Primary Source: Medical Case Transcript from the Nuremberg Trials

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Nuremberg Trials took place immediately after World War II. Learn about how high ranking Nazi soldiers, politicians, and bureaucrats were put on trial for war crimes, including medical experiments in this lesson.

Nuremberg Trials

Immediately after the end of World War II, Nazi leaders like high-ranking politicians and generals were put on trial for crimes against humanity. With tens of millions of people dead, both soldier and civilian, the crimes of the Nazi state were arguably greater than any other nation in history. While some Nazi leaders managed to flee from Europe, escaping to South America to build a new life, those who remained or who were captured were subject to a trial in Nuremberg, Germany. Described as the greatest trials in history by a British judge who presided over the proceedings, some Nazi leaders attempted to defend themselves by saying they only did what they were told by higher-ups like Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom committed suicide at the end of the war.

The trials took place over nearly an entire year, a reflection of the scale of Nazi atrocities and the need for thorough prosecution. One subset of the trials, known as the Doctors' Trial, prosecuted Nazi physicians who carried out experimentation on Holocaust victims. These physicians were interested in aspects of genetics as well as the limits of human endurance, reflecting the dual Nazi goals of racial purity and better military capabilities. Their horrific experiments ranged from euthanasia and sterilization to injecting prisoners with diseases and testing how long it took for a person to die of hypothermia. While a few were acquitted for merely following orders, many were found guilty, and some were sentenced to execution.

The Medical Case Transcript from the Nuremberg Trials sought to bring these war crimes to light and reveal the atrocities of the Nazi government. Witnesses from concentration camps testified how they or their loved ones were subject to experimentations that violate standards of medical ethics as well as the laws of war. You can see the full transcript at this link: http://nuremberg.law.harvard.edu/transcripts/1-transcript-for-nmt-1-medical-case?seq=2756&q=aktion

Let's take a look at a few excerpts from the transcript now. Each one is either an attorney addressing a witness or a witness responding to an attorney.

Text Excerpts of Medical Case Transcript from the Nuremberg Trials

Attorney Fleming, defense counsel: Attorney Nelte has just told you that the Prosecution claims that on the 29th of September 1941, a conference had taken place, at which, amongst others, Handloser and Mrugowsky had been present, and where the experiments on human beings with typhus were decided on. You have already been questioned as to your relationship to Dr. Handloser. Do you believe that Professor Handloser would have discussed the typhus question with you, and particularly the question if you considered it appropriate to carry out experiments on human beings, after such a discussion had taken place on the 29 December 1941? (2730)

Professor Weltz, witness: In trying to find the cause for hepatitis on animals Dr. Dohmen in the course of the experiments was very unfortunate. Already in the year 1942 he frequently had had difficulties by animal epedimics and plagues and in the year 1943 he suffered from bombing attacks and then he always lost his material and his cultures. And then when he finally went to Giessen it was again attempted to transfer human material on animals by puncturing livers of patients suffering from jaundice and these cultures did not have any effect on the animals because apparently the available animals were unsuited and there were also difficulties in procuring the animals. Various races of mice reacted differently to these vaccination experiments. These are the apparent reasons: When Giessen was completely destroyed through air attacks again all material which then existed was destroyed.

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