FROM THE OPENING STATEMENT BY TELFORD TAYLOR
[from Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10. Nuremberg, October 1946–April 1949. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O, 1949–1953.]:
I have outlined the particular charges against the defendants under count two, three, and four of the indictment; and I have sketched the general nature of the evidence which we will present. But we must not overlook that the medical experiments were not an assortment of unrelated crimes. On the contrary, they constituted a well-integrated criminal program in which the defendants planned and collaborated among themselves and with others.
We have here, in other words, a conspiracy and a common design, as is charged in count one of the indictment, to commit the criminal experiments set forth in paragraphs 6 and 11 thereof. There was a common design to discover, or improve, various medical techniques. There was a common design to utilize for this purpose the unusual resources which the defendants had at their disposal, consisting of numberless unfortunate victims of Nazi conquest and Nazi ideology. The defendants conspired and agreed together to utilize these human resources for nefarious and murderous purposes and proceeded to put their criminal design into execution. Numbered among the countless victims of the conspiracy and the crimes are Germans, and nationals of countries overrun by Germany, and gypsies, and prisoners of war, and Jews of many nationalities. All the elements of a conspiracy to commit the crimes charged in paragraphs 6 and 11 are present and all will be clearly established by the proof.
There were many co-conspirators who are not in the dock. Among the planners and leaders of this plot were Conti and Grawitz, and Hippke whose whereabouts is unknown. Among the actual executioners, Dr. Ding is dead and Rascher is thought to be dead. There were many others.
Final judgment as to the relative degrees of guilt among those in the dock must await the presentation of the proof in detail. Nevertheless, before the introduction of evidence, it will be helpful to look again at the defendants and their part in the conspiracy. What manner of men are they, and what was their major role?
The 20 physicians in the dock range from leaders of German scientific medicine, with excellent international reputations, down to the dregs of the German medical profession. All of them have in common a callous lack of consideration and human regard for, and an unprincipled willingness to abuse their power over the poor, unfortunate, defenseless creatures who had been deprived of their rights by a ruthless and criminal government. All of them violated the Hippocratic commandments which they had solemnly sworn to uphold and abide by, including the fundamental principles never to do harm - "primum non nocere."
Outstanding men of science, distinguished for their scientific ability in Germany and abroad, are the defendants Rostock and Rose. Both exemplify, in their training and practice alike, the highest traditions of German medicine. Rostock headed the Department of Surgery at the University of Berlin and served as dean of its medical school. Rose studied under the famous surgeon, Enderlen, at Heidelberg and then became a distinguished specialist in the fields of public health and tropical diseases. Handloser and Schroeder are outstanding medical administrators. Both of them made their careers in military medicine and reached the peak of their profession. Five more defendants are much younger men who are nevertheless already known as the possessors of considerable scientific ability, or capacity in medical administration. These include the defendants Karl Brandt, Ruff, Beiglboeck, Schaefer, and Becker-Freyseng.
A number of the others such as Romberg and Fischer are well trained, and several of them attained high professional position. But among the remainder few were known as outstanding scientific men. Among them at the foot of the list is Blome who has published his autobiography entitled "Embattled Doctor" in which he sets forth that he eventually decided to become a doctor because a medical career would enable him to become "master over life and death."
The part that each of them 20 physicians and their 3 lay accomplices played in the conspiracy and its execution corresponds closely to his professional interests and his place in the hierarchy of the Third Reich as shown in the chart. The motivating force for this conspiracy came from two principal sources. Himmler, as head of the SS, a most terrible machine of oppression with vast resources, could provide numberless victims for the experiments. By doing so, he enhanced the prestige of his organization and was able to give free rein to the Nazi racial theories of which he was a leading protagonist and to develop new techniques for the mass exterminations which were dear to his heart. The German military leaders, as the other main driving force, caught up the opportunity which Himmler presented them with and ruthlessly capitalized on Himmler's hideous overtures in an endeavor to strengthen their military machine.
