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[Pages 170-185]

Chapter 10

Himmler and Eugenics

Should we succeed in establishing this Nordic race again from and around Germany…and from this seedbed producing a race of 200 million, then the world will belong to us. Should Bolshevism win, it will signify the extermination of the Nordic race…devastation, the end of the world…We are called, therefore, to create a basis on which the next generation can make history. – Heinrich Himmler.[937]

The people which has many children has the candidature for world power and world dominion – Heinrich Himmler.[938]

As “Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of German Nationhood” (Reichskommissar für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums – RKF) Heinrich Himmler was responsible for overseeing Generalplan Ost, the scheme to completely reorganize the demographics of eastern (and in time probably western) Europe. This fantastic plan to either redistribute or alternatively to annihilate whole populations largely owed its origins to ideas propagated by German social Darwinists both under and prior to the advent of National Socialism, and was essentially eugenic in its aims. As Himmler described it, the prime function of the RKF was to “transplant entire ethnic contingents”. The perceived importance of the RKF within the overall Nazi genocidal strategy is illustrated by the invitation extended by Heydrich to the head of the organisation, the economist and SS-Gruppenführer Ulrich Greifelt, for the latter's attendance at the Wannsee conference, although as matters transpired Greifelt was unable to be present when the reconvened conference met on 20 January 1942.[939]

Although he only had a limited involvement with T4, Himmler had obviously been fully aware of that programme and supported it enthusiastically with personnel and equipment when called upon to do so.[940] As early as September 1933 Himmler had been invited by Wilhelm Frick to become a member of the commission for population and racial policy, a body intended to promote the annihilation of those considered “inferior”, “burdensome existences”, or “life unworthy of life”. It was a position he accepted with alacrity.[941] However, it was only with Sonderbehandlung 14f13 and subsequently with Aktion Reinhard that T4 and Himmler's SS merged into a single killing whole. Despite his apparent lack of direct participation in the “euthanasia” programme, in his long term pursuit of Nordic supremacy and the “Aryan” myth, and therefore always ready to embrace virtually any hare-brained notion, in 1935 Himmler was godfather to two other organisations, both of which contained elements of “positive” and “negative” eugenics.

The first of these entities was Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Heritage), a venture jointly founded by Richard Walter Darré, Minister of Food and Agriculture and a leading “blood and soil” ideologue, the Dutch-German quasi-historian, Herman Wirth, and Himmler. It was an attempt to “scientifically prove” that the “Aryan” race (that is the Germans) had arrived on earth fully-formed.[942] This pseudo-scientific research institution led by Wolfram Sievers engaged in archaeological digs and extensive research of early German history, as well as expeditions to places like Tibet, in a hopeless attempt to validate a ludicrous proposition.[943] This alleged study might have been regarded as relatively harmless nonsense in comparison to other of Himmler's more sinister preoccupations, were it not for the suggestion that the “Aryans” had been preserved in “eternal ice” before emerging with “superhuman” powers. The concept of an eternal struggle for supremacy between two opposing forces – the heat of the sun and immense quantities of ice – fitted perfectly with the Nazi's interpretation of Darwin's “struggle for existence”. When it was pointed out to Himmler that the notion was ludicrous, he indignantly defended his right to promote research into the Welteislehre (“world ice doctrine”). He believed himself in good company, “since the Führer...Adolf Hitler, has also been a convinced adherent for a long time of this despised doctrine...”[944]

The Welteislehre hypothesis led directly to experiments on concentration camp inmates under the umbrella of Ahnenerbe's “Institute for Functional Research in Military Science” (Institut für Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung) established in late summer 1942. Perhaps the most notorious of these experiments were the attempts to assess the ability of non-“Aryans” to withstand the effects of (a) lack of pressure or of oxygen at high altitude, and (b) lengthy immersion in freezing water or other exposure to intense cold. These particular tests, conducted by Dr Sigmund Rascher at Dachau, resulted in the death, often in great agony, of many of the several hundred prisoners selected for experimentation.[945] Himmler was unconcerned. In October 1942 he wrote to Rascher:

People who today still disapprove of experiments on human beings, but who prefer to let brave German soldiers die from the consequences of intense cold, are to me nothing but traitors to their country, and I shall not hesitate to supply the names of these people to the authorities who are in a position to take action against them.[946]

In a letter written in the same year to Erhard Milch, Generalinspekteur der Luftwaffe, Himmler stated that he “personally assumed the responsibility for supplying asocial individuals and criminals who deserve only to die from concentration camps for these experiments”. Moreover, Himmler requested that “the low pressure chamber [be put] at our disposal again, together with step-up pumps, because the experiments should be extended to include even greater altitudes”.[947] By this time Ahnenerbe and its 197 employees were part of Himmler's personal staff.[948]

