It goes without saying that Nazi research into medical science was brutal and inhumane, but did they also discover anything useful or beneficial?
These prisons took in so many people, who were held under such inhumane conditions, that it was inevitable that some medical researchers would seize the opportunity to conduct experiments on the available living human bodies.
Usually, this sort of thing is either tightly regulated or forbidden entirely, but since Nazis didn’t view the life of a concentration camp inmate as worth the paperwork to kill them, tens of thousands of prisoners could be reduced to so many lab rats.
Nazi medical experiments fell into three broad categories: trauma research with military applications; pharmaceutical and surgical research; and long-term impact research aimed at validating pseudoscientific Nazi race theory. The findings were predictably mixed…
By far the most promising fields of Nazi medical research were battlefield medicine and trauma experiments. These experiments were undertaken by commission from the German military, and they usually tried to answer direct questions about the damage human beings were likely to suffer in combat. This discrete problem and narrow research focus disciplined researchers to actually generate useful data that’s still occasionally cited. Here are some examples of that trauma:
In Dachau, an SS doctor named Sigmund Rascher tested survival gear for the Luftwaffe by dressing inmates in pilot uniforms and dropping them in freezing water that simulated conditions in the North Sea. Subjects’ temperatures were taken rectally and the cooling rate was carefully charted. In hundreds of experiments, Rascher tried out various methods for reheating hypothermic prisoners and found that sexual intercourse worked better than warm colonic irrigation.
The charts developed in Dachau still provide some of the most comprehensive data describing end-stage hypothermia in humans. Most patients died in these experiments.
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