And so the infernal drama was played just as it had been conceived in the minds of the authors. Special problems which confronted the German military or civilian authorities were, on the orders of the medical leaders submitted for solution in the concentration camps. Thus we find Karl Brandt stimulating the epidemic jaundice experiments, Schroeder demanding "40 healthy experimental subjects" for the sea-water experiments, Handloser providing the impetus for Ding's fearful typhus researches, and Milch and Hippke at the root of the freezing experiments. Under Himmler's authority, the medical leaders of the SS — Grawitz, Genzken, Gebhardt, and others — set the wheels in motion. They arranged for the procurement of victims through other branches of the SS, and gave directions to their underlings in the SS medical service such as Hoven and Fischer. Himmler's administrative assistants, Sievers and Rudolf Brandt, passed on the Himmler orders, gave a push here and a shove there, and kept the machinery oiled. Blome and Brack assisted from the side of the civilian and party authorities.
The Wehrmacht provided supervision and technical assistance for those experiments in which it was most interested. A low-pressure chamber was furnished for the high-altitude tests, the services of Weltz, Ruff, Romberg, and Rascher for the high-altitude and freezing experiments and those of Becker-Freyseng, Schaefer, and Beiglboeck for sea water. In the important but sinister typhus researches, the eminent Dr. Rose appeared for the Luftwaffe to give expert guidance to Ding.
The proper steps were taken to insure that the results were made available to those who needed to know. Annual meetings of the consulting physicians of the Wehrmacht held under Handloser's direction were favored with lectures on some of the experiments. The report on the high-altitude experiment was sent to Field Marshal Milch, and a moving picture about them was shown at the Air Ministry in Berlin. Weltz spoke on the effects of freezing at a medical conference in Nuernberg, the same symposium at which Rascher and others passed on their devilish knowledge.
There could, we submit, be no clearer proof of conspiracy. This was the medical service of the Third Reich at work. Among the defendants in the box sit the surviving leaders of that service. We will ask the Tribunal to determine that neither scientific eminence nor superficial respectability shall shield them against the fearful consequences of the orders they gave.
I intend to pass very briefly over matters of medical ethics, such as the conditions under which a physician may lawfully perform a medical experiment upon a person who has voluntarily subjected himself to it, or whether experiments may lawfully be performed upon criminals who have been condemned to death. This case does not present such problems. No refined questions confront us here.
None of the victims of the atrocities perpetrated by these defendants were volunteers, and this is true regardless of what these unfortunate people may have said or signed before their tortures began. Most of the victims had not been condemned to death, and those who had been were not criminals, unless it be a crime to be a Jew, or a Pole, or a gypsy, or a Russian prisoner of war.
Whatever book or treatise on medical ethics we may examine, and whatever expert on forensic medicine we may question, will say that it is a fundamental and inescapable obligation of every physician under any known system of law not to perform a dangerous experiment without the subject's consent. In the tyranny that was Nazi Germany, no one could give such a consent to the medical agents of the State; everyone lived in fear and acted under duress. I fervently hope that none of us here in the courtroom will have to suffer in silence while it is said on the part of these defendants that the wretched and helpless people whom they froze and drowned and burned and poisoned were volunteers. If such a shameless lie is spoken here, we need only remember the four girls who were taken from the Ravensbrueck concentration camp and made to lie naked with the frozen and all but dead Jews who survived Dr. Rascher's tank of ice water. One of these women, whose hair and eyes and figure were pleasing to Dr. Rascher, when asked by him why she had volunteered for such a task replied, "rather half a year in a brothel than half a year in a concentration camp."
Were it necessary, one could make a long list of the respects in which the experiments which these defendants performed departed from every known standard of medical ethics. But the gulf between these atrocities and serious research in the healing art is so patent that such a tabulation would be cynical.