Other medical experiments were sponsored by Ahnenerbe via the Institute for Military Science, including investigation into insect control, typhus vaccines and the use of mustard gas.[949] When the anatomist August Hirt requested the bodies of “Jewish Bolshevik criminals” for his anthropological skeleton collection at the University of Strasbourg, Himmler arranged for Jews from Auschwitz to be murdered and their corpses supplied to Hirt.[950] At the Nuremberg IMT, a letter dated 2 November 1942 from Sievers to Rudolf Brandt, Himmler's secretary, was produced which stated, inter alia:

As you know, the Reichsführer-SS has directed that SS-Hauptsturmführer Professor Dr. Hirt be supplied with everything needed for his experiments. For certain anthropological experiments - I have already reported to the Reichsführer-SS on them -150 skeletons of Jewish prisoners are required, which are to be supplied by KZ Auschwitz. The only thing that remains to be done is that the RSHA receive an official directive from the Reichsführer-SS. This, however, can also be given by you, acting for the Reichsführer-SS.

On 6 November, Brandt responded to Sievers' request with a letter to Adolf Eichmann at the RSHA:

The Reichsführer-SS has issued a directive to the effect that SS-Hauptsturmführer Professor Dr. Hirt, who is the director of the Anatomical Institute at Strasbourg 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 be of assistance in materialising the planned collection. SS-Obersturmbannführer Sievers will get in touch with you to discuss the details.

In due course, Sievers advised Eichmann that 115 prisoners, 109 of them Jews, had been selected at Auschwitz for Hirt's collection. The potential victims were being kept in quarantine before being transferred to Natzweiler (Struthof) concentration camp for “processing”. Because there was the risk of an epidemic at Auschwitz, Eichmann was instructed to arrange for clean and disinfected prisoner uniforms to be sent from Natzweiler to Auschwitz in order to avoid the possibility of spreading any infection from one camp to the other at the time the prisoners were transferred.

Joseph Kramer, later the final commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp but at that time commandant of Natzweiler, testified that in August 1943 he met with Hirt at Strasbourg, and was informed that a group of eighty prisoners was en route from Auschwitz to Natzweiler. On arrival they were to be gassed, and their corpses delivered to Hirt at his Anatomical Institute. Hirt passed a bottle to Kramer, probably containing Zyklon B, and instructed him on the approximate dosage to be used to kill the victims. Kramer estimated that he subsequently gassed 50-55 individuals at Natzweiler and dispatched their bodies to Hirt. Kramer claimed to have no knowledge of what Hirt intended to do with the bodies. A witness who worked at the Anatomical Institute stated that in fact a total of eighty-six corpses of gassed men and women were delivered to Hirt.

As it became increasingly apparent that Strasbourg was likely to soon be captured by the advancing allies, Hirt wrote to Sievers asking what was to be done with his collection. The bodies had been embalmed for a year, completely untouched. In turn, Sievers wrote to Himmler, setting out the options – either preserve the collection in whole or in part, or simply destroy it. In the circumstances it was not a difficult decision for Himmler to make. By 16 October 1944 the Strasbourg collection had been “dismantled” and the corpses cremated.[951]

Skeletons were only part of Hirt's proposed collection. In late 1941 he had written to Sievers:

We have a nearly complete collection of skulls of all races and peoples at our disposal. Of the Jewish race, however, only very few specimens of skulls are available, with the result that it is impossible to arrive at precise conclusions from examining them. The war in the east now presents us with the opportunity to overcome this deficiency. By procuring the skulls of the Jewish- Bolshevik commissars, who represent the prototype of the repulsive but characteristic subhuman, we have the chance now to compile good, scientific documents.

The best practical method for obtaining and collecting this skull material could be handled by directing the Wehrmacht to turn over alive all captured Jewish- Bolshevik commissars to the Field Police. They, in turn, are to be given special directives to inform a certain office at regular intervals of the numbers and place of detention of these captured Jews and to give them close attention and care until a special delegate arrives. This special delegate, who will be in charge of securing the material (a junior physician of the Wehrmacht or even the Field Police or a student of medicine equipped with a motor car and driver), will be required to take a previously established series of photographs, make anthropological measurements and, in addition, determine as far as possible other personal data of the prisoners.

Following the subsequently induced death of the Jew, whose head should not be damaged, the physician will separate the head from the body and will forward it to its proper point of destination in a hermetically sealed tin can, especially made for this purpose and filled with a conserving fluid. Having arrived at the laboratory, the comparison tests and anatomical research on the skull, as well as determination of the race membership and of pathological features of the skull form, the form and size of the brain, etc., can proceed by means of photos, measurements and other data supplied on the head, and the skull itself.[952]

In part Hirt was probably able to boast of his “nearly complete collection of skulls of all races and peoples”, because in late 1940, Himmler had arranged for Franz Joseph Gall's eighteenth-century collection of skulls to be sent from Paris to the racial-biological institute at Tübingen University.[953] Himmler's obsession with such pseudo-science was apparently boundless.

