“The word eugenics, coined by the British statistician Francis Galton in 1883, denoted selective breeding both for promoting favored characteristics and for eradicating features deemed harmful” (“Racial” 2013). Darwinism, criminal anthropology, biology, race science, and medicine were all fundamental ideas behind this form of pseudoscience, which saw a rise in popularity in the early twentieth century. These ideas captivated both European and Western societies alike and in response, eugenic movements began to take place during the wake of the 1900s. It would not be, however, until the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933 that the world would begin to experience the detrimental effects of eugenics; the scale in which this took place is unprecedented still to this day. In fact, far more than ninety percent of Germany’s eugenicists and anthropologist population enlisted to serve directly under the Third Reich (“Racial” 2013).
The idea of creating a master race was the backbone of Adolf Hitler’s twelve-year rule as chancellor of Germany. His radical philosophy was recorded as early as 1923, in a work composed by himself called Mein Kampf. Featured in this manifesto are his expressions of sorrow towards the impoverished, his desires to combat both prostitution and Syphilis, his distaste towards ‘impure’ races, ideas of ‘greater good’ marriages, and superior religion. His universal cure for it all, was, in fact, based on eugenics in which he wrote “[i]n this present state of ours… our national bourgeoisie look upon it as a crime to make procreation impossible for syphilitics and those who suffer from tuberculosis or other hereditary diseases, also cripples and imbeciles” (Norman 2011). Through this Hitler’s antipathy towards the 1920s passive stance on the ‘issues’ in society is revealed and his later actions were foreshadowed.
During his reign, Adolf Hitler went full force at combating the issues he believed to be plaguing society. To head the efforts Hitler appointed Karl Brandt chief of Germany’s medical services and Heinrich Himmler over the anti-partisan campaign (“Medical” 2001). It was under this campaign that eugenic based human experiments would take place on those seen as enemies of the Third Reich or simply those seen unfit to aid in creating the master race (Gottwales 2014). It is reported that ninety percent of those experiments that took place under Brandt and Himmler’s watch were later ruled criminal. The best evidence of these monstrous experiments lies within the Nuremberg Medical Trial of 1946-1947 which suggests that experimental efforts rapidly began to accelerate in 1942 and lasted until German defeat in 1945. While there are only 15,754 documented victims of these Nazi-led experiments, the number is believed to be far higher; this number is estimated to be greater than 27,759 (Weindling et al.). These eugenic based experiments were focused on issues such as sterilization, and genetics.
Sterilization experiments were among the first to take place under the Third Reich. The law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring was passed in 1933 and “…provided for the compulsory eugenic surgical sterilization of people diagnosed with “genetic” conditions such as feeble-mindedness, schizophrenia, manic-depressive insanity, genetic epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, genetic blindness or deafness, or severe alcoholism” (Joseph & Norbert 2013). In 1940 the Nazis set up a secret program known as T4 or euthanasia to kill those who fell under this prevention law. Through the program, they would experiment with different killing methods, risky methods of sterilization, pathogen studies, and other means that through their eyes could aid in the study of eugenics (Hassenfeld 2002). Following the death of those who fell victim to the T4 program, their brains were sent off for further research and experimentation (Letsinger 2015).
The Genetically Diseased Prevention law and T4 program were only the start of the sterilization experiments that took place while Adolf Hitler was in power. In 1942 SS group leader Carl Clauberg was given official permission from Heinrich Himmler to carry out sterilization experiments in Auschwitz in a bid to find more affordable ways to sterilize women. Clauberg was interested in finding a way that did not require surgery and therefore decided to experiment with injectable drugs that could cause infertility (Hawiger 2019). In his experiments, he performed standard gynecological examinations in which he would inject chemical agents into the female victims’ uteri.
These injections at times caused a blockage in the fallopian tubes, however, more often than not, the membrane lining of the womb would begin to corrode and the ovaries would suffer irreversible damage (“Medical”). Those who did not face immediate death would often grow ill with peritonitis or suffer from hemorrhaging in the days following; in turn, they would receive a phenol injection to the heart (Hawiger 2019). The few victims who miraculously maintained their health, suffered the same fate of those less fortunate victims for they all had their ovaries removed so that they could be sent off for further experimentation. Claugberg’s means of sterilization were reportedly able to reach 1,000 women a day with just a team of ten plus Carl Clauberg (“Medical”).
Similar sterilization experiments were carried out on men by Horst Schumann in Auschwitz II in 1942. According to Simon Rozenkier a Holocaust survivor and experiment victim, Schumann injected him with a foreign substance on multiple occasions (Greenhouse 2004). Schumann allegedly told Rozenkier that he was giving him vitamin supplements that would help him gain muscles to work more efficiently. This is only a glimpse of the deception the victims faced, for the shots were given in a bid to sterilize Rozenkier who was Jewish. Simon Rozenkier explained how following these injections his genitalia would profusely swell and bleed; he was often left in agonizing pain in the days after each injection (Greenhouse 2004).
X-ray sterilization experiments were another element in Horst Schumann’s inhumane research. In these experiments, Schumann exposed women, men, and children to extreme doses of radiation via x-rays performed on their genitalia. Following the x-rays, the men’s testicles would be removed and sent off for further study (“Medical”). It was not uncommon for the female victims who lived through the radiation exposure and male victims who survived the radiation and castration to suffer severe burns that would leave them unable to contribute to work within the camp. This would often seal their fate and they would be forced to face the gas chambers (“Medical”).
