Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From the Pages - Hitler's Master of the Dark Arts

Hitler’s Nazi Party, at its evil roots, embraced a bizarre interpretation of ancient European paganism, blending it with fragments of other traditions from sources as diverse as tenth-century Saxon warlords, nineteenth-century spiritualism, and early-twentieth-century fringe archeology.

At the heart of the evil was Hitler’s “witch doctor,” Heinrich Himmler, and his stranger-than-fiction cult, the deadly SS. The mundanely named Schutzstaffel, literally “protective squadron,” was the very essence of Nazism, and their threatening double lightning bolt was one of the most dreaded symbols of the Third Reich. With good reason: what the SS was truly protecting was the ideology of Aryan superiority.
In the following excerpt from HITLER'S MASTER OF THE DARK ARTS, author Bill Yenne explores how Himmler and his SS doctors used of concentration-camp inmates as the subjects of many disturbing "scientific" experiments.  

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The cruelest corollary to the villainy institutionalized by Heinrich Himmler and SS Totenkopfverbände during World War II was probably the use of concentration-camp inmates in the furtherance of what the SS and its Ahnenerbe had the audacity to describe as “science.”

Again, their line of thinking stretched back into the nineteenth century to the Social Darwinists and their pseudoscientific belief in a racial hierarchy. When the Social Darwinists wrote of natural selection in human society, advocating the sidelining those in society who were considered inferior, they opened the door to those who considered the inferior human races to be not human at all. The same pseudoscience that gave the Nazis their excuse to eradicate the untermenschen like head lice gave the Nazis permission to use the untermenschen as lab rats.

The use of people from concentration camps for gruesome medical experiments was widespread, although it was not centrally directed, as the “ancestral research” conducted under the Ahnenerbe was. The SS functioned as a sort of medical foundation of the dark side, facilitating various projects with infrastructure, personnel, and, of course, human guinea pigs. Much of the funding and encouragement was filtered through the Institut für Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung (Institute for Military Scientific Research), which was set up within the Ahnenerbe and headed directly by Wolfram Sievers.

One of the most notorious of the SS doctors was Dr. Eduard Wirths, the primary physician at Auschwitz. Having become a member of the NSDAP while a medical student at Würzburg, he joined the Waffen SS in 1939. After suffering a heart attack on the Eastern Front in 1942, he was transferred to concentration-camp duty, first at Dachau and then at Auschwitz. It was at the latter that numerous medical experiments were conducted by SS doctors that were under Wirths’s direct command. He was particularly interested in experiments around the spread of typhus and in a large-scale project involving the removal of reproductive organs from live women, which were then sent to various institutes in Germany for study. Most of the subjects involved in both projects died as a result.

While Wirths supervised actual doctors, including those providing medical care to the übermensch SS personnel, he also had a number of doctors on his staff whose principal, or only, function at Aushwitz was “research” using human—or rather “subhuman”—subjects.

Conducting experiments on female subjects under Wirths at Auschwitz was Dr. Carl Clauberg, a prewar professor for gynecology at the University of Königsberg turned SS Gruppenführer. When it became established policy under the Final Solution to prevent the untermenschen from breeding, Clauberg approached Heinrich Himmler personally with a proposal to conduct experiments aimed at finding a practical method of mass sterilization. All he needed, implored Clauberg, was access to experimental subjects. Himmler sent Clauberg to Aushwitz in December 1942. There Clauberg experimented on both Jewish and Gypsy subjects, using drugs, acid, and radiation—almost always without anesthetic.

Also under Wirths at Aushwitz in 1943 and 1944 was Dr. Joseph Mengele, an SS doctor whose name would later become synonymous with savagery conducted by the Nazis in the name of science. Like Wirths, he had started World War II in the Waffen SS, but had been declared unfit for front-line duty for medical reasons. While at the Universität München (University of Munich), Heinrich Himmler’s alma mater, Mengele studied both medicine and anthropology, and he attracted the attention of the Nazis because of his thesis on racial morphology. He was also interested in genetics and the study of human twins. At Auschwitz, he found himself with access to an almost endless supply of human subjects. Indeed, he conducted experiments on well over a thousand sets of twins and perhaps as many as three times that number. They were mainly children, and most of them died as a result of his experiments. His camp nickname, “Angel of Death,” was well deserved. His experiments ranged from attempts to change eye color with dyes to sewing children together to create artificial conjoined (“Siamese”) twins.