Among other of the typically weird interests of Himmler's were the “racial characteristics” of Gypsies. In a document he issued in 1937 on the so-called “Fight against the Gypsy Nuisance”, Himmler declared that “the proper method of attacking the Gypsy problem seems to be to treat it as a matter of race…It has therefore become necessary to distinguish between pure and part-Gypsies [Zigeunermischlinge] in the final solution of the Gypsy question.”[954] Initially, Nazi anti-Gypsy measures, which included compulsory sterilisation under the 1933 “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring”, and the prohibition of marriage between Gypsies and “Aryans” through the 1935 Nuremberg “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour”, as well as the “Law for the Protection of the Hereditary Health of the German Nation” (the “Marriage Health Law”) of the same year, had been justified on alleged criminal and asocial grounds, but with the introduction of the racist element, persecution entered a new and alarming phase.[955] In December 1938 Himmler issued another decree entitled “Combating the Gypsy Plague”, in which he made it clear that the Gypsy problem was to be resolved by reference to the “inner characteristics of that race.”[956]

For the Nazis, identifying Jews on the basis of the religious affiliation of parents and grandparents appeared to be relatively easy, although in practice it proved an intractable problem. Gypsies presented significantly greater difficulties, for they were Christian, and there had been a much higher level of intermarriage than with the Jews; moreover, many Gypsies had given up the traditional ways and were living sedentary lives. To resolve this issue, in spring 1936 a division of the Reich Health Office was established in Berlin. Under the title of the “Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit“(“Rassenhygienische und bevölkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle“), and headed by the University of Tübingen neurologist and psychiatrist, Dr Robert Ritter, its task was to collect data about Germany's “travellers”, particularly “pure” Gypsies and Zigeunermischlinge (in polite terms, Gypsies of mixed ancestry, but as the Nazis interpreted the demeaning label, Gipsy mongrels).[957]

Despite the eventual extermination of tens of thousands of those defined by the Nazis as Gypsies, Himmler wished to preserve a few clans of pure Sinti, Roma, and Bohemian Lalleri under the auspices of Ahnenerbe.[958] This interest arose because, in accordance with the prevalent inane racial theory, the Sinti and Roma had originated from India, and had therefore once been “Aryan”. According to Ritter's research, only 10 percent could claim to be pure Gypsies. It was this 10 percent (or at least part of this 10 percent) that Himmler was interested in preserving as kind of ethnic oddity.[959] Ritter had proposed that this itinerant minority be allowed limited and police supervised freedom of movement, and in October 1942, Arthur Nebe head of the Kripo, who had been instructed by Himmler to co-operate closely with Ahnenerbe, issued a regulation, which read in part:

The Reichsführer-SS intends that in the future racially pure Gypsies be allowed a certain freedom of movement, so that they can itinerate in a fixed area, live according to their customs and mores, and follow an appropriate traditional occupation…Zigeunermischlinge, who from the point of view of the Gypsies are good Mischlinge, shall be returned to specific racially pure Sinti Gypsy clans. If they apply for membership in a racially pure clan and the latter has no objections, they shall be assigned the same status as racially pure Gypsies.

Lists of racially pure Gypsies were to be sent to the Kripo head office in Berlin. Nebe allegedly said that while he had no option but to announce Himmler's plans, nothing would come of them. He was right. Ritter's proposals might have been feasible in peacetime, but were impossible in wartime. Few of the Gypsies owned caravans, even fewer possessed horses; how were they to become self-sufficient? With the rationing of food and other essentials, how could their activities be regulated? Whether Himmler came to realise the impractical nature of his proposal is not known, but the fate of German Gypsies deemed racially “impure” was sealed when on 16 December 1942 he issued an order for their deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau.[960] The deportations began in March 1943 and continued until the summer of 1944.[961]

On 3 December 1942, Martin Bormann, who had got wind of Himmler's plans, wrote to him:

Special treatment for the racially pure Gypsies would represent a fundamental departure from presently applied measures for fighting the Gypsy plague and would not be understood by the population and the lower ranks of the party leadership. The Führer, too, would not approve of it if a segment of the Gypsies is given back their old freedom.[962]

In fact, it is proposed, Hitler had little real interest in Gypsies, racially pure or otherwise. For him, there was only one racial problem in Germany of any real significance, and that concerned the Jews.[963] There is a contrasting opinion that Hitler was directly involved in the issuing of Himmler's deportation order of 16 December; the timing of the correspondence and consultations (Himmler met with Hitler on the afternoon of 6 December 1942 and Bormann the same evening)[964] lends credence to this theory.[965] In any event, Himmler's decree of October 1942 remained in place, and racially acceptable Gypsies were exempted from deportation. Some sources suggest that as many as 50 percent or perhaps more of German Gypsies escaped deportation as a result of Himmler's ruling.[966] Others suggest that a much smaller number survived.[967] While this debate about the lives of thousands of innocent people went on, Ahnenerbe continued its dreadful work.

