A war crimes investigation photo of the disfigured leg of a survivor from Ravensbrueck, Polish political prisoner Helena Hegier (Rafalska), who was subjected to medical experiments in 1942. This photograph was entered as evidence for the prosecution at the Medical Trial in Nuremberg. The disfiguring scars resulted from incisions made by medical personnel that were purposely infected with bacteria, dirt, and slivers of glass.
DIZ Muenchen GMBH, Sueddeutscher Verlag Bilderdienst
Unethical medical experimentation carried out during the Third Reich may be divided into three categories. The first category consists of experiments aimed at facilitating the survival of Axis military personnel. In Dachau, physicians from the German air force and from the German Experimental Institution for Aviation conducted high-altitude experiments, using a low-pressure chamber, to determine the maximum altitude from which crews of damaged aircraft could parachute to safety. Scientists there carried out so-called freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia. They also used prisoners to test various methods of making seawater potable.
The second category of experimentation aimed at developing and testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods for injuries and illnesses which German military and occupation personnel encountered in the field. At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme, scientists tested immunization compounds and sera for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. The Ravensbrueck camp was the site of bone-grafting experiments and experiments to test the efficacy of newly developed sulfa (sulfanilamide) drugs. At Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen, prisoners were subjected to phosgene and mustard gas in order to test possible antidotes.
The third category of medical experimentation sought to advance the racial and ideological tenets of the Nazi worldview. The most infamous were the experiments of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Mengele conducted medical experiments on twins. He also directed serological experiments on Roma (Gypsies), as did Werner Fischer at Sachsenhausen, in order to determine how different "races" withstood various contagious diseases. The research of August Hirt at Strasbourg University also intended to establish "Jewish racial inferiority."
Other gruesome experiments meant to further Nazi racial goals were a series of sterilization experiments, undertaken primarily at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck. There, scientists tested a number of methods in their effort to develop an efficient and inexpensive procedure for the mass sterilization of Jews, Roma, and other groups Nazi leaders considered to be racially or genetically undesirable.