Dachau: The Medical Experiments
by Dr. Franz Blaha
I, Franz Blaha, being duly sworn, depose and state as
follows. I studied medicine in Prague, Vienna, Strasburg and
Paris and received my diploma in 1920. From 1920 to 1926 I was a
clinical assistant. In 1926, I became chief physician of the
Iglau Hospital on Moravia, Czechoslovakia, and I was seized as a
hostage and held prisoner for co-operating with the Czech
Government. I was sent as a prisoner to the Dachau Concentration
Camp in April 1941, and remained there until the liberation of
the camp in April 1945. Until July 1941, I worked in a
Punishment Company. After that I was sent to the hospital and
subjected to the experiments in typhoid being conducted by Dr.
Murmelstadt. After that I was to be made the subject of an
experimental operation, and only succeeded in avoiding this by
admitting that I was a physician. If this had been known before
I would have suffered, because intellectuals were treated very
harshly in the Punishment Company. In October 1941, I was sent
to work in the herb plantation, and later in the laboratory for
processing herbs. In June 1942, I was taken into the hospital as
a surgeon. Shortly afterwards I was directed to conduct a
stomach operation on twenty healthy prisoners. Because I would
not do this I was put in the autopsy room, where I stayed until
April 1945. While there I performed approximately 7000
autopsies. In all, 12,000 autopsies were performed under my
During my time at Dachau I was familiar with many kinds of
medical experiments carried on there with human victims. These
persons were never volunteers but were forced to submit to such
acts. Malaria experiments on about 1200 people were conducted by
Dr. Klaus Schilling between 1941 and 1945. Schilling was
personally asked by Himmler to conduct these experiments. The
victims were either bitten by mosquitoes or given injections of
malaria sporozoites taken from mosquitoes. Different kinds of
treatment were applied, including quinine, pyrifer, neosalvarsan,
antipyrin, pyramidon and a drug called 2516 Behring. I performed
autopsies on bodies of people who died from these malaria
experiments. Thirty or forty died from the malaria itself.
Three hundred to four hundred died later from diseases which
proved fatal because of the physical condition resulting from the
malaria attacks. In addition there were deaths resulting from
poisoning due to overdoses of neosalvarsan and pyramidon. Dr.
Schilling was present at the time of my autopsies on the bodies
of his patients.
In 1942 and 1943 experiments on human beings were conducted
by Dr. Sigismund Rascher to determine the effects of changing air
pressure. As many as twenty-five persons were put at one time
into a specially constructed van in which pressure could be
increased or decreased as required. The purpose was to find out
the effects of high altitude and of rapid parachute descents on
human beings. Through a window in the van I have seen the people
lying on the floor of the van. Most of the prisoners who were
made use of died as a result of these experiments, from internal
hemorrhages of the lungs or brain. The rest coughed blood when
taken out. It was my job to take the bodies out and to send the
internal organs to Munich for study as soon as they were found to
be dead. About 400 to 500 prisoners were experimented on. Those
not dead were sent to invalid blocks and liquidated shortly
afterwards. Only a few escaped.
Rascher also conducted experiments on the effect of cold
water on human beings. This was done to find a way for reviving
aviators who had fallen into the ocean. The subject was placed
in ice-cold water and kept there until he was unconscious. Blood
was taken from his neck and tested each time his body temperature
dropped one degree. This drop was determined by a rectal
thermometer. Urine was also periodically tested. Some men
lasted as long as 24 to 36 hours. The lowest body temperature
reached was 19 degrees C., but most men died at 25 degrees C., or
26 degrees C. When the men were removed from the ice water
attempts were made to revive them by artificial warmth from the
sun, from the hot water, from electrotherapy or by animal warmth.
For this last experiment prostitutes were used and the body of
the unconscious man was placed between the bodies of two women.
Himmler was present at one such experiment. I could see him from
one of the windows in the street between the blocks. I have
personally been present at some of these cold-water experiments
when Rascher was absent, and I have seen notes and diagrams on
them in Rascher's laboratory. About 300 persons were used in
these experiments. The majority died. Of those who lived many
became mentally deranged. Those not killed were sent to invalid
blocks and were killed, just as were the victims of the air-
pressure experiments. I only know two who survived - a Yugoslav
and a Pole, both of whom have become mental cases...
It was common practice to remove the skin from dead
prisoners. I was commanded to do this on many occasions. Dr.
Rascher and Dr. Wolter in particular asked for this human skin
from human backs and chests. It was chemically treated and
placed in the sun to dry. After that it was cut into various
sizes for use as saddles, riding breeches, gloves, house
slippers, and ladies' handbags. Tattooed skin was especially
valued by SS men. Russians, Poles and other inmates were used in
this way, but it was forbidden to cut out the skin of a German.
This skin had to be from healthy prisoners and free from defects.
Sometimes we did not have enough bodies with good skin and
Rascher would say, `All right, you will get the bodies.' The
next day we would receive twenty or thirty bodies of young
people. They would have been shot in the neck or struck on the
head so that the skin would be uninjured. Also we frequently got
requests for the skull or the body. Then the soft parts were
removed and the bones were bleached and dried and reassembled.
In the case of skulls it was important to have a good set of
teeth. When we got an order for skulls from Oranienburg the SS
men would say, `We will try to get you some with good teeth.' So
it was dangerous to have a good skin or good teeth.
Many executions by gas or shooting or injections took place
in the camp itself. The gas chamber was completed in 1944, and I
was called by Dr. Rascher to examine the first victims. Of the
eight or nine persons in the chamber there were three still
alive, and the remainder appeared to be dead. Their eyes were
red and their faces were swollen. Many prisoners were later
killed in this way. Afterwards they were removed to the
crematorium, where I had to examine their teeth for gold. Teeth
containing gold were extracted. Many prisoners who were sick
were killed by injections while in hospital. Some prisoners
killed in the hospital came through to the autopsy room with no
name or number on the tag which was usually tied to their big
toe. Instead the tag said: `Do not dissect.'
I performed autopsies on some of these and found that they
were perfectly healthy, but had died from injections. Sometimes
prisoners were killed only because they had dysentery or vomited,
and gave the nurses too much trouble. Mental patients were
liquidated by being led to the gas chamber and injected there or
shot. Shooting was a common method of execution. Prisoners
would be shot just outside the crematorium and carried in. I
have seen people pushed into the ovens while they were still
breathing and making sounds, although if they were too much alive
they were usually hit on the head first.
from John Carey (ed), Eyewitness to History, New York: Avon,
l987, pp. 555-559.