Medical Experiments

The SS subjected some concentration camp prisoners to medical experiments. Doctors used the opportunities afforded them by the Nazi tyranny to experiment on people who had been stripped of all basic human rights. SS Reich Leader Heinrich Himmler actively supported this kind of pseudo-medical experimentation. In June 1944, a special department was set up at the Neuengamme concentration camp to enable doctor Kurt Heißmeyer to experiment on prisoners. Heißmeyer was looking for new treatment methods for tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease caused by bacteria that was common at the time. He assumed that TB, which mostly affects the lungs, could be cured by artificiallly creating a second site for the infection in the body. At the time of his experiments, this theory had already been disproved by science. Heißmeyer also believed that “racially inferior” people were more susceptible to TB than “racially superior” people.

X-ray picture of an upper body

In the course of his experiments, Heißmeyer infected up to 100 adult prisoners, many of whom were from the Soviet Union, with highly infetious TB bacteria. Because the rations the prisoners were given were so small, some reportedly also volunteered for these experiments in the hope of receiving extra food. Even though the health of his subjects had deteriorated considerably by the autumn of 1944 and many of them had even died from the experiments, Heißmeyer wrote to the Auschwitz concentration camp and asked for 20 children for more experiments. The children arrived Neuengamme on 28 November 1944, and a section of sick bay IV was divided off to house them. The area around the entrance was cordoned off by a high paling fence. Heißmeyer injected the children with TB bacteria, either subcutaneously or directly into the lungs. The children soon began to suffer from fever and coughing fits and became apathetic and weak. Although the children's presence at the camp was to be kept secret, many prisoners knew about them. They were forbidden to speak to the children under penalty of death.

Media Library

The complete permanent exhibition "Time Traces" and the other side exhibitions on the grounds of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial are also available digitally in the memorial's media library. Unfortunately, the media library is only available in German.

media library
Contact us at

E-mail: lernwerkstatt@gedenkstaetten.hamburg.de

Phone: +49 40 428 131 551