The Eduard Wirths of Dachau was Dr. Sigmund Rascher. Actually, he was Wirths, Clauberg, and Mengele all rolled into one highly ambitious package. He had joined the NSDAP in around 1933, while still a medical student, and he became a member of the SS in 1939. Through his girlfriend (later wife), Karoline “Nini” Diehl, a singer who knew Heinrich Himmler as he frequented the nightclub circuit, Rascher got close to the Reichsführer. Himmler took a liking to the doctor, who was sent to a cancer-research project—using live subjects, of course—at Dachau.

When World War II began, Rascher joined the Luftwaffe. He started out in aviation medicine, but ended up at Dachau again, doing experiments on the effects of high-altitude flying. The experiments involved studying the effects of both low temperature and low pressure. The poor subjects, which included Jews, as well as Soviet and Polish prisoners of war, were put into altitude chambers. They were taken up as high as a simulated 70,000 feet, both with and without oxygen. Others were mistreated so that Rascher could study the effects of hypothermia. Some were thrown into icy water, and others were forced to sit naked in freezing conditions for hours.

Ernst Schäfer, in a postwar interrogation, said that he and Ernst Krause, the Tibet expedition filmographer, were asked by Rascher to come in to film some of experiments. They came in, but according to Schäfer, they pretended to have had an equipment malfunction. Nevertheless, film footage does exist of Rascher’s terrible sessions.

As part of his experiments, Rascher studied ways by which these nearly frozen people could be successfully warmed up. One such method, which is well known in the popular folklore of Nazi brutality, was to throw the subject into bed with a small group of naked prostitutes. Like Ilsa Koch at Buchenwald, Rascher was a sadist who couldn’t resist cruel sexual exploitation in the dreadful final moments in the lives of his subjects—and at the expense of some obviously terrified women.

The “lucky” few who survived the cold hand of Dr. Rascher were subsequently executed.

Rascher also designed cyanide capsules that would produce almost instant death if placed in the mouth and bitten.

Another of the SS doctors to “work” with human subjects from Dachau was Dr. August Hirt of the University of Strasbourg in Alsace (which was known as the Reichsuniversität Strassburg under the German occupation between 1940 and 1944). By 1942, one of his principal subordinates was Bruno Beger, the SS Ahnenerbe anthropologist who had, calipers in hand, accompanied Ernst Schäfer to Tibet. By 1942, Beger had turned his rulers and calipers from jovial living Tibetans to the skulls of deceased individuals, mainly individuals that were referred to in the paper trail of documentation as “Jewish Bolshevik commissars.” Beginning around 1940, Beger had also been using X-rays to study human body types and to categorize the physical parameters of Aryan perfection versus untermensch imperfection. It was as though he had ripped a page straight from Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels’s 1905 book, Theozoologie oder die Kunde von den Sodoms Äfflingen und dem Götter Elektron (Theozoology or the account of the Sodomite Apelings and the Divine Electron), which linked the concept of Aryan Gottmenschen (god-men) with unseen electronic rays. Later, Beger and Hirt took to removing flesh from skulls in order to get more perfect caliper readings.

The prosecution exhibits from the postwar International Military Tribunal tell much of the ghoulish tale of Beger and Hirt’s work in the form of correspondence between Sievers, SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, and SS Sturmbannführer Rudolf Brandt, Himmler’s personal aide.

On February 9, 1942, Sievers wrote to Brandt complaining of a shortage of specimens for the research at the Reichsuniversität Strassburg:
There exist extensive collections of skulls of almost all races and peoples. Of the Jewish race, however, only so very few specimens of skulls are at the disposal of science that a study of them does not permit precise conclusions. The war in the East now presents us with the opportunity to remedy this shortage. By procuring the skulls of the Jewish Bolshevik Commissars, who personify a repulsive yet characteristic subhumanity, we have the opportunity of obtaining tangible scientific evidence. The actual obtaining and collecting of these skulls without difficulty could be best accomplished by a directive issued to the Wehrmacht in the future to immediately turn over alive all Jewish Bolshevik Commissars.

