Category Archives: Holocaust

When science is put in the service of evil



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Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort.
Akanbatt / Pixabay

Francisco López-Muñoz, Universidad Camilo José Cela

The Holocaust is one of the worst collective crimes in the history of humanity – and medical science was complicit in the horrors.

After World War II, evidence was given at the Nuremberg Trials of reprehensible research carried out on humans. This includes subjects being frozen, infected with tuberculosis, or having limbs amputated.

There was also specific research into pharmacology that is less well-known, as can be seen from the articles we have published over the past 15 years.




Read more:
Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?


The prestige of German medicine

German pharmacology and chemistry enjoyed great international prestige from the second half of the 19th century.

This golden age ended with the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933 and was replaced with institutionalised criminal behaviour in public health and human research.

At the beginning of World War II, Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort and reduce the impact of injury, disease and epidemics on troops.

Nazi leaders believed concentration camps were a source of “inferior beings” and “degenerates” who could (and should) be used as research subjects.

German pharmacology and medicine lost all dignity. As Louis Falstein pointed out:

the Nazis prostituted law, perverted education and corrupted the civil service, but they made killers out of physicians.

The rise of eugenics in central Europe at the beginning of the 20th century paved the way for the Nazi government to implement a disastrous policy of “racial hygiene”.

The Aktion T4 Programme

The Nazi ideology promoted the persecution of those who were considered “abnormal”, as part of the Aktion T4 program.

September 1, 1939 – the date of the start of World War II – marked the beginning of the mass extermination of patients with “deficiencies” or mental conditions, who were deemed to be “empty human shells”.

Aktion 4 patients getting on a bus, 1941.
Wikimedia Commons

At first, the crimes were carried out via carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1941, a second phase was launched: so-called “discrete euthanasia” via a lethal injection of drugs such as opiates and scopolamine (anti-neausea medication), or the use of low-doses of barbiturates to cause terminal pneumonia.

These techniques were combined with food rations and turning off the hospital heating during winter.

These euthanasia programmes led to what amounted to psychiatric genocide, with the murder of more than 250,000 patients. This is possibly the most heinous criminal act in the history of medicine.

Experimenting with healthy subjects

Medical experimentation became another tool of political power and social control, over both sick people from the T4 Program, as well as healthy people.

Those in good health were recruited in the concentration camps of ostracised ethnic or social groups such as Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and homosexuals.

A number of experiments were undertaken, including the study of:

  • the effect of sulfonamides (antibiotics) on induced gas gangrene (Ravensbrück)
  • the use of the toxic chemical formalin for female sterilisation (Auschwitz-Birkenau)
  • the use of vaccines and other drugs to prevent or treat people intentionally infected with malaria (Dachau)
  • the effects of methamphetamine in extreme exercise (Sachsenhausen)
  • the anaesthetic properties of hexobarbital (a barbiturate derivative) and chloral hydrate (a sedative) in amputations (Buchenwald)
  • the use of barbiturates and high doses of mescaline (a hallucinogenic drug) in “brainwashing” studies (Auschwitz and Dachau).
Block 10 of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where medical experiments with prisoners were carried out.
Francisco López Muñoz

Faced with all this evidence, how it is possible that up to 45% of German doctors joined the Nazi party? No other profession reached these figures of political affiliation.

What were the reasons and circumstances that led to these perverse abuses?

The banality of evil in medicine

The answer is difficult. Many doctors argued that regulations were designed for the benefit of the nation and not the patient. They invoked such misleading concepts as “force majeure” or “sacred mission”.




Read more:
Two steps forward, one step back: how World War II changed how we do human research


Some believed everything was justified by science, even the inhumane experiments carried out in the camps, while others considered themselves patriots and their actions were justified by the needs of wartime.

Some were followers of the perverse Nazi ethos and others, the more ambitious, became involved in these activities as a means of promoting their professional and academic careers.

