Volume 19, Fall 2006
Nuremberg Trials 60th Anniversary
Nazi Medical Trial
Opening Statement of the Prosecution
by Brigadier General Telford Taylor
December 9, 1946
The defendants in this case are charged with murders, tortures, and other atrocities committed in the name of medical science. The victims of these crimes are numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A handful only are still alive; a few of the survivors will appear in this courtroom. But most of these miserable victims were slaughtered outright or died in the course of the tortures to which they were subjected.
The charges against the defendants are brought in the name of the United States of America. They are being tried by a court of American judges. The responsibilities thus imposed upon the representatives of the United States, prosecutors and judges alike, are grave and unusual. It is owed, not only to the victims and to the parents and children of the victims, that just punishment be imposed on the guilty, but also to the defendants that they be accorded a fair hearing and decision. Such responsibilities are the ordinary burden of any tribunal. Far wider are the duties which we must fulfill here.
At the very outset of the Medical Case, Prosecutor Telford Taylor outlined why it was essential that the behavior of medical personnel in the Third Reich be scrutinized.
These larger obligations run to the peoples and races on whom the scourge of these crimes was laid. The mere punishment of defendants, or even of thousands of others equally guilty, can never redress the terrible injuries which the Nazis visited on these unfortunate peoples. For them it is far more important that these incredible events be established by clear and public proof, so that no one can ever doubt that they were fact and not fable; and that this Court, as the agent of the United States and as the voice of humanity, stamp these acts, and the ideas which engendered them, as barbarous and criminal.
A nation which deliberately infects itself with poison will inevitably sicken and die. These defendants and others turned Germany into an infernal combination of a lunatic asylum and a charnel house. Neither science, nor industry, nor the arts could flourish in such a foul medium. The country could not live at peace and was fatally handicapped for war. I do not think the German people have as yet any conception of how deeply the criminal folly that was Nazism bit into every phase of German life, or of how utterly ravaging the consequences were. It will be our task to make these things clear.
These are the high purposes which justify the establishment of extraordinary courts to hear and determine this case and others of comparable importance. That murder should be punished goes without the saying, but the full performance of our task requires more than the just sentencing of these defendants. Their crimes were the inevitable result of the sinister doctrines which they espoused, and these same doctrines sealed the fate of Germany, shattered Europe, and left the world in ferment. Wherever those doctrines may emerge and prevail, the same terrible consequences will follow. That is why a bold and lucid consummation of these proceedings is of vital importance to all nations. That is why the United States constituted this Tribunal.
Chief Prosecutor James M. McHaney during the Doctors Trial
Among the defendants were the following:
Karl Brandt: Hitler’s personal physician, and commandant of health for the Third Reich. He was a major general in the SS and reported directly to Hitler.
Siegfried Handloser: Chief of medical services for the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces. He had begun his career as a professional soldier in the medical department of the army.
Paul Rostock: Professor of surgery and dean of the medical faculty at the University of Berlin. He served as the chief of the office of medical science for Karl Brandt and held the rank of brigadier general in a medical branch of the military.
Lieutenant German Oscar Schroeder: Chief of medical service of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.
Karl Genzken: Chief of the medical office of the Waffen SS and a senior colonel.
Kurt Blume: A civilian physician, who reorganized the German medical educational system in 1935 and engaged in research for protection against biological warfare.
Rudolf Brandt: Not a physician. He was an SS colonel under Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS.
Joachim Mrugowsky: Founder of the Hygiene Biological Testing Station of the SS in Berlin.
Helmut Poppendick: Senior colonel in the Waffen SS and chief physician in the Main Race and Settlement Office in Berlin.
Wolfram Sievers: Member of Himmler’s personal staff. Also in charge of scientific research on the heritage of the Nordic Race.
Gerhard Rose: Expert on tropical diseases; in 1936 he became head of the Department for Tropical Medicine at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. He was a brigadier general in the Luftwaffe and the consultant on both hygiene and tropical medicine for the Luftwaffe.
Siegfried Ruff: Specialist in aviation medicine and headed the German Experimental Institute for Aviation.
Hans Wolfgang Romberg: Member of the staff of the German Experiment Institute for Aviation and was assistant to Ruff.
Georg August Weltz: Specialist in X-ray work and was the director of the Institute for Aviation Medicine in Munich.
Victor Brack: Nazi party worker in charge of the Chancellory of the Führer in Berlin. He participated in the sterilization and euthanasia program.
Hermann Becker-Freyseng: Consultant for aviation medicine.
Konrad Schaefer: Scientist with a specialty in chemical therapy. He was particularly interested in the problem of making seawater drinkable.
Waldemar Hoven: Chief Doctor of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He was a member of the SS and assisted the medical officer in the SS hospital at Buchenwald. He later became camp physician for Buchenwald.
Karl Gebhardt: Major general in the Waffen SS. He was a chief officer at the Hohenlychen hospital and president of the German Red Cross.
Fritz Fischer: Waffen SS and assigned as a physician at the Hohenlychen Hospital.
Adolf Pokorny: Advisor to Himmler on possible methods of sterilization.
Herta Oberheuser: Camp physician in the women’s department at the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.
Questions for reflection and discussion:
The Hippocratic Oath
- Think about the credentials of those mentioned above. What kind of behavior would you expect from them?
- The text of the Hippocratic Oath follows.
The Hippocratic Oath is an oath traditionally taken by physicians pertaining to the ethical practice of medicine. It is widely believed that the oath was written by Hippocrates or one of his students. Although mostly of historical and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine. The Hippocratic Oath is reportedly that of Hippocrates, the parent of medicine, written in the 4th Century B.C.
Hippocratic Oath—Modern Version
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today. www.pbs.org/nova online.
All but one of the defendants were men, and 20 of the 23 were medical doctors. The other three - Sievers, Brack and Rudolf Brandt - were administrators.
<>Question for reflection and discussion:
- Think about the oath in connection with the Medical Trial.
- Why was only one of the defendants a woman? Discuss.
- Are administrators responsible for what doctors and other medical personnel do?
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