IDENTIFICATION AND EVALUATION OF SOURCES
The focus of this investigation will be “To what extent did the Nazi medical experiments
influence modern medicine?” and will analyze the degree to which the Nazi’s experimentation
aided the modern medical world. There are many problems that were caused by the Nazi
experiments, however this will focus only on their influence on the medical world. Thus,
Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans by
Vivien Spitz, and an excerpt on Nazi Medical Experiments by the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum are important to the investigation, because of the information they gave into
the horrific details of the Nazi experiments with first-hand experience and different accounts
which furthered the understanding of the style of the Nazi experiments and, information as to
whether it influenced the modern medical world.
Source: Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans by Vivien
This source could be of important to historians looking at the question of what the
experiments entailed. This book has transcripts from the original court case, where the Nazi
doctors were put on trial for their medical crimes against those in the different Nazi death camps.
This means it is directly their account of what happened during the experimentation. Thus, this
allows historians to have a detailed fist hand account, because on trial the doctors on trial are
prohibited from lying by law.
However, there are limitations with this source. Being that it is a court trial transcript,
those on trial could have left out details, or made it appear less horrific than it was creating a bias
for historians studying it. It may also carry limitations in its purpose and origin in conjunction.
The trial was relatively soon after the conclusion of World War II and the Holocaust, so its
purpose and origin by more western writers, could be to paint the Nazi doctors in a negative way.
Source: Nazi Medical Experiments by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
This source also has importance in terms of its abilities to inform historians about the
horrific experiments that occurred inside of the Nazi death camps. With purpose and origin in
mind, historians can understand each experiment, and what it entailed. This means that it
assessed and detailed each experiment allowing historians to gain an understanding about those
who were subjected to it suffered from. This source also allows historians to study from an
unbiased source because it is just the details of the experiments and not personal accounts.
However, it too has limitations because it is not a primary source, so some of the
information may not be as exact as a primary source would have it. Another limitation is that the
explanations are not overly in depth, so it just provides the historians with an overview.
During the duration of the Holocaust and World War II, Hitler authorized unethical, and
horrific experiments on those kept in the Nazi camps like Dachu, Ravensbrueck, and most
horrifically Auschwitz. Each camp contained a different “level” of experimentation, each more
horrific than the next. In Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme,
scientist tested different vaccination compounds and sera for prevention and treatment of
different contagions like, “malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and
1 The second level of experiments were conducted at Ravensbrueck, these
were bone-grafting experiments, and experiments to test the efficacy of newly developed sulfa
drugs; camps like Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen are where “prisoners were subjected to
phosgene and mustard gas in order to test possible antidotes.”
2 The third level of experiments
looked to advance ideological and radical racial ideas of the Nazi worldview. These experiments
took place at the death camps like Auschwitz, which was notorious for being extremely horrific,
they included medical experiments on twin children, and serological experiments on the Roma
In general, most of the experiments done by the Nazis were to further investigate ways to
treat the human body while it is in trauma, in hopes the experiments would produce ways to help
their own military during war. In the Dachu camp, doctor Sigmund Rasher tested survival
equipment for the Luftwaffe by dressing the inmates in a pilot uniform, then dropping them in
freezing waters like the North Sea, and then taking their temperature, and charting their cooling
Schwarberg, “Nazi Medical Experiments” by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
rate with extreme caution.4 While this experiment was horrific, it has provided some of the most
comprehensive data describing the end stages of hypothermia which are often still cited to this
day. Another one of the Luftwaffe project at Dachau aimed to study the effects of high-altitude,
low-pressure expose on human bodies.5 “To test the effects of low pressure, Rascher hung
prisoners in parachute harnesses and sealed them inside a pressure chamber. Some of his 200
subjects were unconscious (simulating a passed-out pilot), others were wide awake. As air was
pumped out of the chamber, victims clawed at their faces and chewed their lips and tongues.”6
This experiment allowed the military to understand how high they could fly before it was
considered overly dangerous. Thus, allowed medical doctors to understand what happens when
pilots fly too high into the air, giving information to doctors everywhere about what the human
body can handle, which have allowed us to develop technology to help humans withstand high
altitude low pressure conditions, for example the different space suits.
Other experiments focused on sterilization and testing the connection between identical
twin children. The idea with sterilization was that if am easier method of sterilization was found
they could use it to wipe out the populations of those who the Nazi party deemed “undesirable.”7
Experiments for sterilization ranged from hysterectomies and vasectomies all the way to
castration and the removal of ovaries. However, many inmates tore loose from their restraints
during these experiments, which caused the Germans to turn to radiation which proved most
effective.8 In most cases research done on twins can be medically useful because they have
identical genes, making it easy to study differences in their outcome based on genetics and
4 Stockton, “Did Nazi Research Actually Contribute Anything To Medical Science”
5 Berger, “Nazi Science- The Dachau Hypothermia Experiments.”
6 Stockton, “Did Nazi Research Actually Contribute Anything To Medical Science”
8 Spitz, Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans pg 234
environmental influence on disease. However, these experiments stitched the twin children
together, and infected one with infectious agents, and then autopsied the bodies together to see
how the one twin affected the other.9 This set of experimentations gave no insight into the human
medical condition, the twins who were subjected to these experiments were killed for no medical
Not all their experiments were useful for the modern medical world. The experiments
taking place at Ravensbrueck on antibiotics gave no new information to the world of medicine.
