The recently published comprehensive report on the medical crimes committed by the German Nazis during their rule from 1933 to 1945 sheds light on a dark chapter in the history of medicine. While Josef Mengele's experiments in Auschwitz are relatively well-known, the broader scope of the atrocities remains underappreciated in today's medical community, as noted by Hervig Čech from the Medical University of Vienna.
To address this knowledge gap, three years ago, Čech and his colleagues proposed the establishment of a commission to investigate and document Nazi medical crimes. This initiative, endorsed by the Lancet's editor-in-chief, has now resulted in a groundbreaking report based on 878 sources.
The report reveals the extensive involvement of doctors and health professionals in drafting and implementing the "mandatory sterilization laws." Over 350,000 people, classified as "genetically inferior" under Nazi racial laws, underwent sterilization procedures.
The consequences were severe, with many not surviving the process and others experiencing enduring physical and psychological issues. The horrors extended to the so-called "euthanasia programs," where at least 230,000 individuals with mental, cognitive, and other disabilities were systematically killed in Germany and occupied territories during World War II.
Tens of thousands faced abuse in concentration camp experiments, highlighting the grotesque extent of medical atrocities. One alarming aspect is the lack of accountability for the perpetrators after the war, with many escaping justice or facing delayed consequences.
Notably, figures like Josef Mengele remained at large, even dying in Brazil in 1979. The Nazis justified their crimes through a pseudo-scientific lens, citing their warped interpretation of human races and "racial hygiene." This ideology drew on the concept of "pseudo-scientific principles," which originated from the 19th-century theories of Charles Darwin.
The Nazis, notably doctors Alfred Plotz and Friedrich Wilhelm Schalmeier, adapted Darwin's natural selection to advocate for the improvement of the human race by encouraging the reproduction of those deemed genetically superior while preventing others from having offspring.
These pseudo-scientific principles took root in Germany, particularly during the early 20th century's socio-economic challenges. The Nazis, exploiting these ideas, sought to eliminate those they considered "not worth living," including Jews, Roma, Sinti, handicapped individuals, and individuals with different orientations.
Simultaneously, they promoted the creation of a "pure Aryan" race through initiatives like the "Lebensborn" association. The report emphasizes the importance of studying these historical medical crimes to recognize and counter similar patterns in the present.
By understanding the worst aspects of human history, the aim is to encourage the best practices in contemporary medical ethics and human rights protection.