Nazi Doctors Essays
Background Information « top »
Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfang Wippermann. The Racial State: Germany, 1933-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. (DD 256.5 .B93 1991) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Provides a general history of Nazi racial policies, with a particular emphasis on the Nazi goal of creating a “racial utopia.” Describes the regime’s murderous activities from euthanasia to the mass murder of Jews and Gypsies in the context of its racial policies.
Haas, François. “German Science and Black Racism--Roots of the Nazi Holocaust.” (external link) FASEB Journal 22, no. 2 (2008): 332-337. (Subject Files) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Traces the origin of the concept of “racial hygiene” to the work of German physicians and scientists of the late 19th century. Shows how the spread of this idea, based on Social Darwinism, culminated in the Nazi T4 euthanasia program and the extermination camps.
Kater, Michael. Doctors Under Hitler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. (R 510 .K37 1989) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Chronicles the history of the medical profession’s relationship to the Nazi movement with an emphasis on the changes wrought in the profession due to Nazi racial and social goals. Demonstrates the complicity of many German doctors in the Nazi campaign to remove Jews from professional practice and the willingness of the German medical establishment to collaborate in the regime’s war crimes. Includes a bibliography and index.
Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. (DS 145 .M677 1985) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Traces the development of racist beliefs in Europe from the eighteenth through the twentieth century showing the intellectual roots of Nazi doctrines regarding racial hygiene and anti-Semitism. Includes reproductions of racist cartoons and illustrations, bibliographic references and an index.
Pross, Christian, and Götz Aly. The Value of the Human Being: Medicine in Germany 1918-1945. Berlin: Arztekammer Berlin, 1991. (R 509 .W472 1991) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
An exhibition catalogue providing an overview of the history of medicine in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Looks particularly at racial science, the treatment of the disabled, and medical experimentation. Copiously illustrated and accompanied by a useful chronology.
Weindling, Paul. Health, Race, and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. (RA 418.3.G3 W45 1993) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Examines the interplay between social Darwinist and eugenic ideas in German political goals for public health and welfare from the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Demonstrates how Germany’s scientific tradition in the treatment of social problems influenced the later more radical “solutions” developed for social and racial goals during the Nazi era. Includes illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
Zmarzlik, Hans-Günter. “Social Darwinism in Germany, Seen as a Historical Problem.” In Origins of the Holocaust, edited by Michael R. Marrus, 3-42. Westport, CT: Meckler, 1989. (Reference D 810 .J4 N38 1989 v.2) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Focuses on the influence of Darwinian concepts such as “survival of the fittest” upon turn of the century mainstream anthropological and scientific thought in Germany. Relates how the German scientific community applied these concepts to the social problems associated with poverty and disease in Germany. Includes bibliographic notes. Part of the multi-volume anthology titled The Nazi Holocaust.
Eugenics and Sterilization « top »
Adams, Mark B., editor. The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil, and Russia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. (HQ 751 .W46 1990) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Compares the history of eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century in four disparate countries to highlight the international nature of the movement and the differing results it achieved depending on the political and scientific traditions of those countries. Includes bibliographic references and an index.
Biesold, Horst. Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999. (HV 2748 .B5413 1999) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Uses archival research, institutional studies, and interviews with survivors to describe how the ideas of the racial hygiene movement led to the persecution of deaf people in Nazi Germany. Explores the collaborative system behind the forced sterilization and euthanasia program focused on the deaf and other handicapped people. Includes a chapter on the history and fate of Jewish deaf people in Germany.
Bock, Gisela. “Sterilization and ‘Medical’ Massacres in National Socialist Germany: Ethics, Politics, and the Law.” In Medicine and Modernity: Public Health and Medical Care in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany, edited by Manfred Berg and Geoffrey Cocks, 149-172. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. (RA 418.3 .G3 M43 1997) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Examines the historical and legal approach to the Nazi forced sterilization program and how changing political and economic conditions allowed for radicalization of Nazi racial and medical goals to include euthanasia and human experimentation. Part of a collection of essays drawn from a conference on German medical history held at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.
