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The doctors’ trial (officially United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al.) was the first of 12 trials for war crimes of high-ranking German officials and industrialists that the United States authorities held in their occupation zone in Nuremberg, Germany, after the end of World War II. These trials were held before US military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms at the Palace of Justice. The trials are collectively known as the “Subsequent Nuremberg trials“, formally the “Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals” (NMT).
Twenty of the twenty-three defendants were medical doctors and were accused of having been involved in Nazi human experimentation and mass murder under the guise of euthanasia. The indictment was filed on 25 October 1946; the trial lasted from 9 December that year until 20 August 1947. Of the 23 defendants, seven were acquitted and seven received death sentences; the remainder received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.
wenty of the twenty-three defendants were medical doctors (Viktor Brack, Rudolf Brandt, and Wolfram Sievers were Nazi officials), and were accused of having been involved in Nazi human experimentation and mass murder under the guise of euthanasia. Josef Mengele, one of the leading Nazi doctors, had evaded capture.
The judges, heard before Military Tribunal I, were Walter B. Beals (presiding judge) from Washington, Harold L. Sebring from Florida, and Johnson T. Crawford from Oklahoma, with Victor C. Swearingen, a former special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, as an alternate judge. The Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution was Telford Taylor and the chief prosecutor was James M. McHaney.
The accused faced four charges, including:
- Conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity as described in counts 2 and 3;
- War crimes: performing medical experiments, without the subjects’ consent, on prisoners of war and civilians of occupied countries, in the course of which experiments the defendants committed murders, brutalities, cruelties, tortures, atrocities, and other inhuman acts. Also planning and performing the mass murder of prisoners of war and civilians of occupied countries, stigmatized as aged, insane, incurably ill, deformed, and so on, by gas, lethal injections, and diverse other means in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums during the Euthanasia Program and participating in the mass murder of concentration camp inmates.
- Crimes against humanity: committing crimes described under count 2 also on German nationals.
- Membership in a criminal organization, the SS.
The tribunal largely dropped count 1, stating that the charge was beyond its jurisdiction.
I — Indicted G — Indicted and found guilty
|Name||Photograph||Function||Charges||Verdict and sentence|
|Hermann Becker-Freyseng||Stabsarzt in the Luftwaffe (Captain, Medical Service of the Air Force); and Chief of the Department for Aviation Medicine of the Chief of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe||I||G||G||20 years’ imprisonment, commuted to 10 years. Died 1961|
|Wilhelm Beiglböck||Consulting Physician to the Luftwaffe||I||G||G||15 years’ imprisonment, commuted to 10 years. Died 1963|
|Kurt Blome||Deputy [of the] Reich Health Leader (Reichsgesundheitsführer); and Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research in the Reich Research Council||I||I||I||Acquitted. Died 1969|
|Viktor Brack||Oberführer (Senior Colonel) in the SS and Sturmbannführer (Major) in the Waffen SS; and Chief Administrative Officer in the Chancellery of the Führer of the NSDAP (Oberdienstleiter, Kanzlei des Führers der NSDAP)||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Karl Brandt||Personal physician to Adolf Hitler; Gruppenführer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) in the Waffen SS; Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation (Reichskommissar für Sanitäts und Gesundheitswesen); and member of the Reich Research Council (Reichsforschungsrat)||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Rudolf Brandt||Standartenführer (Colonel); in the Allgemeine SS; Personal Administrative Officer to Reichsführer-SS Himmler (Persönlicher Referent von Himmler); and Ministerial Counselor and Chief of the Ministerial Office in the Reich Ministry of the Interior||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Fritz Fischer||Sturmbannführer (Major) in the Waffen SS; and Assistant Physician to the defendant Gebhardt at the hospital at Hohenlychen||I||G||G||G||Lifetime imprisonment, commuted to 15 years. Released 1954, died 2003|