Doctors at Ravensbrueck tested antibiotics by cutting gashes in the legs of prisoners, and rubbing
different contaminants to infect their wounds. Once their infection killed them, autopsies were
done on the dead bodies to see the effectiveness of the different antibiotics. The German doctors
discovered that the drugs had little to no effect, which was something doctors of the United
Kingdom and the United States of America had already tested, making the research done at
Ravensbrueck obsolete. Near the end of World War II, and the Holocaust the experiments were
focused on transplantation of bones, nerves, and muscle tissue between mismatched patients;
inmates were even shot with poisonous bullets just to test their lethality.10 These experiments
gave no insight into anything related to medical treatments, or the human body, the inmates
subjected to this were killed for no medical gain. Many these experiments were result of doctors
joining the SS and Nazi party because they could not find a job anywhere else. Because of this
many of the experiments were created with a lack for concern of those subjected to them and had
few controls; variables were never isolated, obscure ideas were tested while there was other
9 Spitz, Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, pg 345
practical research went unfunded, and many accounts of these experiments by doctors were
found to be gibberish.11
While the experiments that took place in the assorted Nazi camps provided little actual
medical information to the world, it provided a large deal of information concerning what kinds
of experimentations should be considered ethical versus unethical, which changed medical
experiments all over the world. “”Many of the most important issues in medical ethics today –
from genetic testing and stem cell research to the humane treatment of prisoners of war – are
directly affected by the experiences of medicine leading up to and during the Holocaust,” Dr.
Wells said. “”12 This quote from Dr. Wells explains that the “experience of medicine leading up
to and during the Holocaust”13 have directly impacted the modern world concerning ethics. It is
important to understand how the Nazis influenced the ethical considerations for patients,
prisoners of war, and experimental testing, because their medicine caused such a world upset in
that it was horrifically inhumane. Flash-forward to post World War II in Nuremberg during the
“Doctor Trials”14, new restrictions and guidelines were put in place regarding human
experimentation. The Nuremberg Code of 1947 gave 10 principals which were created to guide
physicians through the process of ethical human experimentation.15 Thus, creating the first
worldwide set of standards for physicians to follow.
It is clear to see that to an extent the Nazi experiments influenced the modern medical
world, but more so influenced the modern code of ethics regarding human experimentation.
There is evidence that the Nazi’s experiment on hypothermia, and high altitude low pressure,
11 Schwarberg “Nazi Medical Experiments” by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
12 Wells, “Deadly medicine: How the Nazis influenced modern medical ethics| UNMC.”
14 Bekier, “The Ethical Considerations of Medical Experimentation on Human Subjects”
gave some insight how the human body is affected in each of these conditions; their other
experiments such as the twin experiments, sterilization, and the testing of immunizations
provided little to no useful medical information, and abused inmate who were subjected just
because they could.16 It could be argued that the Nazi doctors benefited the medical community
by showing the world what would not work, eliminating possibilities of treatment; but this
argument is highly controversial because of all the innocent people killed during the
experimentation. The Nazi experiments however, were beneficial in establishing an ethical code
of conduct, thus influencing the world much more than their experiments. The Nazi medical
experiments did not lead to amazing medical breakthroughs in modern medicine, or medicine at
that time. The experiments were often created on a whim, and never regulated, thus the ethical
problems which lead to the creation of the Nuremburg Code, which influenced the word.
16 Gillam “Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?”
Throughout this investigation, I utilized many different methods of research which
allowed me to understand challenges historians face. Utilizing my primary source, the transcripts
of the German SS doctor’s trial, I came to understand the how hard it was to gain accurate
historical knowledge. While primary sources beneficial for understanding the past, it is important
to not solely rely on them because they may not always be accurate. This presented the challenge
of while reading the court transcripts because it is possible that the doctors left out information to
save themselves. However, it was unbiased because you cannot lie in a court trial.
There is a large amount of research done on Nazi Germany, and more specifically their
medical experiments. This provides the challenge of deciding which facts are most important to
include. While attempting to correctly represent the Nazi medical experiments and determine
their extent of influence on the modern medical world, I questioned to extent to which in a
historian gather historic knowledge on an event that is controversial. It is certain in history
different historical sources are written with different biases towards the same event based on
what side of the event they were on. I recognized this during my investigation and selected facts
based on how they confirmed what happened and if they were unbiased.
Finally, when creating the argument from the facts and sources that I used, and I had to
consider the problem of interpretation that historians deal with. Through my analysis, data on the
Nazi medical experiments were not always detailed step by step, thus allowing some
interpretation as to how they were conducted by historians which could lead to have some bias. It
is important to consider that a lot of these doctors were only conducting these experiments
because they had no other job options available to them.
Berger, Robert L. “Nazi Science — The Dachau Hypothermia Experiments.” New England
Journal of Medicine 322, no. 20 (1990): 1435-440. doi:10.1056/nejm199005173222006.
14, 2005 September. “Deadly medicine: How the Nazis influenced modern medical ethics |
UNMC.” Deadly medicine: How the Nazis influenced modern medical ethics | UNMC. Accessed
April 04, 2017.
“The Ethical Considerations of Medical Experimentation on Human Subjects.” The Ethical
Considerations of Medical Experimentation on Human Subjects. Accessed April 05, 2017.
Lynn Gillam Academic Director/ Clinical Ethicist, Children’s Bioethics Centre at the Royal
Children’s Hospital, and Associate Professor in Health Ethics at the Centre for Health and
Society, University of Melbourne. “Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?” The
Conversation. February 15, 2017. Accessed April 05, 2017. http://theconversation.com/is-itethical-to-use-data-from-nazi-medical-experiments-39928.
Nyiszli, Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account. Translated by Richard Seaver.
Arcade Publishing , 2011.
Richard Stockton on January 23, 2017. “Did Nazi Research Actually Contribute Anything To
Medical Science?” All That Is Interesting. January 23, 2017. Accessed April 04, 2017. http://allthat-is-interesting.com/nazi-research.
Spitz, Vivien. Doctors from Hell The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans. Sentient