Suffering in the name of medical progress – Booy Faassen

In November 1938, only 50 miles north of Berlin, German authorities began constructing what later became the second largest concentration camp for women during the holocaust. SS authorities established a small men’s camp adjacent to the main camp in April 1941, but in 1945 the camp consisted of mainly women and had more than 50,000 prisoners.

     Just like Auschwitz-Birkenau was known for its deaths, Ravensbrück was known for its medical experiments. In addition to the raping, Nazi Germany decided in August 1942 to rob 74 Polish women who were political prisoners of the right to their own body by performing medical experiments which led to severe injuries or death.

     One of the main experiments performed on the victims was to insert gas or bacteria in order to provoke infections which could also strike soldiers in combat. To simulate the front-line situations, glass and wood splinters were inserted in the infected wounds of the human guinea pigs. Attempts to cure these infections with chemical substances such as sulphanilamide were made. Others received bone transplantations or were subject to amputations. Bones, nerves, and muscle tissues were moved between patients to discover how bone transplantations could be performed most efficiently. These acts of cruelty had the purpose to further develop plastic surgery. 

     To make the non-Aryan races go extinct, experiments to sterilize women were carried out in the surgery halls of Ravensbrück. Only the non-Jewish women were used for abortions, pregnant Jews were executed.

     These experiments could lead to better medical treatments and recovery for wounded German soldiers, so the German regime had no problem with these unethical acts. Many highly ranked SS officers and Nazi party members knew about the horrors of the camp - few individuals could not be blamed.

     On the 24th of May in 1943 a conference was held in Berlin where doctors and SS medical officers discussed and presented the results of the experiments. The deaths of multiple patients were brought forward, not for the sake of commemorating the human losses but rather for medical interests. No one expressed grief, sorrow, or even a protest against the cruel and inhuman experiments. The conference guests and hosts showed blindness for everything except medical progress and possibilities for the future.

     However, justice was to come as the war was over and the Nuremberg Trials began. The people who had previously been seen as doctors and nurses who performed the medical experiments in great faith were now seen as war criminals who had robbed 74 women of their human rights. Nearly all involved and accused SS medical doctors were sentenced to death or imprisonment.

     Dorothea Binz was the brutal SS head overseer of Ravensbrück from August 1943 until April 1945. She was sentenced to death and hanged at the Hamelin prison on the 2nd of May in 1947.

Booy Faassen

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