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Methods of Extermination

Medical Experimentation

Doctors played a crucial role at Auschwitz. They participated in virtually all selections, decided on life and death among the patients in the medical blocks (executing the weakest with phenol injections), and in fact thronged to sign up at Auschwitz because of the plentiful human experimental material available in Block 10. These German doctors saved the lives of many prisoner doctors, typically not out of mercy but to enlist them as collaborators in their human experiments.

Block 10 was a balance of horrors. Being an experimental subject could prolong life, or end it immediately. An inmate assigned here might undergo skin testing for reaction to relatively benign substances, or receive a phenol injection to the heart for immediate dissection. Doctor Mengele, the most evil man in Auschwitz, reigned there;

Dr. Ernst B.protected and saved many inmates.

Block 10 was in the mens' camp, but most inmates were women. Prostitutes were also housed here, for the benefit of "elite" prisoners (mostly Germans).


Dr. Josef Mengele

Born 1911, he was the eldest of 3 sons of Karl Mengele, manufacturer. Refined, intelligent, and popular in his town, Josef studied philosophy at Munich and medicine at Frankfurt am Main. In 1931, he joined a paramilitary group; in 1935, his dissertation dealt with racial differences in the structure of the lower jaw. In 1937, he joined the Nazi party; in 1938, the SS. In 1942, he was wounded at the Russian front and pronounced unfit for service. The following year, he volunteered for assignment to the concentration camps and was sent to Auschwitz.

Mengele began his research on twins, and haunted every arriving convoy in search of these subjects. Twins had a special destiny in Auschwitz: they escaped the gas but became the subjects of horrendous experiments which many did not survive. Mengele had many of his subjects killed for dissection, or disposed of them when they weakened or he no longer needed them. Mengele was obsessed with the nurture v. nature controversy: he wished to demonstrate that heredity counted for everything, environment nothing.

Among his interests were eye color, blood type, and noma, the disease that left gaping holes in the cheeks of Gypsy children inmates. Former prisoner Hani Schick, a mother of twins who was subjected to experiments together with her children, testified that on July 4, 1944, on Mengele's instructions, blood samples were collected from her children in such quantities that the procedure ended in the death of both son and daughter. In a case in which a mother did not want to be separated from her thirteen- or fourteen-year-old daughter, and bit and scratched the face of the SS man who tried to force her to her assigned line, Mengele drew his gun and shot both the woman and the child. As a blanket punishment, he then sent to the gas all people from that transport who had previously been selected for work, with the comment: "Away with this shit!"

Prisoners would "march before him with their arms in the air," Dr. Lengyel tells us, " while he continued to whistle his Wagner"--or it might be Verdi or Johann Strauss. It was a mannered detachment. More overtly, there are many stories of his striking people with his long riding crop, in one case running it over tattoos on the bosoms of Russian women, as a Polish woman survivor described, "then striking them there", while "not at all excited but...casual,...just playing around a little as though it were a little funny."

Mengele's passion for cleanliness and perfection carried over into a selections aesthetic; he would send people with skin blemishes to the gas chamber or those with small abcesses or even old appendectomy scars. "My two cousins were sent in front of my eyes by Mengele to their deaths because they had small wounds on their bodies," was the way one survivor put it. Mengele fed his legend by dramatizing murderous policies, such as his drawing a line on the wall of the children's block between 150 and 156 centimeters (about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches) from the floor, and sending those whose heads could not reach the line to the gas chamber. Mengele could also kill directly. He was observed to perform phenol injections, always with a correct medical demeanor...Mengele also shot a number of prisoners and was reported to have killed at least one by pressing his foot on a woman's body.

On January 18, 1945, as the Soviet Army arrived, Mengele fled Auschwitz. Captured in June, he spent time in two U.S.-run prison camps, where he was not identified as a war criminal. Eventually, he escaped and made his way to Argentina. He lived in hiding there, in Paraguay and in Brazil, until January 24, 1979, when he drowned while swimming in the ocean in Bertioga, Brazil.


