"Researching Experiment Victims - Findings and Problems"

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Paul Weindling, Anna von Villiez, Aleksandra Loewenau(Oxford Brookes University), and Nichola Farron (Amsterdam)

"Researching Experiment Victims - Findings and Problems"

 (Introduced by: Volker Roelcke, University of Giessen)



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: The victims of medical experiments and other forms of coerced research form a distinctive but still inadequately understood set of WW2 and Holocaust victims. Leading Nazis, notably Himmler, gave much attention to devising and enabling experiments. The numbers and identities of victims, and the very diverse locations, have long only been known in terms of isolated clusters. The aim of our research has been to build up a composite picture by piecing together fragmented victim records. Essentially the methodology is one of “record linkage” with the overall aim of reconstructing the total population (or at least as near to this as is possible) of victims. This provides the basis for a structural analysis in terms of victim cohorts, perpetrator profiles, and the agencies sponsoring such research.


The aim of this presentation is threefold: to present some overall findings, to consider critically weaknesses in terms of methodologies, and to indicate how using available resources (notably the ITS records) the research is being taken forward. The project scope is deliberately wide – covering all forms of coercive research: that means taking into account not only concentration camp research, but researches in clinics, ghettoes and all types of holding institutions. While routine systematised forms of genocidal killing – as for “euthanasia” – fall outside the scope of the project, research on victim body parts is included. This means tracing all victims whose brains were retained for research.

While a database allows both systematised data storage and analysis, there are problematic issues. One is that it is essentially cumulative – here the challenge is to add a time element, to indicate the different duration of the experiments, and hierarchies of authority. Another problematic issue is that not all victim testimony can be linked to documentation on Nazi research. This has resulted in a “pending” category, that currently covers ca. 45% of victims.


The research has encountered the difficulty of access to archives, and the issue of naming and privacy. There is a lack of standardisation, and no standards of best practice. The German Archives Law is interpreted varyingly and at times severely restrictively as regards conditions of access, and subsequent data usage. To date the project is unable to fulfil an original aim of publishing any full biographical listing, and is limited to cohort analysis. 


Finally, a case study of Auschwitz X-ray sterilization victims will focus on the problem of taking a set of known victims, and establishing how many and who survived.



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