Evil Science

Six weeks after Americans liberated Buchenwald in April 1945, a guide shows an American soldier human organs the Nazis removed from prisoners.

The one thing that I have conflicting feelings about is the data that was gathered from the Nazi experiments. On one hand, I believe it should never be used, on the other hand, I have benefitted myself from it via some medications I used, although I did not know the origins at the time.

The evil experiments conducted by Nazi physicians which have on some occasions resulted in medicines, as well as the conditions that made them possible, are still a subject of heated debates among historians and bioethicists. Proponents of various positions often refer to the Nazi period in the discussion of the ethics of research on human subjects. The Nuremberg Medical Trial of 1946–47 and the ensuing Nuremberg Code addressed in particular the absence of consent of those involved in research in Nazi experiments, and as a consequence formulated the principle of informed consent for the first time on an international level. In addition to this crucial issue, the preconditions and inherent rationale of Nazi biomedical science have been at the centre of many debates. Recent historical research documents both similarities and differences between Nazi medicine and medicine in other countries in the developed world. It also suggests implications relevant to today’s debates on the ethics of research involving human beings. The Nuremberg Code is a set of ethical research principles for human experimentation created by the court in US v Brandt, one of the Subsequent Nuremberg trials that were held after the Second World War.

However, the vast majority of the experiments were borne out of an evil ideology.

During World War II, Nazi doctors conducted as many as 30 different types of experiments on concentration-camp inmates. They performed these studies without the consent of the victims, who suffered indescribable pain, mutilation, permanent disability, or in many cases death as a result. There has been no full evaluation of the number of victims of Nazi research, who the victims were, and the frequency and types of experiments and research.

Dr Fritz Klein, an SS doctor, committed to death thousands of men women and children in the Belsen Horror camp. He experimented to some extent by injecting Benzine into his victims to harden their arteries.

The picture shows Dr Fritz Klein speaking for the Movietone News sound truck in Front of the grave in which are buried some of his victims.

Without a reliable, evidence-based historical analysis, compensation for surviving victims has involved many problems. Victim numbers have been consistently underestimated from the first compensation scheme in 1951 when the assumption was of only a few hundred survivors. The assumption was that most experiments were fatal. This project’s use of several thousand compensation records in countries where victims lived (such as Poland) or migrated to (as Israel), or were collected by the United Nations or the German government has corrected this impression. The availability of person-related evidence from the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen further helps to determine whether a victim survived. Major repositories of documents like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Yad Vashem archives, court records in war crimes proceedings, and oral history collections notably the Shoah Foundation have been consulted. Record linkage of named records is essential for the project and shows how a single person could be the victim of research on multiple occasions. Father Leon Michałowski, born 22 March 1909 in Wąbrzeźno, was subjected to malaria in August 1942 and then to freezing experiments in October 1942

Experiments in the context of aviation medicine were aimed at finding methods to help pilots survive after their planes had been hit at very high altitudes, or after an emergency landing at sea. The experiments, carried out in the Dachau concentration camp, focused on physiological questions, such as the effects on the human body of low pressure at high altitudes, or of drinking salt water. The researchers responsible, such as Siegfried Ruff, Sigmund Rascher, and Georg Weltz, were all associated with university institutes or the German Air Force. For the high-altitude experiments, about 200 people were chosen from the camp prisoners, at least 70 of whom died during the experiments in a specially designed low-pressure cabin or were killed afterwards to study the pathological changes in their brains. Judged strictly on scientific terms, the methods and results of some of these experiments were innovative and useful. The US Air Force continued some of this research after the war and published the results in cooperation with several German physicians involved in the original experiments.

Guy Morand, a French resistance fighter who was a prisoner in Dora, testified in 1995 that, after an apparent sabotage attempt, Wernher von Braun ordered a prisoner to be flogged, while Robert Cazabonne, another French prisoner, claimed von Braun stood by as prisoners were hanged by chains suspended by cranes.  However, these accounts may have been a case of mistaken identity. Former Buchenwald inmate Adam Cabala claims that von Braun went to the concentration camp to pick slave labourers:

… also the German scientists led by Prof. Wernher von Braun were aware of everything daily. As they went along the corridors, they saw the exhaustion of the inmates, their arduous work and their pain. Not one single time did Prof. Wernher von Braun protest against this cruelty during his frequent stays at Dora. Even the aspect of corpses did not touch him: On a small area near the ambulance shed, inmates were tortured to death by slave labour and the terror of the overseers was piling up daily. But, Prof. Wernher von Braun passed them so close that he was almost touching the corpses.

Wernher von Braun inventor of the Nazi V-2 rocket, a member of the Nazi party, and a member of the SS could be linked to the deaths of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. Two and a half decades later on Wednesday, July 16, 1969, von Braun stood in the firing room at Kennedy Spaceflight Centre and watched another of his rockets, the Saturn V, take the Apollo 11 crew to the Moon.

I think the question if we should use the Nazis’ evil—will science remain a conflicting and controversial one?











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