Kühl, Stefan. The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. (HQ 755.5 .U5 K84 1994) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Outlines the connections between the American and German eugenics movements. Examines the influence of American eugenicists upon the Nazi approach to racial hygiene that lead to the practice of forced sterilization in Germany.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2004. (HQ 755.5 .G3 U55 2004) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Companion book to the exhibition by the same name held at the United States Holocaust Museum from April 22, 2004 to October 16, 2005. Features numerous photographs, original documents, and drawings from the exhibition. Includes essays describing the history of the German eugenics movement, its influence on the Nazi medical establishment, and how its racial and social views contributed to the Holocaust. Provides a chronology, a guide to further reading, and an index.
Weiss, Sheila Faith. Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. (HM 106 .W45 1987) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Traces the early history of German eugenics through the career of Wilhelm Schallmayer (1857-1919) who along with Alfred Ploetz served as one of the cofounders of the German racial hygiene movement. Includes bibliographic references and an index.
Medical Killing « top »
Aly, Götz, Peter Chroust, and Christian Pross. Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. (R 853 .H8 A42 1994) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Offers an introduction to the history of medicine under the Nazis that supplements a detailed account of the practice of euthanasia at the hospitals and psychiatric clinics of Nazi Germany. Includes information from primary sources, such as diary entries and letters from doctors involved in euthanasia and medical experiments. Provides many illustrations and photographs as well as bibliographic references.
Benedict, Susan. “Caring While Killing: Nursing in the ‘Euthanasia’ Centers.” In Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, edited by Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg, 95-110. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003. (D 804.47 .E86 2003) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Uses the postwar trial testimony of nurses involved in the euthanasia program at the Meseritz-Obrawalde psychiatric hospital to highlight the matter of fact approach of many perpetrators to medical killing. Includes bibliographic references.
Burleigh, Michael. Death and Deliverance: “Euthanasia” in Germany c. 1900-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. (R 726 .B87 1994) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Provides background on the historical development of euthanasia and eugenics in Germany with an emphasis on the Weimar and pre-war Nazi eras. Explores the Nazi perception of an economic benefit to killing disabled people and shows how the Nazis used propaganda to sway public opinion against those with disabilities.
Caplan, Arthur L., editor. When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and the Holocaust. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 1992. (R 853 .H8 W54 1992) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
A collection of eighteen essays from a 1989 conference on medical ethics and the Holocaust. Focuses particularly on the implications of Nazi medical practices for contemporary controversies regarding eugenics, euthanasia, and medical experimentation. See especially the section titled, “Medical Killing and Euthanasia: Then and Now.”
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. (DD 256.5 .F739 1995) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Traces the mass exterminations of the Holocaust back to the first secretive murder of a handicapped child in a Nazi-run medical clinic. Details the development and expansion of the T4 program and examines how the killing methods of euthanasia later evolved into the “Final Solution.”
Gallagher, Hugh Gregory. By Trust Betrayed: Patients, Physicians, and the License to Kill in the Third Reich. Arlington, VA: Vandamere Press, 1995. (R 726 .G35 1995) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Focuses on the T4 program of medical killing, examining its origins, implementation, and changes in light of public protest. Reviews the response of the legal community and the Christian churches to the program, and analyzes the doctors’ motives for participating in medical killing.
Heberer, Patricia. “Targeting the ‘Unfit’ and Radical Public Health Strategies in Nazi Germany.” In Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, edited by Donna Ryan and Stan Schuchman, 49-70. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. (HV 2746 .D43 2002) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Surveys the history of the German medical establishment’s eugenic goals from the sterilization program of the tumultuous interwar wars down to the radicalization of those goals in the murderous T4 and 14f13 euthanasia programs active from 1939 to 1945. Part of a collection of essays and supporting materials drawn from the 1998 conference at Gallaudet University on “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933-1945.”
Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books, 1986. (DD 256.8 .M45 L54 1986) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Explores the psychology of the doctors involved in the Nazi programs of forced sterilization, euthanasia, medical experimentation, and mass killing. Describes the indispensable role physicians and scientists played in developing and carrying out the Holocaust, and examines the process by which they became socialized to killing.
Müller-Hill, Benno. Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany, 1933-1945. Plainview, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1998. (D 804 .G4 M7713 1998) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Discusses the scientific roots of racism and racial hygiene in Nazi Germany and how these beliefs lead from the sterilization and killing of mental patients to the Holocaust. Includes interviews with the students, assistants and relatives of many of the Nazi scientists involved.