|Karl Gebhardt||Gruppenführer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) in the Waffen SS; personal physician to Reichsfuehrer-SS Himmler; Chief Surgeon of the Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police (Oberster Kliniker, Reichsarzt SS und Polizei); and President of the German Red Cross||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Karl Genzken||Gruppenführer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) in the Waffen SS; and Chief of the Medical Department of the Waffen SS (Chef des Sanitätsamts der Waffen SS)||I||G||G||G||Lifetime imprisonment, commuted to 20 years. Released 1954, died 1957|
|Siegfried Handloser||Generaloberstabsarzt (Lieutenant General, Medical Service); Medical Inspector of the Army (Heeressanitätsinspekteur); and Chief of the Medical Services of the Armed Forces (Chef des Wehrmachtsanitätswesens)||I||G||G||Lifetime imprisonment, commuted to 20 years. Released/died 1954|
|Waldemar Hoven||Hauptsturmführer (Captain) in the Waffen SS; and Chief Doctor of the Buchenwald concentration camp||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Joachim Mrugowsky||Oberführer (Senior Colonel) in the Waffen SS; Chief Hygienist of the Reich Physician SS and Police (Oberster Hygieniker, Reichsarzt SS und Polizei); and Chief of the Hygienic Institute of the Waffen SS (Chef des Hygienischen Institutes der Waffen SS)||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Herta Oberheuser||Physician at the Ravensbrück concentration camp; and Assistant Physician to the defendant Gebhardt at the hospital at Hohenlychen||I||G||G||20 years’ imprisonment, commuted to 5 years. Released 1952, died 1978|
|Adolf Pokorny||Physician, Specialist in Skin and Venereal Diseases||I||I||I||Acquitted|
|Helmut Poppendick||Oberführer (Senior Colonel) in the SS; and Chief of the Personal Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police (Chef des Persönlichen Stabes des Reichsarztes SS und Polizei)||I||I||I||G||10 years imprisonment. Released 1951, died 1994|
|Hans-Wolfgang Romberg [de]||Doctor on the Staff of the Department for Aviation Medicine at the German Experimental Institute for Aviation||I||I||I||Acquitted. Died 1981|
|Gerhard Rose||Generalarzt of the Luftwaffe (Major General, Medical Service of the Air Force); Vice President, Chief of the Department for Tropical Medicine, and Professor of the Robert Koch Institute; and Hygienic Adviser for Tropical Medicine to the Chief of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe||I||G||G||Lifetime imprisonment, commuted to 20 years. Released 1955, died 1992|
|Paul Rostock||Chief Surgeon of the Surgical Clinic in Berlin; Surgical Adviser to the Army; and Chief of the Office for Medical Science and Research (Amtschef der Dienststelle Medizinische Wissenschaft und Forschung) under the defendant Karl Brandt, Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation||I||I||I||Acquitted. Died 1956|
|Siegfried Ruff||Director of the Department for Aviation Medicine at the German Experimental Institute for Aviation (Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt) and First Lieutenant in the Medical Service of the Air Force; still researching and publishing in the field of aviation as late as 1989||I||I||I||Acquitted. Died 1989|
|Konrad Schäfer||Doctor on the Staff of the Institute for Aviation Medicine in Berlin||I||I||I||Acquitted. Died 1951|
|Oskar Schröder [de]||Generaloberstabsarzt (Colonel General Medical Service); Chief of Staff of the Inspectorate of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe (Chef des Stabes, Inspekteur des Luftwaffe-Sanitätswesens); and Chief of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe (Chef des Sanitätswesens der Luftwaffe)||I||G||G||Lifetime imprisonment, commuted to 15 years. Released 1954, died 1958|
|Wolfram Sievers||Standartenführer (Colonel) in the SS; Reich Manager of the Ahnenerbe Society and Director of its Institute for Military Scientific Research (Institut für Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung); and Deputy Chairman of the Managing Board of Directors of the Reich Research Council||I||G||G||G||Death, executed 2 June 1948.|
|Georg August Weltz [de]||Oberfeldarzt in the Luftwaffe (Lieutenant Colonel, Medical Service, of the Air Force); and Chief of the Institute for Aviation Medicine in Munich||I||I||I||Acquitted|
For some, the difference between receiving a prison term and the death sentence was membership in the SS, “an organization declared criminal by the judgement of the International Military Tribunal”. However, some SS medical personnel received prison sentences. The degree of personal involvement and/or presiding over groups involved was a factor in others.
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