* * *

The second of Himmler's eugenic institutions was Lebensborn e.V. (Fount of Life [registered society]), an entity devoted to the production of supposedly superior children from the mating of racially suitable parents. In September 1936 Himmler issued an edict setting out the philosophy behind the establishment of this new organisation:

…We have fought in vain if political victory was not to be followed by births of good blood. The question of multiplicity of children is not a private affair of the individual, but his duty towards his ancestors and our people…The existence of sound marriage is futile if it does not result in the creation of numerous descendants. I expect that here, too, the SS, and especially the SS leadership corps, will serve as guiding examples.

The minimum number of children for a good sound marriage is four. Should unfortunate circumstances deny a married couple their own children, then every SS leader should adopt racially and hereditarily valuable children, educate them in the spirit of National Socialism, and let them have education corresponding to their abilities…The organisation Lebensborn e.V.serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children.”[968]

The agency was funded in part through the NSV (Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt, the National Socialist People's Welfare Organization, commonly interpreted within this context as “The Reich Adoption Service”) as well as through the compulsory membership of all SS members, who in many cases contributed in ways other than financial. Provided they passed a test proving that they were racially suitable, both married and unmarried expectant mothers were admitted to Lebensborn maternity homes to give birth.[969] The newly born illegitimate were then subjected to the same kind of racial testing as their mother; those failing either became part of the children's “euthanasia” statistics, or in some cases were returned to their natural mother for upbringing. Those deemed acceptably “Aryan” were either given to foster parents, or remained in the home until such time as suitable foster parents were found. In 1941, Hitler stated: “I do not doubt for a moment, despite certain people's scepticism, that within a hundred years or so from now all the German élite will be a product of the SS - for only the SS practises racial selection.”[970]

Whilst facilities for expectant mothers were exceptionally good in the Lebensborn homes, once in the care of the nurses who were to be responsible for their everyday needs, the abandoned children were brought up in a particularly cold and unfeeling atmosphere. They lacked the love and attention normally lavished on their offspring by doting parents. Instead they were raised in a regimented and disciplined manner, treated as simply another product removed from a seemingly endless human conveyor belt. The long term psychological effect this was to have on the children is incalculable.

Originally administered by the Families [or Clans] Department (Sippenamt) of the SS Race and Settlement Office (Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt-SS –RuSHA), in 1938 Himmler took personal control of Lebensborn and installed it in his own office under the supervision of Karl Wolff. The compulsory subscriptions for SS members, deducted from their salaries, were based upon a convoluted arbitrary amalgam of age, marital status, and procreativity, such that only a mind like Himmler's could fashion. So far as Himmler was concerned, Lebensborn formed an intrinsic part of the Nazi's cherished genetic goals, aimed at producing a master race of Herrenmenschen. Others viewed the operation with rather more cynicism. Rumours abounded that Lebensborn's maternity homes were little more than SS stud farms. That certainly was, and is, the commonly held (if incorrect) perception of them.[971] In fact the Lebensborn homes were an essential component of Himmler's unsuccessful drive to eradicate abortion, since they provided outstanding facilities for pregnant women who might otherwise be tempted to terminate their pregnancy.[972] If termination did occur, and the unborn child would have been of racially valuable stock, from Himmler's perspective every such abortion represented a disastrous loss of precious material to the nation. Lebensborn can thus be seen as a practical example of positive, if typically inhuman, Nazi eugenics.

An illustration of the impact Himmler's inane ideas could have on the most trivial matters was his belief that the English upper classes possessed good figures because they ate porridge for breakfast. Therefore, he commanded, members of the SS and pregnant women in Lebensborn homes would perforce begin each day with porridge.[973]However, the war took its toll; in January 1944 Himmler decreed that in future the Lebensborn porridge was to be made with water, not milk, as had previously been the case.[974] Other pronouncements of the Reichsführer were less likely to be greeted with mirth (or indigestion). In October 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war, he called on the women of the Reich to do their duty just as their men folk were doing, albeit in a somewhat different fashion:

But beyond the boundaries of otherwise perhaps bourgeois laws and customs, even outside marriage, it can be a lofty task for German women and maidens of good blood, not lightly, but in deepest moral seriousness, to become mothers of children of soldiers called to war…Also the men and women, who serve the state in the homeland, have at this precise time the sacred obligation to become again mothers and fathers of children.

This pronouncement was viewed by some as a licence for wholesale fornication and infidelity, for it seemed to imply that in time of war, old-fashioned mores not only could, but should be disregarded. But how would the soldier returning from the front feel about the wife who had taken heed of Himmler's words, and produced one or more children for the Fatherland through dalliance with a new (racially valuable) partner? Was it now to be the duty of men working in wartime industries to seek out and seduce the wives and girlfriends of fighting men? Of course the idea was absurd, and can be viewed as yet another example of Himmler's obsession with all things sexual.[975] In the wake of German losses on the eastern front, Himmler's ideas became even more grandiose. He envisaged the creation of a Lebensborn central office in Munich which would function as a kind of bureau to find partners for “the approximately 400,000 [women] there are already who, because of the men who have fallen in the war, cannot acquire husbands,” a proposal which also came to nothing.[976]

Lebensborn did not operate solely in Germany. Homes were established in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, Denmark, and Norway,[977] where in 1942, Josef Terboven, Reich Commissar for Norway, granted the organisation the right to care for the illegitimate result of union between German soldiers and Norwegian women. There were eventually to be eight Lebensborn homes established in Norway. Himmler secretly ordered the agency to 'Germanise' racially suitable Norwegian children by removing them from their mothers and transferring them to Germany for upbringing. This, so Himmler believed, would improve the racial stock of the Reich through the introduction of fresh `Nordic blood.' It has been estimated that during or immediately following the Second World War, 10,000-12,000 children were born in Norway of native mothers and German fathers.[978] In Denmark a figure of more than 5,500 such births has been quoted.[979]

There was an ongoing conflict of interests between the NSV and Lebensborn over the question of the illegitimate children born in other countries as a result of the fraternisation of German soldiers and local women. In the Netherlands, Reich Commissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart decided that the NSV was to be the responsible authority in such affairs, as a result of which Dutch NSV maternity homes had registered their one thousandth birth by July 1943. After the war the Dutch authorities went to great lengths to conceal the German paternity of many children, so much so that even today there are still individuals living in the Netherlands who are unaware of the true identity of their father.[980]

In eastern Europe, children up to the age of six were abducted on a vastly greater scale. At least 350 Polish children were found by Lebensborn to be ethnically suitable for adoption by German foster parents as a result of this “fishing for blood.” In May 1940 Himmler had prepared a memorandum that touched on this subject from a different angle, and which apparently met with the Führer's approval. Parents wishing to educate their children above the most primitive level in the soon to be occupied eastern nations, or those already occupied, would make an application to the SS. Thereafter:

…The decision will be made on whether the child is racially immaculate and suitable for our conditions. If we recognise such a child as of our blood, the parents will be notified that the child should attend school in Germany and remain in Germany permanently…The parents of this child of good blood will then be faced with the choice of either surrendering the child…or the parents commit themselves to go to Germany and become loyal citizens…because we believe that they are really our own blood, which has found its way into a foreign nationality through the mistakes of German history, and we are convinced that our Weltanschauung and our ideals will re-echo in the racially equal souls of these children.[981]

This sounds a good deal more humane in theory than it would prove in practice, for in reality the NSV were infinitely more ruthless than Himmler's ramblings suggested. By 1942 there were 600 NSV kindergartens in the Warthegau alone, from where, after being subjected to the usual round of testing for racial suitability, children were sent to “Germanisation” centres in the Reich. There they were given new identities and forbidden to use their native tongue, before being shipped out to foster parents. Among the children selected for “Germanisation” were thirteen from the Czech village of Lidice, destroyed in an act of vengeance following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.[982] It has been reliably estimated that as many as 200,000 eastern European children were carried off in this manner; only 15-20 percent of them were reunited with their legitimate parents after the war.

The case of Folker Heinecke may be considered typical. Born Alexander Litau in Alnowa in the Crimea, he was kidnapped from his parents in 1942 when he was two years of age. He was first taken to Lodz in Poland, where he was examined to find out if he was “worthy” of “Aryanisation”. Post-war investigation of the files maintained on him by the Nazis indicate that he was meticulously examined in order to determine whether or not he had “Jewish Aspects”. Satisfied that he was capable of being “Germanised”, he was shipped to his new parents in Germany. It was only with the opening of the National Socialist archive at Bad Arolsen that Herr Heinecke/Litau was finally able to discover who he really was.

The NSV were involved in another example of Nazi eugenics in action, when in 1942, “Eastern Confinement Homes” or “Child Collection Points” were established for the purpose of selecting the newly-born children of Polish and Soviet female forced labourers. Racially “especially valuable” children were taken for adoption by Lebensborn; those considered merely “valuable” by the NSV. The “worthless” were starved to death in “Care Centres for Foreign Children.”[983] On this subject, Erich Hilgenfeldt, a former Berlin councillor who rose to become head of the NSV, wrote to Himmler in August 1943:

In my opinion, the present handling of the question is impossible. It is a case of either/or. Either one decides that the children are not to live – in which case one should not allow them to slowly starve, thereby denying many litres of milk for general consumption, for there are ways in which this can be done without pain and suffering. Or, on the contrary, one's object is to raise the children in order to use them later as a source of labour. In which case, it is necessary to feed them so that one day their labour will be of value.[984]

It is only in recent times that the full impact this cruel and heartless scheme had on the product of Himmler's racial fantasies has begun to be appreciated. Many Lebensborn children were ostracised or worse in childhood. On reaching middle-age a number of them have begun to question their parentage. Brought up by their natural mother and perhaps a foster-father or in the case of the kidnapped children, foster-parents, they have a burning desire to discover who their progenitors were – and what they did. The answer is often far from pleasant, especially insofar as their biological father is concerned. Perhaps even worse is the predicament of the children stolen from their now long dead natural parents in distant countries. For them, discovering their true identity and surviving blood relations is an almost hopeless task.

* * *

Long after it had ceased to be a major element of domestic Nazi racial hygienic policy, Himmler's involvement in the search for methods of mass sterilisation was based more upon short-term economic considerations than eugenics, although there can be no doubting Himmler's enthusiasm for the latter. Unquestionably there were longer term eugenic implications for such ideas so far as any remaining Jews and the captive Slav population were concerned,[985] but in 1942 an acute shortage of labour brought to the fore the concept of exploiting the existing slave-labour force whilst at the same time preventing their ability to multiply.

The idea of utilising X-rays for such a purpose had been advanced by a number of individuals for some time. In his post-war Nuremberg testimony, Viktor Brack stated that in 1941 it was an “open secret in higher party circles that those in power intended to exterminate the entire Jewish population in Germany and [the] occupied territories.” Because murder on such a scale was “unworthy of party leaders and humanity more generally”, being the good Samaritans that they were, Brack and Hefelmann instead advocated deporting the Jews to Madagascar.[986] However, when that idea foundered

…we came up with the idea that sterilisation might provide the solution to the Jewish question. Given that sterilisation is a rather complicated business, we hit upon the idea of sterilisation by X-rays. In 1941 I suggested to Bouhler the sterilisation of Jews by X-rays; this idea was also rejected, however. Bouhler said that sterilisation by X-rays was not an option, because Hitler was against it. I worked on this programme further and finally came up with a new plan.[987]

Himmler met with Brack in January 1941 to discuss the progress of the “euthanasia” programme. It was at this meeting that Himmler suggested to Brack that he institute research into the possibility of sterilising large numbers of people through the use of X-rays.[988] In March 1941, Brack sent a lengthy report to Himmler, which read in part:

The experiments in this field are concluded…If any persons are to be sterilised permanently this result can only be attained by applying X-rays in a dosage high enough to produce castration with all its consequences, since high X-ray dosages destroy the internal secretion of the ovary, or of the testicles, respectively. Lower dosages would only temporarily paralyze the procreative capacity…The actual dosage can be given in various ways, and the irradiation can take place quite imperceptibly…If the X-ray intensity is too high, those parts of the skin which the X-rays have reached will exhibit symptoms of burns – varying in severity in individual cases – in the course of the following days or weeks.

One practical way of proceeding would be, for instance, to let the person treated approach a counter, where they could be asked to answer some questions or to fill in forms, which would take them 2 or 3 minutes. The official sitting behind the counter could operate the installation in such a way as to turn a switch which would activate the two valves simultaneously (since the irradiation has to operate from both sides). With a two-valve installation about 150-200 persons could then be sterilised per day, and therefore, with 20 such installations as many as 3,000-4,000 persons per day.

…Mass sterilisation by means of X-rays can be carried out without difficulty. However, it seems to be impossible to do this in such a way that the persons concerned do not sooner or later realise with certainty that they have been sterilised or castrated by X-rays.”[989]

It would appear that Himmler was unenthusiastic about pursuing the idea at the time, but Brack persisted with it. On 23 June 1942 he wrote to Himmler:

…Among 10 millions of Jews in Europe there are, I believe, at least 2-3 millions of men and women who are fit enough to work. Considering the extraordinary difficulties the labour problem presents us with, I hold the view that those 2-3 millions should be specially selected and preserved. This can, however, only be done if at the same time they are rendered incapable of propagation. About a year ago I reported to you that agents of mine had completed the experiments necessary for this purpose. I would like to recall these facts once more. Sterilisation, as normally performed on persons with hereditary diseases, is here out of the question, because it takes too long and is too expensive. Castration by X-ray, however, is not only relatively cheap, but can also be performed on many thousands in the shortest time…

…Should you, Reichsführer, decide to choose this way in the interest of preservation of labour, then Reichsleiter Bouhler would be prepared to place all physicians and other personnel needed for this work at your disposal. Likewise he requested me to inform you that I would then have to order the apparatus so urgently needed with the greatest speed.”[990]

Brack did not specify the fate of 7-8 million Jews who were not to be sterilised, but his support for their extermination was implied in his comment earlier in the letter of the necessity of completing “the whole Jewish action”.[991] His claimed humanitarianism is thus exposed as merely another example of the planned economic exploitation of the victims. In fact, at the very time Brack wrote this report, the extermination camps of Aktion Reinhard were murdering Jews in vast numbers.

Between receipt of Brack's two missives, Himmler's interest in mass sterilisation had been aroused by an idea of Dr Adolf Pokorny, a Viennese born dermatologist and military physician, who had contacted Himmler in October 1941 suggesting the potential use of a herb, Caladium seguinum, to produce sterility in humans.[992] Pokorny drew Himmler's attention to research by Dr Gerhard Madaus, whose homeopathic remedies held a natural attraction for Himmler. Madaus claimed to have discovered that the herb was efficacious in causing sterility in small mammals - males permanently, females temporarily.[993] Pokorny was even more ambitious than Brack:

If we are able to discover as quickly as possible the means that could imperceptibly cause sterilisation in a relatively short period of time, then we will have acquired a new, very effective weapon. The broad possibilities are alone suggested by the thought that three million Bolsheviks currently held as German prisoners could be sterilised, and as a result, they would stand at our disposal as workers, but without the ability to multiply.[994]

Whether experiments were conducted using the herb for the purpose of sterilisation is uncertain, but in any event the idea was completely impractical in wartime conditions.[995] Oswald Pohl, head of the WVHA, informed Himmler in June 1942 that since the plant was native to North America, it was impossible to import it in sufficient quantity in the then current circumstances. Attempts to grow it in bulk had not been successful, and would require much larger hothouse than had been utilised to date, with no guarantee of success. Although Himmler urged that experiments be conducted with whatever supplies of the drug were available, Pokorny's suggestion does not appear to have been further pursued with any great enthusiasm. However, the concept did stimulate Himmler into serious consideration of a mass sterilisation programme. To this end, two gruesome medical experiments were organised on Auschwitz inmates, both mainly conducted in block 10 of the main camp, although there were also stations set up in other blocks and in Birkenau. One experiment, conducted by Carl Clauberg, was concerned with female sterilisation through the injection of a caustic substance into the cervix, the intention being to obstruct the fallopian tubes. The second had a direct connection with T4, since it involved both male and female sterilisation by the use of X-rays, as had been suggested by Brack, and was conducted by the former chief physician at Grafeneck and Sonnenstein, Horst Schumann.[996]

Both experiments were doomed to failure, but not before indescribable suffering had been endured by the mostly Jewish prisoner “guinea pigs”, followed by the death of many of them.[997] Although Clauberg was a professor of some distinction and chief physician at the Women's Hospital of Kiel University, as well as head of a clinic for gynaecological complaints at Königshütte (Chorzow), he cut a ridiculous figure at Auschwitz when he arrived there in late 1942. He was described by witnesses as short, bald, and unlikable”, and “…a small, ugly, funny-looking, more or less deformed person. He wanted to imitate Prussian officers but he looked like a salesman in a general's hat…He was absurd.”

Absurd or not, Clauberg was feared by the women he mutilated, for he literally held the power of life and death over them. When he appeared on the ward women were “overcome with anxiety and terror…They considered what Dr Clauberg was doing as the actions of a murderer.”[998] It was not an inaccurate description. In many cases women who survived his experiments were killed directly afterwards by means of a phenol injection or were sent to the gas chamber, with some corpses being dissected in order to evaluate the results of this “research”.[999]

After his initial consultation with Himmler, Clauberg had believed that female prisoners would be sent from Ravensbrück to his clinic at Königshütte for him to experiment upon. Himmler, on the other hand, was under the impression that Clauberg would be working at Ravensbrück itself. Ernst-Robert von Grawitz, Chief Doctor of the SS, quickly disabused Himmler of the notion:

In view of the unprecedented significance which such a technique would have in the sense of a negative population policy and the consequent importance of promoting with all means a perfect solution to the problem, allow me, Reichsführer, to propose that Professor Clauberg establish a suitable research institute in or near Königshütte and incorporate in it a women's concentration camp for about ten persons.

Auschwitz provided the ideal compromise; closer than Ravensbrück to Königshütte, and with a virtually limitless quantity of experimental subjects.[1000] Despite boasting to Himmler that the success of “the method I have conceived for sterilising women without an operation is already nearing completion” and raising the prospect that “…in a short period of time…one trained physician located in a reasonably equipped outpost, assisted by ten staff members, will most likely be able to sterilise in the course of a single day several hundred or even a thousand women,” Clauberg had made only slow progress, in large part because of his arrogance and unpleasant personality. As the Russians approached Auschwitz, Clauberg moved his operations to Ravensbrück, where he continued to experiment on female Jewish prisoners transferred from Auschwitz, and on Gypsy women.[1001]

Clauberg was captured by the Russians in June 1945. Three years later he was put on trial in the Soviet Union, and having been convicted of “mass extermination of Soviet citizens”, was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment.[1002] However, the death of Stalin in 1953 and a series of diplomatic agreements resulted in the release of Clauberg, along with other German prisoners of the Soviets. Clauberg arrived back in Germany in October 1955 to resume practicing medicine, to the horror of many. After two months he was arrested. Pressure from many sources, including the outraged protest of a group of former Auschwitz prisoner doctors that “such medical practitioners who…put themselves at the service of National Socialism to destroy human lives…are today in a position to practice once more the profession which they have profaned in such a scandalous manner,” forced the German Chamber of Medicine to eventually revoke Clauberg's medical licence. But before he could be brought to trial, Clauberg died in prison in Kiel on 9 August 1957, probably of a heart attack, although there is speculation that he may have been killed by former medical colleagues to prevent his “naming names” in court.[1003] As we shall see, such conspiracy theories were not unusual when men accused of the most heinous crimes died whilst in post-war custody – and before they could publicly testify about their wartime colleagues.

Horst Schumann's activities before and after his participation in mass sterilisation experiments are detailed elsewhere in this volume. He visited Auschwitz, probably for the first time in July 1941, when he selected 573 sick prisoners for transportation to Sonnenstein and gassing under the umbrella of 14f13.[1004] Clauberg and Schumann were pursuing the same objective by differing and competing means, and the physical contrast between the two of them was as great as the gulf that existed between their choice of method; Schumann was tall, well-built, and considered by some to be handsome. Others thought him distant and unfeeling.[1005] He arrived back in Auschwitz for a rather longer stay in November 1942, by now holding the rank of an Oberleutnant in the Luftwaffe, although in reality his sponsors were Brack and T4.[1006]

Schumann's attempts at sterilisation using X-rays were accommodated at first in barrack 30 of the women's camp (Bla) at Birkenau (Clauberg had begun his “research” there as well), although surgical procedures were conducted at blocks 10, 21 and 28 of the Stammlager (Auschwitz I, the main camp). Rudolf Höss, the former commandant of Auschwitz, stated that he received orders from Himmler to supply Schumann with whatever he required, both in terms of male and female prisoner “guinea-pigs”, as well as anything else necessary. Groups made up of several dozen Jewish male and female prisoners were sent to barrack 30, where they were exposed to varying doses of radiation.[1007] Despite often suffering severe burns as a result, the prisoners were still forced to work as usual. Many died as a consequence of Schumann's experiments; others, incapacitated by exposure to the X-rays, fell victim to the gas chamber following “selections” of the unfit within the camp. A former prisoner described how:

…during my stay at the hospital I met a formerly well-known Jew from Warsaw…His entire family had been murdered at the camp, and he himself had become a victim of some criminal experiment based on irradiating the testicles with X-rays. He was severely crippled and suffering terribly. He explained to me that such experiments were being carried out on an entire group of Jews, 50 men and the same number of women. After a short interval, they were all gassed.

A Greek Jewess deported from Thessalonica to Birkenau, described her ordeal at the hands of Schumacher (who had no surgical experience) and his prisoner-doctor assistants:

…In summer 1943, during the morning roll-call, the female Blockältester summoned a number of girls, including me…Under guard, we were taken to Auschwitz, to block 10. Other Greek women and girls were already there. One day Dr Schumann appeared…and ordered all the girls to step forward. He pointed to several girls, including me, and took down our numbers. The next day, we were taken…back to Birkenau and irradiated…Two plates [were] attached to my body, one to my stomach and the other to my back…On the same day we were taken back to Auschwitz. On the way, all of us vomited. We did not know what had happened to us. After several days, festering wounds appeared in the areas where [the plates] had been attached…After around two months we were sent back to work at Birkenau, although our wounds had not yet healed…One day, during the morning roll-call, my number was called, along with a number of other girls who had been irradiated. Once again we were taken to Auschwitz, to block 10…There we were examined by Dr Samuel [a Jewish prisoner-doctor who was later murdered in the camp]…Sometime in November 1943, I was taken, along with nine other girls, to the neighbouring block 21, and we were operated on there…After the operation I was taken back to block 10. We all lay in the same room and screamed in pain…After one or two months…Dr Schumann appeared at the block, observed our wounds, and ordered us back to work at Birkenau, no matter how difficult it still was for us to move…”[1008]

For women, Schumann's technique involved the removal of the irradiated ovaries, for men the excision of one or both testes. It is estimated that 1,000 male and female prisoners underwent these X-ray procedures, of which about 200 were subjected to removal of their sex organs.[1009] How many died is not known, but the number of those expiring as a result of Schumann's experiments must have amounted to several hundred. The total of Clauberg's victims is even less certain, but a figure of 700 is sometimes quoted – as is a figure of “several thousands.”[1010] It is not possible to estimate how many of those who survived these experiments subsequently fell victim to the gas chambers.

Schumann called a halt to his Auschwitz activities in early 1944, writing to Himmler in April of that year that he considered surgical castration to be preferable to X-rays as a method of sterilisation. Notwithstanding these comments, Schumann did subsequently conduct further X-ray sterilisation procedures on Gypsy girls at Ravensbrück.[1011] In December 1944, a few weeks before the evacuation of Auschwitz, Schumann's X-ray device was removed. The Czech prisoner who had maintained and serviced it, Stanislaw Slezak, a man who knew too much, was transferred to Mauthausen in January 1945 and shot.[1012]


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