Nicosia, Francis R., and Jonathan Huener. Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany: Origins, Practices, Legacies. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002. (R 510 .M385 2002) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
A collection of essays examining the lack of ethical constraint in the medical profession during the Nazi era that allowed for the flourishing of the forced sterilization and euthanasia programs and the further Nazi atrocities associated with medical killing and human experimentation in the camps. Includes photographs, bibliographic references, and an index.
Proctor, Robert. Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. (RA 418 .G3 P76 1988) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Examines the complicity of the medical profession in the Nazi programs of forced sterilization and euthanasia. Explores the connections between German eugenic theorists, the proponents of racial hygiene, and Nazi medical doctors, all of whom helped the Nazis justify the Holocaust.
Film and Video « top »
Aviram, Nitzan. Healing by Killing [videorecording]. New York: New Yorker Films Video, 1999. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Analyzes the role of doctors in the origins of the Holocaust. Shows how the Nazis’ mass killings grew out of the German medical establishment’s willing implementation of euthanasia and other practices with seemingly legitimate ends.
Burleigh, Michael. Selling Murder: The Killing Films of the Third Reich [videorecording]. London: Domino Films, 1991. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Looks at the methods by which Nazi Germany worked to eliminate the weak and purify the Aryan race by killing or sterilizing mentally and physically disabled people. Shows excerpts from Nazi propaganda films intended to justify and gain public support for their actions by reason of mercy, cost, or natural selection.
Cohen, Peter. Homo Sapiens 1900 [videorecording]. New York, NY: First Run/Icarus Films, 1999. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Examines the history of eugenics, racial hygiene, and the ideas of the “new man,” as developed in the early 20th century in Germany and the Soviet Union. In Germany, race hygiene focused on the body, on corporal beauty, and the ideal form, while in the Soviet Union, eugenic interest focused on the brain and intellect.
Michalczyk, John J. In the Shadow of the Reich: Nazi Medicine [videorecording]. New York: First Run Features, 2003. (DVD Collection) [Find in a library near you (external link)]
Outlines the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for German doctors’ participation in the Nazis’ sterilization and euthanasia programs and later, in the victim selections and medical experiments at the death camps.
Museum Web Resources « top »
Exhibitions: Deadly Medicine
Online component to the Museum’s special exhibition that explores the history of the German eugenics movement and its influence upon Nazi racial and social goals.
Holocaust Encyclopedia: Euthanasia Program
Summarizes the Nazi efforts to systematically kill the institutionalized mentally and physically handicapped. Describes the program’s history, the selection process, and the collaboration of medical personnel. Includes victim statistics, photographs, personal stories, a map, historical film footage, and a list of related links.
Library: Bibliography on Medical Experiments
An annotated online bibliography of works concerned with medical experimentation in the Nazi concentration camps with an emphasis on those experiments perpetrated by doctors in Auschwitz. Includes selected personal narratives from survivors of criminal Nazi medical experiments.
Library: Bibliography on People with Disabilities
Annotated online bibliography of works pertaining to the history of the disabled in Nazi Germany with an emphasis on their persecution by the Nazi regime. Explores the literature on the Nazi forced sterilization and euthanasia programs.
Special Focus: Nazi Persecution of the Disabled
Briefly summarizes the Nazis’ treatment of the disabled during the 1930s and 1940s. Includes interviews (in both audio and text formats) with Robert Wagemann, who narrowly escaped being killed as a child for his disability, and Patricia Heberer, a Museum historian speaking about the history of the Nazi euthanasia program. Also provides related photographs, historical film footage, and links to additional sources of information on the disabled during the Holocaust.