We need look no further than the law which the Nazis themselves passed on the 24th of November 1933 for the protection of animals. This law states explicitly that it is designed to prevent cruelty and indifference of man towards animals and to awaken and develop sympathy and understanding for animals as one of the highest moral values of a people. The soul of the German people should abhor the principle of mere utility without consideration of the moral aspects. The law states further that all operations or treatments which are associated with pain or injury, especially experiments involving the use of cold, heat, or infection, are prohibited, and can be permitted only under special exceptional circumstances. Special written authorization by the head of the department is necessary in every case, and experimenters are prohibited from performing experiments according to their own free judgment. Experiments for the purpose of teaching must be reduced to a minimum. Medico-legal tests, vaccinations, withdrawal of blood for diagnostic purposes, and trial of vaccines prepared according to well-established scientific principles are permitted, but the animals have to be killed immediately and painlessly after such experiments. Individual physicians are not permitted to use dogs to increase their surgical skill by such practices. National Socialism regards it as a sacred duty of German science to keep down the number of painful animal experiments to a minimum.
If the principles announced in this law had been followed for human beings as well, this indictment would never have been filed. It is perhaps the deepest shame of the defendants that it probably never even occurred to them that human beings should be treated with at least equal humanity.
This case is one of the simplest and clearest of those that will be tried in this building. It is also one of the most important. It is true that the defendants in the box were not among the highest leaders of the Third Reich. They are not the war lords who assembled and drove the German military machine, nor the industrial barons who made the parts, nor the Nazi politicians who debased and brutalized the minds of the German people. But this case, perhaps more than any other we will try, epitomizes Nazi thought and the Nazi way of life, because these defendants pursue the savage promises of Nazi thought so far. The things that these defendants did, like so many other things that happened under the Third Reich, were the result of the noxious merger of German militarism and Nazi racial objectives. We will see the results of this merger in many other fields of German life; we see it here in the field of medicine.
Germany surrendered herself to this foul conjunction of evil forces. The nation fell victim to the Nazi scourge because its leaders lacked the wisdom to forsee the consequences and the courage to stand firm in the face of threats. Their failure was the inevitable outcome of that sinister undercurrent of German philosophy which preaches the supreme importance of the state and the complete subordination of the individual. A nation in which the individual means nothing will find few leaders courageous and able enough to serve its best interests.
Individual Germans did indeed give warning of what was in store, and German doctors and scientists were numbered among the courageous few. At a meeting of Bavarian psychiatrists held in Munich in 1931, when the poisonous doctrines of the Nazis were already sweeping Germany, there was a discussion of mercy killings and sterilization, and the Nazi views on these matters, with which we are now familiar, were advanced. A German professor named Oswald Bumke rose and made a reply more eloquent and prophetic than anyone could have possibly realized at the time. He said:
"I should like to make two additional remarks. One of them is, please for God's sake leave our present financial needs out of all these considerations. This is a problem which concerns the entire future of our people, indeed, one may say without being overemotional about it, the entire future of humanity. One should approach this problem neither from the point of view of our present scientific opinion nor from the point of view of the still more ephemeral economic crises. If by sterilization we can prevent the occurrence of mental disease then we should certainly do it, not in order to save money for the government but because every case of mental disease means infinite suffering to the patient and to his relatives. But to introduce economic points of view is not only inappropriate but outright dangerous because the logical consequence of the thought that for financial reasons all these human beings, who could be dispensed with for the moment, should be exterminated, is a quite monstrous logical conclusion; we would then have to put to death not only the mentally sick and the psychopathic personalities but all the crippled including the disabled veterans, all old maids who do not work, all widows whose children have completed their education, and all those who live on their income or draw pensions. That would certainly save a lot of money income or but the probability is that we will not do it.
"The second point of advice is to use utmost restraint, at least until the political atmosphere here in this country shall have improved, and scientific theories concerning heredity and race can no longer be abused for political purposes. Because, if the discussion about sterilization today is carried into the arena of political contest, then pretty soon we will no longer hear about the mentally sick but, instead, about Aryans and non-Aryans, about the blonde Germanic race and about inferior people with round skulls. That anything useful could come from that is certainly improbable; but science in general and genealogy and eugenics in particular would suffer an injury which could not easily be repaired again."
