Sigmund Rascher: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sigmund Rascher (born February 12, 1909 in Munich, executed April 26, 1945 in the Dachau concentration camp) was a German SS doctor.

Sigmund Rascher

Rascher (at right) presiding over a cold water immersion experiment at Dachau concentration camp
Born February 12, 1909
Died Executed April 26, 1945
in the Dachau concentration camp

His deadly experiments on humans, planned and executed in the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, were judged inhumane and criminal during the Nuremberg Trials.


Early life and career

Rascher was born the third child of Hanns-August Rascher, a doctor, and made his Abitur in 1930 or 1931 (this is uncertain, as he himself used both dates) in Konstanz, and in 1933 began studying medicine in Munich, where he also joined the NSDAP. Concerning the exact day of his joining, there are two dates: Rascher insisted that it was on March 1, whereas the documents show May 1.

After his practical, he was working with his now divorced father in Basel, Switzerland, also continuing his studies, there joining the Swiss Voluntary Work Forces, and in 1934 he moved to Munich to finish his studies, ending these in 1936 by receiving his degree and his doctorate.

In May the same year, he joined the SA, and when he changed to the SS in 1939, had reached the rank of Gefreiter (Private).

In Munich, he was working with Prof. Trumpp in cancer diagnostics from 1936 to 1938, sustained by a stipendium, and was until 1939 an assistant physician at Munich's Schwabinger Krankenhaus hospital.[1]

Career with the SS

In 1939 Rascher denounced his father, joined the SS, and was conscripted into the Luftwaffe. A relationship and eventually marriage to former singer Nini Diehl gained him direct access to Heinrich Himmler. Rascher's connection with Himmler gave him immense influence, even over his superiors.[2] It is thought Diehl may have been one of Himmler's former lovers; she frequently corresponded with Himmler and interceded with him on her husband's behalf.[3]

A week after their first meeting, Rascher presented a paper titled "Report on the Development and Solution to Some of the Reichsfuehrer's Assigned Tasks During a Discussion Held on April 24, 1939".[2] Rascher became involved in testing a plant extract as a cancer treatment. Kurt Blome, deputy of the Reich Health Leader (Reichsgesundheitsführer) and Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research in the Reich Research Council, favoured testing the extract on rodents, but Rascher insisted on using human test subjects. Himmler took Rascher's side and a Human Cancer Testing Station was established at Dachau. Blome worked on the project.[2]


High altitude experiments

Rascher suggested in early 1941, while a captain in the Luftwaffe's Medical Service, that high-altitude/low-pressure experiments be carried out on human beings. While taking a course in aviation medicine at Munich, he wrote a letter to Himmler in which he said that his course included research into high-altitude flight and it was regretted that no tests with humans had been possible as such experiments were highly dangerous and nobody volunteered for them. Rascher asked Himmler to place human subjects at his disposal, stating quite frankly that the experiments might prove fatal, but that previous tests made with monkeys had been unsatisfactory. The letter was answered by Rudolf Brandt, Himmler's adjutant, who informed Rascher that prisoners would be made available.[4][5]

Rascher subsequently wrote back to Brandt, asking for permission to carry out his experiments at Dachau, and plans for the experiments were developed at a conference in early 1942 attended by Rascher and members of the Luftwaffe Medical Service. The experiments themselves were carried out in the spring and summer of the same year, using a portable pressure chamber supplied by the Luftwaffe. The victims were locked in the chamber, whose pressure was then lowered to a level corresponding to very high altitudes. The pressure could be very quickly altered, allowing Rascher to simulate the conditions which would be experienced by a pilot freefalling from altitude without oxygen. After viewing a report of one of the fatal experiments, Himmler remarked that if a subject should survive such treatment, he should be "pardoned" to life imprisonment. Rascher replied to Himmler that the victims had to date been merely Poles and Russians, and that he believed they should be given no amnesty of any sort.[4]

Freezing experiments

Rascher also conducted so-called "freezing experiments" on behalf of the Luftwaffe, in which three hundred test subjects were used against their will, one third of them dying. These were also conducted at Dachau after the high-altitude experiments had concluded. The purpose was to determine the best way of warming German pilots who had been forced down in the North Sea and suffered hypothermia. Rascher's victims were forced to remain out of doors naked in freezing weather for up to 14 hours, or kept in a tank of icewater for 3 hours, their pulse and internal temperature measured through a series of electrodes. Warming of the victims was then attempted by different methods, most usually and successfully by immersion in very hot water.