Lastly, avoiding association with the Nazi apparatus may have been difficult in a health sector where fear had become a system of social pressure and control.

A monument by Richard Serra in Berlin honouring of the victims of the Aktion 4 programme.
Wikimedia Commons

Arturo Pérez-Reverte, in his book Purity of Blood, defines this type of motivation very well:

… although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst are always those who, when they administer evil, do so on the authority of others or on the pretext of carrying out orders.

However, as has happened in many moments of history, sometimes tragedies bring positive posthumous effects.

After the trial of the Nazi doctors, the first international code of ethics for research with human beings was enacted, the Nuremberg Code, under the Hippocratic precept “primun non nocere”. This code has had immense influence on human rights and bioethics.




Read more:
Two steps forward, one step back: how World War II changed how we do human research


The Conversation


Francisco López-Muñoz, Profesor Titular de Farmacología y Director de la Escuela Internacional de Doctorado, Universidad Camilo José Cela

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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World politics explainer: The Holocaust



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The horrific incarceration of European Jews during WWII should never be forgotten, particularly when we need to solve contemporary genocide and forced migration issues.
Shutterstock

Daniella Doron, Monash University

This article is part of our series of explainers on key moments in the past 100 years of world political history. In it, our authors examine how and why an event unfolded, its impact at the time, and its relevance to politics today.

Warning: some of the following photos may be disturbing to readers.


The event traditionally defined as the Holocaust — by which I mean the systematic extermination of European Jewry between 1941 and 1945 — defies an overly simplified explanation.

With that being said, making sense of the who, what, where and when presents the somewhat easier task.

What happened?

The Jews of Europe have been traditionally understood by historians as the principal targets of annihilation by the Nazis. Though Germans were perpetrators of this genocidal act, so too were other complicit Europeans, who either directly participated in murder or looked the other way.

Onlookers watching as Jewish people are forced to scrub the pavement.
USHMM/Wikicommons

Eastern Europe housed the sites of mass death (ghettos, labour camps, and concentration and death camps) built by the Nazis to “eliminate” Europe of Jews. Scholars generally point to 1941 – 1945 as constituting the woeful years in which approximately 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis.

The question of why the Nazis murdered the Jews of Europe remains somewhat thornier and far more controversial amongst scholars.

When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, the issue of how to handle the so-called “Jewish problem” ranked high on their agenda. The Germans held a racialised view of antisemitism, which defined Jews as not only biologically distinct from Germans, but also a critical threat to the health of the German nation.

Given their view of Jews as parasites, sapping the strength of the national body, the German Nazis experimented with a series of mechanisms to “eliminate” Jews from German life. The notion of murdering the Jews of Europe, we should note, had not yet surfaced.

Rather, in the early years of the regime, the Nazis saw emigration as an acceptable solution to the Jewish problem.

Legislation that disenfranchised Jews, stripped them of their financial assets, and denied them their livelihoods sought to clarify to Jews their new degraded position within Germany. The days of their security, stability, and equality under the law had come to an end. It was time to make a new life elsewhere. But these measures failed to bring about the results desired by the Nazis.

By 1939, slightly more than half of German Jews had decided to chart a new course abroad. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war the same year only served to exacerbate the dilemma of eliminating Germany of Jews within its domain.

The extent of Nazi Germany’s spread across Europe by 1942.
Shutterstock

As Germany quickly and violently occupied large swaths of territory in eastern and western Europe, the number of Jews in its territory exploded. Whereas the population of Jews in Germany in 1933 stood at roughly half a million, approximately nine million Jews resided in Europe as a whole.

Emigration no longer seemed like a viable option. Which nation would be the new home to all those Jews? As it stood, the half a million Jews of Germany struggled to find nations willing to house them.

And it was soon decided that new solutions needed to be found.

The impact of the Holocaust

Scholars debate why and when and even who arrived at the new solution of mass murder to solve Europe’s so-called “Jewish problem.”