I said at the outset of this statement that the Third Reich died of its own poison. This case is a striking demonstration not only of the tremendous degradation of German medical ethics which Nazi doctrine brought about, but of the undermining of the medical art and thwarting of the techniques which the defendants sought to employ. The Nazis have, to a certain extent, succeeded in convincing the peoples of the world that the Nazi system, although ruthless, was absolutely efficient; that although savage, it was completely scientific; that although entirely devoid of humanity, it was highly systematic — that "it got things done." The evidence which this Tribunal will hear will explode this myth. The Nazi methods of investigation were inefficient and unscientific, and their techniques of research were unsystematic.
These experiments revealed nothing which civilized medicine can use. It was, indeed, ascertained that phenol or gasoline injected intravenously will kill a man inexpensively and within 60 seconds. This and a few other "advances" are all in the field of thanatology. There is no doubt that a number of these new methods may be useful to criminals everywhere and there is no doubt that they may be useful to a criminal state. Certain advance in destructive methodology we cannot deny, and indeed from Himmler's standpoint this may well have been the principal objective.
Apart from these deadly fruits, the experiments were not only criminal but a scientific failure. It is indeed as if a just deity had shrouded the solutions which they attempted to reach with murderous means. The moral shortcomings of the defendants and the precipitous ease with which they decided to commit murder in quest of "scientific results", dulled also that scientific hesitancy, that thorough thinking-through, that responsible weighing of every single step which alone can insure scientifically valid results. Even if they had merely been forced to pay as little as two dollars for human experimental subjects, such as American investigators may have to pay for a cat, they might have thought twice before wasting unnecessary numbers, and thought of simpler and better ways to solve their problems. The fact that these investigators had free and unrestricted access to human beings to be experimented upon misled them to the dangerous and fallacious conclusion that the results would thus be better and more quickly obtainable than if they had gone through the labor of preparation, thinking, and meticulous preinvestigation.
A particularly striking example is the sea-water experiment. I believe that three of the accused — Schaefer, Becker-Freyseng, and Beiglboeck — will today admit that this problem could have been solved simply and definitively within the space of one afternoon. On 20 May 1944 when these accused convened to discuss the problem, a thinking chemist could have solved it right in the presence of the assembly within the space of a few hours by the use of nothing more gruesome than a piece of jelly, a semi-permeable membrane and a salt solution, and the German Armed Forces would have had the answer on 21 May 1944. But what happened instead? The vast armies of the disenfranchised slaves were at the beck and call of this sinister assembly; and instead of thinking, they simply relied on their power over human beings rendered rightless by a criminal state and government. What time, effort, and staff did it take to get that machinery in motion! Letters had to be written, physicians, of whom dire shortage existed in the German Armed Forces whose soldiers went poorly attended, had to be taken out of hospital positions and dispatched hundreds of miles away to obtain the answer which should have been known in a few hours, but which thus did not become available to the German Armed Forces until after the completion of the gruesome show, and until 42 people had been subjected to the tortures of the damned, the very tortures which Greek mythology had reserved for Tantalus.
In short, this conspiracy was a ghastly failure as well as a hideous crime. The creeping paralysis of Nazi superstition spread through the German medical profession and, just as it destroyed character and morals, it dulled the mind.
Guilt for the oppressions and crimes of the Third Reich is widespread, but it is the guilt of the leaders that is deepest and most culpable. Who could German medicine look to keep the profession true to its traditions and protect it from the ravaging inroads of Nazi pseudo-science? This was the supreme responsibility of the leaders of German medicine — men like Rostock and Rose and Schroeder and Handloser. That is why their guilt is greater than that of any of the other defendants in the dock. They are the men who utterly failed their country and their profession, who showed neither courage nor wisdom nor the vestiges of moral character. It is their failure, together with the failure of the leaders of Germany in other walks of life, that debauched Germany and led to her defeat. It is because of them and others like them that we all live in a stricken world.