Additional Resources « top »
Ask at the reference desk to see the following subject files containing newspaper and periodical articles:
To search library catalogs or other electronic search tools for materials on Nazi racial science, use the following Library of Congress subject headings to retrieve the most relevant citations:
- Insane, Killing of the--Germany
- Involuntary Sterilization
- National socialism and medicine
- People with mental disabilities--Germany
- Science and state--Germany
Here is where the question is posed. Were the doctors acting of their own free will, or were they forced to do these experiments? In my research on this matter, I found numerous arguments stating the soldiers were forced to carry out their actions, but I was only able to dredge up very few arguments in the same light concerning the doctors. Henri Zukier, author of “The twisted road to genocide: on the psychological development of evil during the Holocaust,” which appeared in Social Research, described the Holocaust as “a robbery gone awry, [an] unpremeditated murder committed in the course of a felony, and no grounds for character condemnation,” and that ” . . .the Holocaust was an accidental byproduct of the war, never planned by the Nazi regime, but improvised little by little . . .in response to perceived threats and war pressures.”
The process of “bureaucratic distancing” was developed to encourage streamlined killing. The physicians who conducted the gassings and the ones who filled out the death certificates were not the same, in an attempt to shield [them] from the full weight of responsibility” (Fishkoff, 1996). The traumatic strain caused by the initial mass killings of the firing squads was one of the main reasons why Himmler requested an alternative method. Hence, the gas chambers.
During the Doctors Trials at Nuremberg, a testimony given by Father Leo Miechalowski, who had survived the death camp experiments. He spoke of a nurse who gave him a non-harmful drug injection after he had pled with several nurses over and over again not to receive any more injections. The drug had been causing some very painful reactions in his body — “All of a sudden my heart felt like it was going to be torn out. I became insane. I completely lost my language — my ability to speak. This lasted until evening.” He blatantly refused to have any more. The doctor in charge was finally called in. He heard the man’s pleas and concerns, yet still insisted that he have the injection. The said nurse must have felt sorry for the man, and therefore gave him a different injection, other than the one ordered by the doctor because “no results happened as they had done previously. The man reported that the regular injections continued after that, along with the pain. ” (National Archives Record Group 238,M887, 1946-1949). This testimony illustrates that there were some people in the concentration camps who really did not feel what they were doing was morally right.
Nazi doctors gave the following arguments in their defense: “involuntary research on prisoners had a long history, prisoners were already sentenced to death, they were only following orders, there were no clear international ethics standards respecting research, the toleration of a lesser evil to tolerate a greater good, those who did not participate might have been killed” (Tarantola, 1993).
Still, the evidence pointing toward voluntary participation is overwhelming. One group, known as the functionalists, question whether the genocide was premeditated, whether it was Hitler who ordered it, or whether it was the physicians who implemented the idea (Goldhagen, 1991). “It was the medical ideal of racial hygiene that spread through German politics and lent scientific credibility to the Nazi movement from the very outset” (Tarantola, 1993). Robert N. Proctor, Ph.D. stated, “Doctors in fact joined the Nazi party earlier and in greater numbers than any other professional group.” Dr. Dina Poraty, head of the Project for the Study of Antisemitism at Tel Aviv University, added, “The German medical association was quite fanatic, and eagerly expelled its Jewish doctors. They took part willingly in the Nazification of their own profession. They were not forced.” Dr. Poraty also presented the statistic that 45% of the doctors in Germany joined the Nazi party (many of those even before Hitler’s rise to power), compared to 7% of the teachers in Germany (Tarantola, 1993).
What a startling statistic! But if one were to look at the whole situation, one would see why the doctors might have been so overwhelmingly enticed by the Nazi party and what it had to offer. The Nazi’s biomedical aspect, with its focus on genetically engineering a perfect Aryan race, played on the arrogance of many of the physicians. “These doctors were handed the best laboratories, the largest budgets, the best working conditions,” Porat says, “Few could resist it. In the camps, they had all the human guinea pigs a researcher could dream of.” (Fishkoff, 1996). During his interview for Avriam’s documentary, Dr. Elise Huber, Berlin President of the German Medical Association, stated ‘with quiet candor,’ “Today we know and must accept the responsibility that the medical community was [involved], and that community remained silent . . . It was . . . medical megalomania that paved the way for the Nazi ideology and the Holocaust.” (Fishkoff, 1996).