He then calmly added that a “special deputy, commissioned with the collection of the material [a junior physician attached to the Wehrmacht, the police, or a medical student equipped with car and driver], is to take a prescribed series of photographs and anthropological measurements, and is to ascertain, insofar as is possible, the origin, date of birth, and other personal data of the prisoner. Following the subsequently induced death of the Jew, whose head must not be damaged, he will separate the head from the torso and will forward it to its point of destination in a preserving fluid in a well sealed tin container especially made for this purpose.”

On November 2, 1942, Sievers wrote to Brandt reminding him, “As you know, [Himmler personally ordered] that SS Hauptsturmführer Prof. Dr. Hirt should be provided with all necessary material for his research work. I have already reported to the Reichsführer SS that for some anthropological studies 150 skeletons of inmates or Jews are needed and should be provided by the Auschwitz concentration camp.”

Four days later, Brandt sent a memo from Himmler’s field command post to Eichmann, explaining that Himmler had previously issued “a directive to the effect that SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Prof. Dr. Hirt, who is the director of the Anatomical Institute at Strassburg and the head of a department of the institute for Military Science Research in the Ahnenerbe Society, be furnished with everything he needs for his research work. By order of the Reichsführer SS, therefore, I ask you to make possible the establishment of the planned collection. SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Sievers will get in touch with you with regard to straightening out the details.”

Apparently the details were straightened out, though it took more time than Hirt may have wished. Indeed, the rampant spread of diseases, including typhus, that propagated in the squalor of Auschwitz made it difficult for the SS men to find inmates healthy enough to murder. Bruno Beger himself would travel to Auschwitz on a skeleton-collecting mission, wrapping up his work in June 15, 1943.

On June 21, Sievers wrote to Eichmann, sending copies of the letter to Beger, Brandt, and Hirt himself. In that letter he said, “A total of 115 persons were worked on, 79 of whom were Jews, 2 Poles, 4 Asiatics, and 30 Jewesses. At present, these prisoners are separated according to sex and each group is accommodated in a hospital building of the Auschwitz concentration camp and are in quarantine. For further processing of the selected persons an immediate transfer to the Natzweiler concentration camp is now imperative; this must be accelerated in view of the danger of infectious diseases in Auschwitz.”

The bodies did reach the Reichsuniversität Strassburg and the laboratory of Hirt and Beger. As it turned out, the men moved very slowly in their dissections. After all of the urgency of acquiring the bodies, Hirt got around to relatively few dissections and reduced even fewer of the bodies to skeletons.

Meanwhile, Ernst Schäfer, Beger’s old Tibet colleague, was still on the Ahnenerbe payroll, where for a time, he had headed the important-sounding Ahnenerbe Forschungsstatte für Innersasien und Expeditionen (Research Institute for Intra-Asia and Expeditions). Despite the appellation, the institute never sent an expedition back to inner Asia. That was all in the past.

Early in 1943, Schäfer was reunited with Sven Hedin, the seventy-eight-year-old geographer and explorer from neutral Sweden, whose numerous expeditions into Central Asia and Tibet between 1894 and 1935 had been groundbreaking scientifically and an inspiration to men such as Schäfer. In his later years, Hedin had become a convert to Nazism and was in regular contact with Adolf Hitler. In fact, Hitler had brought him to Germany to award him the Verdienstorden vom Deutschen Adler (Order of the German Eagle) medal. At one point, Schäfer stopped by Strassburg to pay a visit to Hirt and Beger. Hirt proudly showed him a dissected brain. What a strange step into the shadows that had to have been for Schäfer, whose time was then being spent in the details of the release of Geheimnis Tibet (Secret Tibet), the film shot only three years earlier on the other side of the world.

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