that at least 23,000 human beings were victims of Nazi human experimentation.
Human Subjects Research After the Holocaust (2014) is a compilation of the latest scholarship based on newly uncovered documents and evidence, edited by Sheldon Rubenfeld and Susan Benedict. Until this compilation, there has not been a thorough, multidisciplinary, international examination of the morally depraved, loathsome experimentation conducted by German scientists during the Nazi era, since the conclusion of the Nuremberg trials in 1949. That lacuna in bioethics and the history of medicine has been filled by an international group of contributing scholars (many of who are German). This compilation of essays includes leading Holocaust scholars who dispel numerous myths created in the aftermath of the heinous revelations at the Nuremberg Doctors Trial.
- Nazi medicine and medical research were not devoid of ethics; a 1933 law provided striking protections for animals who were greatly valued. Nazi medicine was imbued with a racist-eugenics ideology and utilitarian ethics. Thus, ethical standards were selectively applied according to the ideological hierarchy which determined each human being’s moral status. Furthermore, a central tenet of Nazi medical ethics was to promote the health and well-being of valued Aryan people which necessitated sacrificing the interests of those deemed “inferior” or “unfit.” This ideological value system was imparted to physicians and medical students providing them with a moral justification for actions constituting crimes against humanity.
- “The German medical profession did all it could to cover up its enthusiastic, voluntary role in the design and implementation of the Nazi policies of eugenics, euthanasia, and extermination. The victorious Allies also had ulterior motives for not publicizing the crimes of Nazi bioscientists other than the medical experiments.”
- The United States and the Soviet Union…each wanted to acquire Nazi scientists with potentially valuable skills and knowledge even though they may have been guilty of war crimes. At one time or another, the US military employed 4 of the 23 defendants at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial….Josef Mengele was in U.S. custody immediately after WWII, he was released and worked in Germany under false papers from 1945 to 1949 before escaping to Argentina. ” (Rubenfeld. Introduction, 2014) (Read AHRP, Operation Paperclip)
Murderous Medicine: Nazi Doctors, Human Experimentation, and Typhus (2005) by Naomi Baumslag MD shows how anti-Semitism perverted German medicine and public health and how medical ethics and ordinary human empathy were drowned in a sea of hatred.
“Nothing illustrates [how evil masquerades as good] better than the moral infamy of the Nazi physicians and the silent complicity of the German medical profession. The willing, vigorous, and efficient conduct of the atrocities of the Third Reich’s genocidal euthanasia and holocaust programs stands as a lurid embodiment of medical evil…Nazi physicians blatantly erased the boundaries between good and evil.” (Naomi Baumslag, MD)
Dr. Baumslag focuses specifically on how Nazi doctors used typhus, a disease which was rampant and epidemic in concentration camps and ghettos, as a weapon of mass destruction to exterminate Jews with the “silent complicity” of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Typhus prevention was one of the many pretenses used by the Nazis to achieve “racial purity.” She argues that Nazi doctors “promoted typhus…because ‘natural death’ was cheaper than gassing.”
Yale Professor of psychology, Leonard Doob famously observed, “In order to persuade a good man to do evil, it is not necessary to persuade him to become evil. It is only necessary to teach him that he is doing good.” (Panorama of Evil, 1978) Nazi physicians were drawn to Nazi ideology which the regime’s leaders frequent stated that Nazism is “applied biology” designed to protect the health of the Aryan race. This appealed to physicians and scientists who could rationalize that their experimentation on racially inferior subhumans and race purification activities were for the “greater good” of the German volk. The same rationalization led American doctors to engage in forced sterilizations. Two Yale physicians who reviewed sterilization programs in the U.S. and Germany found that:
“A comparison of U.S. and German histories reveals similarities that argue against easy dismissal of a Nazi analogy. On the basis of a review of editorials in New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association from 1930 to 1945 it is difficult to accept the suggestion that the alliance between the medical profession and the eugenics movement in the United States was short-lived.” (AN Sofair and LD Kaldjian. Eugenic Sterilization, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2000)
ED Pellegrino, MD, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics, Georgetown put it this way:
“One mark of a morally responsive society is knowing where to set the boundary between good and evil…To ponder the Nazi physicians’ conduct is to be reminded how perilously close nations, persons and organizations can come to crossing into the darkness of evil.”
Until very recently, mainstream Holocaust historians failed to examine the extensive experimentation by renowned academics at German elite medical research institutes within the Nazi sterilization and T4 euthanasia killing programs which involved thousands of child and adult psychiatric patients who, prior to being killed, were first used as experimental research subjects in unspeakably cruel and inhuman experiments.
Victims and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments: Science and Suffering in the Holocaust (Dec. 2014) by Dr. Paul Weindling, Professor of History of Medicine at Oxford Brookes University seeks to restore a measure of dignity to the human subjects of Nazi experimental atrocities who have been largely forgotten and marginalized. Dr. Weindling places the experiments within the broader historical context of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.
“The experiments were generated by a highly scientized system of medical education and research. The devastation wreaked by the Nazi experiments make them a reference point in modern bioethics as a worst-case scenario of medical science exploiting for research vulnerable patients and populations often to the point of death… [for the victims] an experiment was a gratuitous blow to survival.
This fresh analysis is grounded in a reconstruction […] of victims’ life histories and testimonies, and thereby building up a mosaic of personal histories to obtain a structural analysis of all experiments and their perpetrators.”
Dr. Weindling heads a project funded by the Welcome Trust in the UK, that seeks to identify the victims of all Nazi-era medical experiments: “Life Histories and a Total Population Approach: Victims of Medical Atrocities in Eastern and Southern Europe from the Second World War to 2004.”
Contrary to the perception that the vast number of documents were destroyed, and all victims died, Dr. Weindling has located and obtained access to recently accessible vast cache of documents gathered by the International Tracing Service; compensation files on survivors, and the large number of survivor interviews collected by the Shoah Foundation. Additionally there are extensive Nazi era records on medical and pharmaceutical experiments. Additionally, evidence of the experiments is found in medical publications and student dissertations which at the time focused on forced sterilization, racial pathology and clinical experiments on drug doses and vaccines. Medical students observed experimental atrocities conducted by professors of medicine at Dachau and elsewhere.
“The silence as to the victims of experiments is a topic that reflects on the inability of German academia still to adequately confront the scientific and personal legacy of a murderous medicine. Academic institutions, funding organizations and professional bodies [ ] appear not to wish to face up to the huamn damage resulting from past academic research…Silence as to victim identities and experiences bestows further shame and stigma on the victims. Wider questions arise of the extent that basic academic qualification of doctoral [ ] dissertations involved murdering and maiming research subjects, while Jews were being stripped of academic and medical qualifications, and institutes were sustained by slave labour.”
The atrocities that happened during the Nazi era continue to be extremely relevant today. The July 9, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books reviewed six important new books about Nazi concentration camps; all but one was published in 2015. We refer to many, many more scholarly books and articles in our list of Reference Sources for the Nazi Atrocities section of this Chronology.
- KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
- Before Auschwitz: Jewish Prisoners in the Prewar Concentration Camps by Kim Wünschmann
- Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
- Female SS Guards and Workaday Violence: The Majdanek Concentration Camp, 1942–1944 by Elissa Mailänder, translated from the German by Patricia Szobar
- The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath by Dan Stone
- Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust by Michael J. Bazyler and Frank M. Tuerkheimer (Oct. 2014)
(Read more about new scholarship is dispelling other misconceptions, myths & taboo topics here)