We know that in 1939, when war broke out in the East and Germany occupied Poland, the Nazis turned to the creation of ghettos in Poland, which served to concentrate and isolate Jews from the greater Polish non-Jewish population. In these ghettos, often surrounded by high walls and gates, Jews engaged in forced labour and succumbed in great numbers to starvation and disease.

We also know that in 1941, when war broke out with the Soviet Union, the Nazis turned to rounding up Jews in the towns and villages of eastern Europe and murdered them by bullets. At least 1.6 million eastern European Jews died in this fashion. But why this turn from “passive murder” in the ghettos to “active murder” in the killing fields and later the concentration and death camps of eastern Europe? Who proposed this radical solution?

Row of bodies found at a liberated concentration camp, 1945.
Shutterstock

These questions defy scholarly consensus. It may be that the earlier policies of emigration, isolation and concentration of Europe’s Jews were eventually perceived as insufficient; it may be that the murder of Europe’s Jews by starvation and later bullets proved too slow and costly. And perhaps it was not Hitler who first arrived at the idea of mass murder, but Nazi bureaucrats and functionaries working on the ground in eastern Europe, who first conceived and experimented with this genocidal policy.

Regardless, by 1942, Jews across Europe were rounded up — from their homes, their hiding places, and Nazi run ghettos and labour camps to be deported to killing centres and concentration camps, where the vast majority lost their lives.

Contemporary implications

The legacy of the Holocaust has loomed large for more than 70 years, and continues to inform our culture and politics. It has come to be seen as arguably one of, if not the, defining events of the 20th century.

The Holocaust is commonly perceived as a truly rupturing occurrence in which a modern state used the mechanisms of modernity — technology, scientific knowledge and bureaucracy – not for the benefit of humanity but to inflict suffering and death.

We are now well aware that modernity does not necessarily result in progress and an improved standard of living, but that it comes with a dark underbelly that can lead to the violent purging of segments of society perceived as undesirable.

In its aftermath, the Holocaust became paradigmatic for defining genocide. The murder of European Jewry inspired the term “genocide”, which was coined by the jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1944. It later prompted the Genocide Convention agreed to by the United Nations in 1948.

The 1948 Genocide Convention, the memory of the Holocaust, and the phrase “never again” are thereby routinely invoked in the face of atrocity. And yet these words ring hollow in the face of genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, and the current genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Rohingya Muslims walking through a broken road in Bangladesh late last year.
Shutterstock

It happens again and again. Not to mention that the largest refugee crisis since the second world war is occurring this very moment as desperate Syrians undertake perilous journeys across the Aegean.

Approximately 80 years ago, Nazi persecution likewise culminated in an international refugee crisis. World leaders recognised the plight of Europe’s Jews during the 1930s and into the 1940s, even if they could not foretell their eventual genocidal fate.

International leaders even convened a conference (the Evian Conference) in which they debated how best to aid German Jews. Country after country expressed their sympathies with Jewish refugees but ultimately denied them refuge.

International news at the time closely followed the journey of the SS St Louis, as it sailed from port to port with 900 Jewish refugees unable to disembark because nations refused to grant asylum. We now know the future that befell many of these refugees.

These days, images of desperate Syrians undertaking perilous journeys across the Aegean, or the Rohingya fleeing their persecution in Myanmar, occupy our front pages. As we contemplate our responsibility towards these desperate individuals, the SS St Louis and the Evian Conference have been routinely invoked in our public discourse as a reminder of the devastating consequences of restrictive refugee and immigration policies.

We must remain haunted by our past failings. It is the legacy of the Holocaust that compels us to examine our responsibility to intervene and turn our attention to the plight of refugees. And we should consider whether that legacy has remained sufficient or whether we need a reminder of the dire consequences that comes with numbing ourselves to the suffering of others.The Conversation

Daniella Doron, Senior lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Only One Occupied Country in Europe Rose to the Defense of Jews During World War II


TIME

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Seventy years ago this year World War II came to an end. Alongside the collective sigh of relief in Allied countries that the most brutal war humanity had ever witnessed was over, there was as well a sense of disbelief at the sight of the concentration camps, the existence of which to be sure had been well-known to the Allies.