Aviram also interviewed several of the doctors who actually worked in the death camps. One doctor, Dr. Hans Munch, was eager to be interviewed, according to Aviram. Aviram relates, ” . . . it was a kind of catharsis. But he seemed unrepentant . . . Behind his words of remorse, I didn’t really feel the grief.” When Munch tells of more than 100 top medical experts from around Europe working at the Hygienic Institute at Auschwitz, where he was partially in charge, and calls their work ‘fascinating,’ his ability even today to overlook the human horror in which he participated is bonechilling. He even relates how he traveled by train to Berlin to “tell Himmler in person the [he] was refusing orders to join the selection team. [Himmler] accepted [his] refusal, and [he] resumed [his] work at the Hygienic Institute without a pause” (Fishkoff, 1996). This testimony from Dr. Munch proves even further that the physicians involved in the Holocaust were not forced, but were participants of their own free will.
In fact, there were a number of doctors who the Nazis asked to join their force in attempting to create a perfect Aryan society who refused, without harm. Psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer even led a professional struggle against the euthanasia program, and no abuse was administered to him. “As . . . historians have noted, in the hundreds of postwar trials and masses of documents, ‘not one case is known in which one person’s life was in danger or in which a person suffered serious consequences’ for refusing to obey an order to kill unarmed civilians” (cited in Zukier, 1994), though definate threats were made, and much peer pressure was administered– especially where the soldiers were concerned.
Who was the real culprit in the six-year success of the Holocaust? Was it Hitler who authorized the soldiers’ and doctors’ actions? Was it Himmler who personally oversaw the programs from the beginning? Or, were the German doctors themselves to blame? In accordance with the research I conducted, it is my belief that without the willing participation of a large part of the German medical establishment, the Holocaust could not have taken place. It was the ” . . .German doctors’ initial bending of their Hippocratic oath during the ‘mercy killing’ program, [which ultimately led] to their final moral collapse when called upon to give a spurious medical ‘aura’ to the mass exterminations . . .” (Fishkoff, 1996) that allowed the Holocaust to survive as long as it did. Could these atrocities be repeated in our modern times? The dangers of overzealous scientific curiosity that led Nazi doctors to abandon all moral sense in pursuit of medical knowledge are far from distant in our time. Several years ago, a scandal broke out when it was discovered that some body parts used today in German medical school anatomy classes came from prisoners executed in Nazi experiments. Some doctors defended their use on the grounds that “they were so well preserved, it’s a pity to throw them away” (Fishkoff, 1996). Through these modern doctors, the atrocities are continuing.
The doctors in the Nazi regime thought they were doing a wonderful work for humanity. Few doctors who took part in the Nazi death camps were ever punished for their actions, however. At the Nuremberg Trials, the second wave of trials after those of the highest political leaders, were the trials of the top Nazi doctors. Seven received death sentences and ten were sentenced to prison terms ranging from ten years to life. Most other doctors vanished, or were reabsorbed into the medical community. What happened to the “more than 100 top medical experts from around Europe” which Dr. Munch spoke of? (Fishkoff, 1996). All the doctors who actively took part in the horrific medical experiments of the Holocaust should be punished. This action should not be reserved only for the more famous leaders. All had taken the Hippocratic oath, and all turned their backs on it.
“The doctor is the gatekeeper between life and death . . . he wields that kind of life-and-death authority,” Aviram says. “But the doctor should not be a philosopher. His job is to preserve life” (Fishkoff, 1996).
Conway, H. (1994). A Lesson In History: Images from the United States Holocaust Memorial. Stanford:Softline Information, Inc.
Fishkoff, S. (1996, April 12). “They Called It Mercy Killing.” Jerusalem Post, p.8.
Goldhagen, D.J. (1991). “Himmler: Reichsfuhrer-SS.”
National Archives Record Group 238, M887. (October, 1946 – April, 1949). Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Law No. 10. Washington D.C.: U.S. G.P.O, 1949-1953.
Silverstein, M. (1996, October 10). “When Ethics Turned Evil: Symposium explores role of doctors in the Holocaust.” Jewish Exponent.
Snell, M. (1993). “Germany’s heart: The modern taboo.” New Perspectives Quarterly, pp. 1-20.
Tarantola, Daniel-Mann, Jonathan. (1993, January 1). “Medical ethics and the Nazi legacy.” World & I, Vol. 8, p.358.
Zukier, H. (1994). “The twisted road to genocide: On the psychological
development of evil during the Holocaust.” Social Research, p. 61.