Sterilization experiments were backed by the eugenic based ideas of eradicating ‘unworthy’ features from society, the genetic experiments that also took place during Adolf Hitler’s rule, however, were meant to do quite the opposite. The genetic experiments were meant to explore favored characteristics, figure out how to promote them, and how to do so at a rapid pace so that the master race could be achieved more quickly. This is why through the eyes of people such as Heinrich Himmler and Josef Mengele, twins were the ideal demographic for these experiments.
The sibling duos would, in theory, allow for the perfect experimenting conditions since one could serve as the control and the other as the experimental subject (“Twin”). With that, twins seemed to hold the answer on how the Nazi party could fast track their pursuit of the Aryan or master race. This is because of obvious factors such as the fact that twin births result in a greater number of offspring then singleton births. If they could crack the code on how to ensure twin births they could double the birth rate of the master race (“Medical”). Another alluring characteristic of twins, especially those that were identical, was that they were genetically similar on a scale unknown to humans in any other case. This captivated the Third Reich medical world since, again, they desired to replicate the characteristics they saw as superior (“Forgiving”).
Auschwitz-Birkenau SS officer and physician Josef Mengele is the most notorious figure in the Nazi twin experiments. Mengele would seek out twins who were at least two years of age or older as they would enter the camp (“Medical”). He would then subject them to the research phase of the experimentation in which he would place them naked in a room together so that he could take their measurements and compare them. Mengele’s measurements were done on every single body part, even the skull, and eyes (“Forgiving”). He would also take photographs and draw detailed sketches of the twins; alongside them, he would note differences between things like eye shapes, hair characteristics, color, etc… This was a tedious process since the measurements and observations were to be extremely precise. It is said that the victims would be forced to stand in these cold rooms for anywhere from six to eight hours at a time (“Forgiving”).
Generally, the second step would require the twins to be a little more active in the research phase. In this step, Josef Mengele would take both finger and toe prints of the twins. After this, he would cast molds of their jaws and teeth so that he would be able to keep his extensive studies going if one or both of the twins were to pass away in the experimentation stage (Letsinger 2015). Mengele also performed x-rays and gathered blood samples from the twins so that he could conduct a more extensive comparative analysis on the duos (“Medical”).
Whereas the research phase of Mengele’s twin experiments seemed relatively the same for each pair, the experimental phase was almost certainly unique, to some extent, for each set of twins. It is said that Mengele was especially intrigued with heterochromia iridis and ophthalmology (Letsinger 2015). Because of this, he would carry out experiments where he would drip foreign substances into the twin’s eyes. In a similar bid to achieve a change in eye color, he would inject the control subject with chemicals (“Medical”). It is possible that this is what happened in the case of twin survivors Miriam and Eva Kor.
In the documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Eva Kor goes into great detail about the horrid experiments she and her twin sister Miriam Kor were forced to endure at the hands of the infamous Josef Mengele. She explains that there were tests conducted on her eyes where chemicals were placed in them and then her sigh would be tested. With this, she tells of an injection of a mystery drug that made her gravely ill (“Forgiving”). Her sister Miriam was also subject to these injections which would later lead to her death in 1996; these injections had caused her kidneys to stop growing at just the age of nine. Though there is no surviving documentation of what the Kor twins were injected with, it is highly plausible that they were in part of Mengele’s experiments on eye color (“Forgiving”).
Other twin experimentations that Josef Mengele would carry out dealt with “… transfusions of blood from one twin to another, isolation endurance, reaction to various stimuli, injections with lethal germs, [incestuous impregnations and surgeries such as,] sex change operations, [and] the removal of limbs and organs” (“Human”). Mengele even went as far as to try and create Siamese twins by sewing a set of twins together; through this, he would fuse together the twin’s capacitance vessels so that they would be fed off of a unified unit of blood. In other instances, he would perform operations on the control subjects’ spine in order to extract bodily substances such as spinal fluid (“Twin”).
It is alleged that 1,500 pairs of twins fell victim to Josef Mengele’s heinous crimes and only around 200 of the twins survived (“Twin”). This high mortality rate can be directly linked to the extensive experiments that the twins were forced to partake in, the severity of the medical consequences their bodies faced, and the fact that Mengele would often purposely kill them. These intentional kills were done through phenol injections to the heart, similar to those done in the sterilization experiments (Hawiger 2019). Following this, he would carry out comparative studies on their internal organs (Letsinger 2015).
The rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933 and the establishment of Nazi Germany set up the perfect conditions for the ideas of eugenics to dominate all aspects of life and ultimately determine who was worthy of living it. The most excruciating of these deaths were often a result of the ruthless eugenic based experiments that were carried out in a bid to rid the world of ‘undesirable’ traits or achieve those that were deemed ‘desirable’. These experiments were included but were not limited to a focus on sterilization and genetics. From the thousands of men, women and children picked at random for the sterilization experiments and the twins who were highly sought after, there is no doubt that the number of eugenic based experiment victims is far higher than can ever be accounted for. To those who lived to tell this painful tale and those who were less fortunate, the world should never forget the dangerous effects, the ideas of eugenics and human experimentation can have.