Karl Gebhardt Medical Experiments

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Karl Gebhardt was Gruppenführer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) in the Waffen SS; personal physician to Reichsfuehrer-SS Himmler; Chief Surgeon of the Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police (Oberster Kliniker, Reichsarzt SS und Polizei); and President of the German Red Cross.

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He served as Medical Superintendent of the Hohenlychen Sanatorium. As a physician he would have sworn to the Hippocratic Oath ‘First do no harm’

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He was a Consulting Surgeon of the Waffen-SS, Chief Surgeon in the Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police, and personal physician to Heinrich Himmler.

Karl Gebhardt

Gebhardt was the main coordinator of a series of surgical experiments performed on inmates of the concentration camps at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz.

During the war, Gebhardt conducted medical and surgical experiments on prisoners in the concentration camps at Ravensbrück (which was close to Hohenlychen Sanatorium) and Auschwitz. At Ravensbruck he had initially faced opposition from camp commandant Fritz Suhren, who feared future legal problems given the status of most camp inmates as political prisoners, but the SS leadership backed Gebhardt and Suhren was forced to cooperate.

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In order to absolve Gebhardt for his failure to prescribe sulfonamide for Heydrich, Himmler suggested to Gebhardt that he should conduct experiments proving that sulfonamide was useless in the treatment of gangrene and sepsis. In order to vindicate his decision to not administer sulfa drugs in treating Heydrich’s wounds, he carried out a series of experiments on Ravensbrück concentration camp prisoners, breaking their legs and infecting them with various organisms in order to prove the worthlessness of the drugs in treating gas gangrene.

43-031He also attempted to transplant the limbs from camp victims to German soldiers wounded on the Russian front. The Ravensbrück experiments were slanted in Gebhardt’s favor; women in the sulfonamide-treated experimental group received little or no nursing care, while those in the untreated control group received better care. Not surprisingly, those in the control group were more likely to survive the experiments.

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During the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Gebhardt stood trial in the Doctors’ Trial (9 December 1946–20 August 1947), along with 22 other doctors.

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He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death on 20 August 1947. He was hanged on 2 June 1948, in Landsberg Prison in Bavaria.

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The evil of Herta Oberheuser

Men do not have a ‘monopoly’ on evil. Women can be just as evil if not more.

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This is one of those stories where I don’t know what is more disturbing, the evil acts committed by Herta Oberheuser or the fact that she got away with it.

Herta Oberheuser (15 May 1911 in Cologne, – 24 January 1978 in Linz am Rhein, West Germany) was a Nazi physician at the Auschwitz and Ravensbrück concentration camps from 1940 until 1943.

Oberheuser worked at concentration camps under the supervision of Dr. Karl Gebhardt, participating in gruesome medical experiments (sulfanilamide as well as bone, muscle, and nerve regeneration and bone transplantation) conducted on 86 women, 74 of whom were Polish political prisoners in the camp.

She killed healthy children with oil and evipan injections, then removed their limbs and vital organs. The time from the injection to death was between three and five minutes, with the person being fully conscious until the last moment. She performed some of the most gruesome and painful medical experiments, focusing on deliberately inflicting wounds on the subjects. In order to simulate the combat wounds of German soldiers fighting in the war, Oberheuser rubbed foreign objects, such as wood, rusty nails, slivers of glass, dirt, or sawdust into the cuts.

Herta Oberheuser was the only female defendant in the Nuremberg Medical Trial, where she was sentenced to 20 years in jail. It was later reduced to 10 years in prison.

She was released in April 1952 for ‘good behavior’ and became a family doctor in West Germany. She lost her position in 1956, after a Ravensbrück survivor recognized her, and her license to practice medicine was revoked in 1958. She died in January 1978.

Testimony from Vladislava Karolewska, a Polish political prisoner and victim of medical experimentation:

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In the hospital we were put to bed and the hospital room in which we stayed was locked. We were not told what we were to do in the hospital and when one of my comrades put the question she got no answer but she was answered by an ironical smile. Then a German nurse arrived and gave me an injection in my leg. After this injection I vomited and I was put on a hospital cot and they brought me to the operating room… I regained my consciousness in the morning and then I noticed that my leg was in a cast from the ankle up to the knee and I felt a very strong pain in this leg and the high temperature. I noticed also that my leg was swollen from the toes up to the groin. The pain was increasing and the temperature, too, and the next day I noticed that some liquid was flowing from my leg… I saw Dr. Fischer again. He had an operating gown and rubber gloves on his hands. A blanket was put over my eyes and I did not know what was done with my leg but I felt great pain and I had the impression that something must have been cut out of my leg. Those present were: Schildauski, Rosenthal, and Oberhauser… Two weeks later we were all taken again to the operating room and put on the operating tables. The bandage was removed, and that was the first time I saw my leg. The incision went so deep that I could see the bone… On the eighth of September I was sent back to the block. I could not walk. The pus was draining from my leg; the leg was swollen up and I could not walk. In the block, I stayed in bed for one week; then I was called to the hospital again. I could not walk and I was carried by my comrades. In the hospital I met some of my comrades who were there for the operation. This time I was sure I was going to be executed because I saw an ambulance standing before the office which was used by the Germans to transport people intended for execution… When I was in my room I made the remark to fellow prisoners that we were operated on in very bad conditions and left here in this room and that we were not given even the possibility to recover. This remark must have been heard by a German nurse who was sitting in the corridor because the door of our room leading to the corridor was opened. The German nurse entered the room and told us to get up and dress. We answered that we could not follow her order because we had great pains in our legs and we couldn’t walk. Then the German nurse came with Dr. Oberhauser into our room. Dr. Oberhauser told us to dress and come to the dressing room. We put on our dresses; and, being unable to walk, we had to hop on one leg going into the operating room. After one hop, we had to rest. Dr. Oberhauser did not allow anybody to help us. When we arrived at the operating room, quite exhausted, Dr. Oberhauser appeared and told us to go back because the change of dressing would not take place that day.

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I could not walk, but somebody, a prisoner whose name I don’t remember, helped me to come back to the room… At the end of February 1943, Dr. Oberhauser called us and said, “Those girls are new guinea-pigs”; and we were very well known under this name in the camp. Then we understood that we were persons intended for experiments and we decided to protest against the performance of those operations on healthy people… Dr. Trommel took me by the left wrist and pulled my arm back. With his other hand he tried to gag me, putting a piece of rag into my mouth, because I shouted. The second SS man took my right hand and stretched it. Two other SS men held me by my feet. Immobilized, I felt that somebody was giving me an injection. I defended myself for a long time, but then I grew weaker. The injection had its effect; I felt sleepy. I heard Trommel saying, “Das ist fertig”, that is all. I regained consciousness again, but I don’t know when. Then I noticed that a German nurse was taking off my dress, I then lost consciousness again; I regained it in the morning. Then I noticed that both my legs were in iron splints and were bandaged from the toes to groin. I felt a strong pain in my feet, and a temperature… Two weeks later a second operation was performed on my left leg although pus was draining from my former wound, and a piece of shin bone was removed.

– from testimony given at the “Doctors Trial” before an American military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany