Weird History

The Nazi Doctor Who Fell From Grace And Became A Prisoner At His Own Concentration Camp

The Third Reich is infamous for, among numours other atrocities, conducting cruel medical experiments on Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust. Among the medical professionals hired by the party were the monstrous Josef Mengele and his colleague, Sigmund Rascher. 

Sigmund Rascher performed experiments at Dachau, one of Germany's largest concentration camps, from 1942 until 1944. He slaughtered hundreds of his human subjects, insisting that he needed to use humans rather than animals for his research to collect the best results. 

Rascher's time in the Nazi SS was filled with chilling moments, such as the slaying of his lab assistant, his arrest for abducting three children he planned to pass off as his own, and his crafting of saddles from human skin.

He was eventually killed in the same concentration camp from which he sourced his subjects. Only three days later, this camp was liberated by the Allies

  • His Air Pressure Experiments Led Victims To Pull Their Hair Out
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    His Air Pressure Experiments Led Victims To Pull Their Hair Out

    Rascher began conducting experiments with air pressure to address the hazards of parachuting out of planes at high altitudes. At the time, German planes attempting to discretely deposit agents would have to do so from 45,000 feet or higher, a treacherous hight from which to drop a person, considering parachutes couldn't be opened until the wearer reached 4,000 feet. 

    Rascher used prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp to conduct his experiment, placing them in a special pressurized chamber that mimicked the atmospheric conditions that paratroopers faced.

    Despite Rascher's knowledge that the air pressure experienced at 45,000 feet was extremely hazardous to humans, he ran over 200 subjects through his machine. Ultimately, around 80 of them perished from various causes, namely heart and brain embolisms, though one man's lungs burst.

    Rascher took notes on his subjects' reactions during experimentation, claiming, "Some experiments gave men such pressure in their heads that they would go mad and pull out their hair in an effort to relieve such pressure."

  • Rascher Was Initially One Of Heinrich Himmler's Favorite Scientists
    Photo: Friedrich Franz Bauer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    Rascher Was Initially One Of Heinrich Himmler's Favorite Scientists

    Heinrich Himmler was the head of the Nazi SS from 1929 until 1945. He expanded the overall aim of the program from simply acting as Hitler's bodyguards to conducting "innovative" scientific experiments. 

    Rascher was one of "Himmler's darlings," at least initially. Rascher's wife was an old friend of Himmler, and Himmler was very impressed with the couple and their three sons. He often sent the family gifts, fruit, and chocolate. 

  • His Blood Coagulant Experiments Were Excessively Cruel

    Rascher used a substance called Polygal, made of beet and apple pectin, in experiments involving blood coagulation. He believed that if soldiers took tablets of this natural coagulant before battle, they would lose less blood if they were shot. 

    To test this hypothesis, he would feed Dachau prisoners the tablets, fire at them, and essentially wait for them to bleed out. He would also routinely sever limbs without anesthesia.

  • His Hypothermia Experiments Slaughtered Hundreds
    Photo: Arland B. Musser / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    His Hypothermia Experiments Slaughtered Hundreds

    The next problem Rascher tackled was how to revive a pilot that had been shot down in frigid waters. His methodology was simple: submerge his human subjects (sourced once again from Dachau) in near-freezing water for around three hours, and then attempt to revive them. He experimented with multiple methods for revival, including hot baths, heat lamps, and even placing the person between two naked women. 

    As might be expected, many of these subjects – estimated to around 300 in total – succumbed to their traumas.

    Later on, the study's findings caused an ethical issue: should scientists use results that were found through such evil methods? Rascher's findings in hypothermia research, although procured through immoral means, were somewhat meritorious in their impact.

    The United States decided in favor of utilizing Rascher's findings; Operation Paperclip employed around 800 former German scientists, including some that had worked with Rascher.