Dr. Clauberg

His method was to inject a caustic substance into the cervix in order to obstruct the fallopian tubes. He chose as experimental subjects married women between the ages of twenty and forty, preferably those who had borne children...He had experimented with different substances, but was very secretive about the exact nature of the one he used, probably intent upon protecting any medical discovery from research competitors.

"Dr. Clauberg ordered me to lie down on the gynecological table... Dr. Clauberg used this needle to give me an injection in my womb. I had the feeling that my stomach would burst with the pain. I began to scream so that I could be heard through the whole block." Lifton pp. 271-278.

Clauberg was imprisoned in the Soviet Union, then repatriated to Germany, where he returned to medical practice, proudly claiming "to have perfected an absolutely new method of sterilization" which would be "of great use today in certain cases." Due to an outcry by survivor groups, he was arrested in 1955 and died mysteriously in his cell in 1957.


Dr. Horst Schumann

Among the medical experiments carried out on Block 10 was one involving the sterilization of unknowing prisoners by x-rays. These were conducted by Horst Schumann, a Nazi doctor who had previously been involved in euthanasia killings in Germany and who came to Auschwitz in 1941.

Experimental subjects--relatively healthy young men and women in their late teens or early twenties, who had been obtained by a previous day's order from the camps--were lined up in a waiting room and brought in one by one, often completely ignorant of what was to be done to them.

Women were put between plates that pressed against abdomen and back; men placed penis and scrotum on a special plate. Schumann himself turned on the machine, which hummed loudly. Many of the women emerged with what Marie L. called "substantial burns", which could become infected and take a long time to heal; and many quickly developed symptoms of peritonitis, including fever and severe pain and vomiting. Not long after the x rays, the women's ovaries were removed surgically, often in two separate operations. Among the women, there were pleurisies, suppurations, aggravations of pulmonary tuberculosis, and death.

As for the men, after the X rays sperm was collected ("their prostates [were] brutally massaged with pieces of wood inserted into the rectum") and sooner or later one or both testicles were surgically removed, with resulting hemorrhages, septicemia, and death.

A Greek-Jewish woman described her terror as she saw in a reflection "the blood pouring out as they opened my belly"; and then, after the two operations, "pus--like a pit from an infected wound, and a high temperature... pneumonia. My body swelled up, and there were marks when I pressed my arm [edema]. They gave me medicine. I was paralyzed... I couldn't move. My whole body was swollen up." In addition: "we knew we were like a tree without fruit... The experiment was that they were destroying our organs...We would cry together about this"; and "They took us because they didn't have rabbits."

After the war, Dr. Schumann fled to Africa, where, remarkably, he worked tirelessly in remote areas saving victims of sleeping sickness and described himself as "having found the serenity and the calm necessary for the moral balance of a human being." He was repatriated to Germany in 1966, where in a greatly weakened condition after several years in custody, he was released without standing trial. In custody, he alternated between statements such as "It was terrible what we did," and other statements defending or denying his actions. He died in 1983.


SS Captain Dr. August Hirt

Hirt selected women for their racial characteristics:

They were given a sham physical examination for reassurance, then gassed. The corpses were immediately transported to the anatomy pavilion of the Strasbourg University Hospital. A French imate, who had to assist the project's director...told how "preservation began immediately," with the arrival of bodies that were "still warm, the eyes...wide open and shining." There were two subsequent shipments of men, from each of whom the left testicle had been removed and sent to hirt's anatomy lab.

Hirt was captured at Strasbourg by French troops, who found "many wholly unprocessed corpses," many "partly processed corpses", and a few that had been "defleshed...late in 1944," and their heads burned to avoid any possibility of identification. Hirt killed himself shortly after.


The supply of victims at Auschwitz was so plentiful, that they exported 'subjects' anywhere else where

experimental subjects were needed. Examples:

Eight prisoners from Auschwitz sent to Sachsenhausen for experiments with epidemic hepatitis.

Twenty Jewish children, ages five to twelve, transferred from Auschwitz to Neuengamme in Hamburg, where they were subject to injections of virulent tubercular serum and to other experiments, until they were removed from Neuengamme and secretly murdered just before the arrival of Allied troops.


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