Humanity had not witnessed anything resembling the Holocaust. A systematic, rational, industrial plan designed to eliminate completely an entire people from the face of the earth, the Holocaust was to become an exceptional phenomenon in History. Carried out by one of the most cultured nations the world had ever known, the Holocaust would turn out to be a distinctive…

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To what extent did the populations of rural Lithuania and Poland engage in hostilities and Nazi collaboration against Jewish fugitives and partisans surviving in forests? (Part 2, by Jack Watt)


PublisHistory Blog

To what extent did the populations of rural Lithuania and Poland engage in hostilities and Nazi collaboration against Jewish fugitives and partisans surviving in forests? (Part 2, by Jack Watt)

Traditional anti-Semitism was rife in pre-war Eastern Europe and was not a recent phenomenon. Yehuda Merin asserts that ‘most of the local population harboured feelings of hatred for the Jews in the family camps… well-rooted in past ages.’ This was certainly the case for many rural areas, where Catholicism was strong and integration between Jewish and non-Jewish communities was less developed. Such attitudes in Poland and Lithuania were encouraged by German propaganda, and the rhetoric of some nationalist political organisations (such as the Lithuanian Activist Front). In Poland too, ‘on the basis of anti-Semitism and anti-Sovietism, some groups even tried to get along with the occupier, thanks to a common ideological language.’

Thus, encroachment onto land, and theft of property by forest fugitives could be framed as a distinctly Jewish problem. Sakowicz echoes this kind of anti-Semitism in one of his diary entries, as Jewish activity around Ponary became more…

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To what extent did the populations of rural Lithuania and Poland engage in hostilities and Nazi collaboration against Jewish fugitives and partisans surviving in forests? (Part 1, by Jack Watt)


PublisHistory Blog

To what extent did the populations of rural Lithuania and Poland engage in hostilities and Nazi collaboration against Jewish fugitives and partisans surviving in forests? (Part 1, by Jack Watt)

The forest is a hugely significant, but somewhat marginalised landscape of the Holocaust. Initially woodland was the chosen site of the Einsatzgruppen shooting squads, helping to facilitate the mass murder and disposal of thousands of Jews. However, they later became one of the few places where Jews could escape and attempt to survive either individually or in small groups and family camps, and even engage in violent acts of partisan resistance to impede German progress. Up to 80,000 Jews fled into the forests of Eastern Europe , where they could evade the continuous gaze of their oppressors, which plagued the experiences of ghetto and camp life.

However, there were still numerous other groups and actors in the forest landscape and its immediate periphery, including local collaborators, bystanders and righteous gentiles (those who aided the Jews). The title of this study, which isolates the relationship between Jews and local inhabitants, is…

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Article: World War II – The Holocaust


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest information gathered by researchers into the Holocaust of World War II.

For more visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/sunday-review/the-holocaust-just-got-more-shocking.html


Today in History: 23 May 1945


Germany: Heinrich Himmler Committed Suicide

On this day in 1945, Heinrich Luitpold Himmler committed suicide, thereby avoiding war crimes prosecution following Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II. He had been arrested the previous day by British forces. He was one of the main leaders of Nazi Germany and oversaw many of the vile projects that the Nazis enforced throughout their conquered lands, including that of the Holocaust.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Himmler


Today in History – 23 May 1945


Germany – World War II: Heinrich Himmler Committed Suicide

Heinrich Himmler, a leading Nazi and mass murderer in World War II, committed suicide on this day in 1945. This before he was brought to justice for his crimes.

Himmler was born on the 7th October 1900. He became a leading member of the Nazi Party and was a major player in the leadership that brought about the Holocaust (the mass murder of millions of Jews, Roma, Poles, Communists and POWs).

 


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