"Children as Victims of Medical Experiments: Why were Experiments made on Children in Concentration Camps?"

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Astrid Ley(Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum)

"Children as Victims of Medical Experiments: Why were Experiments made on Children in

Concentration Camps?"

(Introduced by: Ryan Farrell, Oxford Brookes University)

[17min19; 8 slides]


This paper was presented to the international symposium:

"Reassessing Nazi Human Experiments and Coerced Research, 1933-1945: New Findings, Interpretations and Problems"

4 - 7 July 2013, Wadham College, Oxford


Convened by Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes University), Marius Turda (Oxford Brookes University), and Volker Roelcke (University of Giessen).

Kindly funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and the University of Giessen


Abstract: Experiments were carried out on humans in almost all concentration camps from the beginning of the war. Some had been undertaken on behalf of the SS or the Wehrmacht; while others were the initiative of scientists themselves from civil research institutions. In these experiments, the physicians essentially treated their test subjects as animals, who, for research purposes, were infected with dangerous diseases or operatively mutilated, and the event of tests taking a lethal course was routinely taken into account. In some cases, the death of the subject was even a planned part of the experiment.

Initially, test subjects were chosen exclusively from among grown male inmates. However, from the summer of 1942 the Nazis also used female prisoners. As the war persisted, even children were finally misused for medical experiments. That children were first involved in such experiments from the relatively late point of mid-1943, allows the presumption that the concentration camp experiments on children were the apex of morally uninhibited research in the Third Reich. Yet the selection of the groups of persons misused for experiments in the individual phases of the war did not follow any linear development leading from men to women to children. To trace the reasons for the experiments on children, it is therefore worthwhile to investigate how the test subjects were selected and what interests where affected.


Bio: History degree at the University of Erlangen (Germany), then scientific assistant at the Institute of the History of Medicine in Erlangen, 2003 PhD.From 2003 head of academic services at Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, curator of the permanent exhibition "Medicine and Crime (opened November 2004) and "Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp 1936-1945" (opened April 2008)". 2009-2012 setting up of a new Euthanasia Memorial at Brandenburg an der Havel (opened August 2012). From 2013 vice director of Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.



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