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Research Project on Medical Experiments

Medical experiments carried out on human beings during the National Socialist era constitute the area of research of historian Anna von Villiez, guiding her to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen for one week in mid-August. “The ITS is an important, if not the principal source of my present research work,“ according to von Villiez. “I set about viewing the material at ITS in order to get an overview.“

The Hamburg-based historian is participating in a research project initiated by Oxford Brookes University. The university plans to generate a database on medical experiments carried out on human beings during the Nazi era that will include the victims’ names and biographical data in addition to the structural description of the experiments. At present, the database has just under 2,800 entries. “The details which historical research provides on the total number of victims still vary widely. Indications as to both their nationality and survival rates are largely unknown,“ said von Villiez.

Five researchers from four states are involved in the project at Oxford Brookes University, overseen by Professor Paul Weindling and estimated to extend over three years’ time, from early October 2007 till late September 2010. The Hamburg resident has taken charge of the coordination of the project and evaluation of the German sources. Von Villiez viewed copies from the Nazi regime at ITS.  She is also interested in records of medical experiments which ITS itself created in the post-war period on human beings in concentration camps.

The army was one force behind the despicable and inhuman experiments aiming to minimize the number of casualties among the German soldiers. “Most experiments focused on infectious diseases such as malaria, typhus or wound infections,” reported von Villiez. On the other hand, the experiments served the ends of the pseudo-science “racial research” introduced by the Nazis. The 33-year old researcher is particularly interested in such questions as: To which extent were the German medical professions involved? Which links existed to the health system in general? To which extent did the pharmaceutical industry participate in the experiments? According to the historian, the most brutal and outrageous experiments were those carried out by ambitious SS physicians acting without authorization. “Often, they were not particularly well-trained, wanting to make their mark and gain prestige, which consequently resulted in especially high numbers of victims.”

Their investigations have lead the researchers from Oxford Brookes University across Europe and to Israel and the USA. “It is exciting to work in an international researchers’ group,” said von Villiez. “I feel both enriched and challenged by the perspective that historians from other countries take of our German history.” Her research at ITS is complicated by the ongoing lack of finding aids and catalogues. “The previous thought pattern so typical of a tracing service is different from the way a scholarly archive looks at things,” according to the historian. “Seen from that perspective, the research work is time-consuming. The staff, however, is very willing to help.”

More information on the project at Oxford Brookes University is available on the Internet at: ah.brookes.ac.uk/research/project/vhens