Himmler attended some of the experiments, and told Rascher he should go the North Sea and find out how the ordinary people there warmed victims of extreme cold. Himmler reportedly said he thought "that a fisherwoman could well take her half-frozen husband into her bed and revive him in that manner" and added that everyone believed "animal warmth" had a different effect than artificial warmth.[6] Four Romany women were sent from Ravensbrück concentration camp and warming was attempted by placing the hypothermic victim between two naked women.[7][8]

In October 1942 a medical conference took place in Nuremberg at which the results of the experiments were presented under the headings "Prevention and Treatment of Freezing", and "Warming Up After Freezing to the Danger Point".[9]

Rascher, who had by now been transferred to the Waffen-SS, was eager to obtain the academic credentials necessary for a high level university position. A Habilitation which was to be based on his research failed, however, at Munich, Marburg, and Frankfurt, due to the formal requirement that results be made available for public scrutiny.[10] US investigators later concluded that Rascher had been merely a convenient front for Luftwaffe chief surgeon Erich Hippke, who had been the true source of the ideas for Rascher's experiments.[3]

Similar experiments were conducted from July to September 1944, as the Ahnenerbe provided space and materials to doctors at Dachau to undertake “seawater experiments”, chiefly through Sievers. Sievers is known to have visited Dachau on July 20, to speak with Ploetner and the non-Ahnenerbe Wilhelm Beiglboeck, who ultimately carried out the experiments.

While at Dachau, Rascher also developed the standard cyanide capsules, which could be easily bitten through, either deliberately or accidentally.[11] Ironically, this became the means by which Himmler committed suicide.

Blood coagulation experiments

Rascher also experimented with the effects of Polygal, a substance made from beet and apple pectin, which aided blood clotting. He predicted that the preventative use of Polygal tablets would reduce bleeding from gunshot wounds sustained during combat or during surgery. Subjects were given a Polygal tablet, and shot through the neck or chest, or their limbs amputated without anaesthesia. Rascher published an article on his experience of using Polygal, without detailing the nature of the human trials and also set up a company to manufacture the substance, staffed by prisoners.[12]

Personal life and execution

In an attempt to please Himmler by demonstrating that population growth could be accelerated by extending the childbearing age, Rascher publicized the fact that his wife had given birth to three children even after becoming 48 years of age, and Himmler used a photograph of Rascher's family as propaganda material. However, during her fourth "pregnancy", Mrs. Rascher was arrested for trying to kidnap a baby and an investigation revealed that her other three children had been either bought or kidnapped. Himmler felt personally betrayed by this conduct, and Rascher was arrested in April 1944. As well as complicity in the kidnappings of the three infants, Rascher was accused of financial irregularities, the murder of one of his assistants, and scientific fraud, and he and his wife were executed.[13] Rascher was executed in Dachau shortly before its liberation by American forces, and his wife was hanged at an unknown location.[14]


  1. ^ Kater, Michael H. (2000). Doctors under Hitler. UNC Press. p. 125. ISBN 0807848581.  
  2. ^ a b c Michalczyk, John J. (1994). Medicine, Ethics, and the Third Reich: Historical and Contemporary Issues. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 95. ISBN 1556127529.  
  3. ^ a b Moreno, Jonathan D. (2001). Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans. Routledge. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0415928354.  
  4. ^ a b Annas, George J.; Michael A. Grodin (1995). The Nazi doctors and the Nuremberg Code: human rights in human experimentation. Oxford University Press US. pp. 71–73. ISBN 0195101065.  
  5. ^ Pringle, Heather, The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust, Hyperion, 2006.
  6. ^ Mackowski, Maura Phillips (2006). Testing the Limits: Aviation Medicine and the Origins of Manned Space Flight. Texas A&M University Press. p. 94. ISBN 1585444391.  
  7. ^ Annas, p. 74
  8. ^ Letter from Rascher to Himmler, 17 Feb 1943 from Trials of War Criminals before the Nurenberg Military Tribunals, Vol. 1, Case 1: The Medical Case (Washington, D.C: u. S. Government Printing Office, 1949-1950), pp.249-251.
  9. ^ Annas, p. 76
  10. ^ Kater, pp. 125-126
  11. ^ ALEXANDER L (July 1949). "Medical science under dictatorship". N. Engl. J. Med. 241 (2): 39–47. PMID 18153643.  
  12. ^ Michalczyk, p. 96
  13. ^ Michalczyk, p. 97
  14. ^ Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans by Vivien Spitz, page 225


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address