Atrocities of Experiments at Nazi Concentration Camps


Ravensbruck Rabbit Survivors

In WWII, the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, set up several labor concentration camps. Nazi doctors performed medical experiments on the prisoners held there. The type of torture inflicted on the unfortunate prisoners depended on which camp they resided.

Prisoners at several camps were used as human guinea pigs in immunization therapy. Doctors infected people with contagious diseases to see if anyone had natural immunity. The intent was to create vaccines to improve the immunity of the members of the German army. Malaria, Typhus, TB, Typhoid Fever, Yellow Fever, and Hepatitis were all studied.

There was only one all-female concentration camp, located in Ravensbruck, Germany. Several Polish prisoners were used in the “Sulfonamide Experiments”. Sulfa was a new drug at that time and doctors were attempting to prove its efficacy. They were attempting to learn if Sulfa could be used in treating war wounds of the German soldiers.


Herta Oberheuser

In order to do this, doctors took several young, healthy women and cut open their legs in order to break the bone and insert debris into the wound. Dirt, glass, and bacteria were used to damage the leg and cause infection. After the damage to the leg was obvious, Sulfa would be used to heal the wound. Bone grafts and even leg amputation and transplants were attempted in these gruesome experiments. These women were mutilated. Those who didn’t die from infection were left disabled. The doctor doing these experiments was the only female doctor in any of the camps. Her name was Herta Oberheuser.

The women were referred to as the Ravensbruck Rabbits because after the surgeries, they would hop around the camp on their good leg and because they were treated like lab animals. The other prisoners protected these women. They risked their own lives by hiding the Rabbits, and even switching ID numbers with them.

The story of the Ravensbruck Rabbits is told in detail in Lilac Girls, a New York Times best seller, written by Martha Hall Kelly. In 1958, over a decade after the survivors were liberated from the camp, they were flown to the United States to receive treatment.

Racial experiments were conducted on several groups of people considered inferior by Nazi doctors. Dr. Josef Mengele is infamous for his horrendous treatment on twins of Jewish and Gypsy descent, as well as on dwarves. His “research” was focused on the genetic component of disease.

Dr. Mengele was also fascinated by people with different colored eyes, a condition known as heterochromia. He was known to keep the eyeballs of the patients with that condition, in order to do further testing on eye pigmentation.

Other experiments done on prisoners included artificial insemination, drinking exclusively sea water, and exposure to phosgene gas, a chemical used in WWI. The rationale behind these stories of horror were either to improve the health and stability of German soldiers, or to find a way to create a more “perfect” race.


Nuremberg Trial


Dr. Josef Mengele


Herta Oberheuser receives her sentence


The Nuremburg Trials, named after the town in Germany where the trials were held, were held between 1945-1949. Leaders from the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union brought to trial perpetrators of the most heinous acts ever committed. There were three categories of charges: Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity.

The Doctors Trial was conducted by United States military personnel. Twenty-three Nazi doctors and officers were tried. All defendants were found guilty. Seven were sentenced to death by hanging. Five were sentenced to life in prison. The remaining four, including Herta Oberheuser, were sentenced to 10-20 year terms in prison. Oberheuser only served five years of her term, she was released and began practicing as a pediatrician.

The incredible bravery of the Ravensbruck Rabbits did not end with their release from the concentration camp. Several of them testified again Oberheuser at the Nuremburg trials. Several years later, one of the survivors played a part in getting Oberheuser’s medical license permanently revoked.


Ravensbruck Rabbit survivor at trials

The Nuremburg trials were successful in holding these deranged people accountable for their crimes. The trials had another positive outcome: the Nuremburg Code of Ethics. The code requires that human beings must agree to any medical experiments, can choose to quit the experiment at any time, and that no experiments can cause unnecessary suffering.

As horrendous as this piece of history is, it is important that we never forget the millions of people killed in concentration camps in WWII. More important still, is to remember the tenacity and spirit of people like the Ravensbruck Rabbits. No doubt, countless acts of bravery and kindness were shown by the prisoners of the camps. Some of those people survived to tell their story. Sadly, most of them did not.

Learn more about one of the survivors who is the focus of a documentary in progress.

References Author of Lilac Girls shows the pictures of the real Ravensbruck Rabbits Support the making of the documentary and see a survivor

PBS to learn more about the experiments

History Channel to learn more about the Nuremburg Trials

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum





Forget STEM. How are you with ketchup?

Aside from pictures, there is nothing that shows a true snapshot of an era than advertisements. An ad is a freeze frame of the clothes, trends, and societal norms of that moment in history. The ads below are from the 50’s. Women had a very different place in society at that time. We may look at these ads now with laughter and, for some, disgust. That is because we are looking at them through the norms of today, not 1950. Although this sexist behavior was accepted in the 50’s, I am sure there was a great deal of eye rolling by the women reading these ads.

Newly available household appliances eased some of the work involved in running a home. I’m not sure which aspect of the ads is most enjoyable; the attire used in cleaning, the obvious example of, “women’s work”, or the incredible joy brought by a mop. I know, its the heels.


In case the earlier ads were too subtle, these clearly state that it’s a man’s world and the state of any marriage is dependent upon the wife’s cooking ability. If the woman on the left were any more subservient, she’d be under the bed. Other things could wreck a marriage in the 50’s. Ladies, don’t let yourself go. Your marriage and worth as a human being depend on it. In case you can’t see it clearly, the middle ad is for Lysol for “feminine hygiene.” Really? Lysol?

And last but not least, I would like to share a couple of ads I hope will make you chuckle. Oh Sabrina. Double entendre anyone? We’ve come a long way, baby!


Rosie the Riveter Takes Her Place in History


Rosie the Riveter is an American icon. And she is finally getting her due. Or should I say getting their due? Rosie was not based on one woman, but on the hundreds of thousands of women who stepped up to replace the labor force lost to men fighting overseas during WWII.

In 1943, Norman Rockwell painted the first “Rosie” for The Saturday Evening Post. The most common jobs women filled were in aircraft and munitions. The name Rosie the Riveter came from the rivets used to assemble metal used in airplanes and tanks. She can be seen holding her riveting gun in Rockwell’s depiction. file0001339162898

Several stories popped up about “real” Rosies. Mary Doyle Keefe was the model used for the painting. She posed for Rockwell twice and made a handsome $10 for her trouble. Ironically, Keefe was never a riveter, but a telephone operator.

The image most of us think of when we hear Rosie’s name was painted by J. Howard Miller. He painted Rosie with the words, “We Can Do It” behind her for the Westinghouse War Production Coordinating Committee. The poster was meant to recruit women into the workforce. The poster was only used for a brief time and didn’t gain popularity until the later part of the 20th century, when Rosie became a symbol of feminism and women’s rights.

But feminism was not on the minds of the women who went to work between 1943-1945. They worked to support the war, their country, and their families. Many of them had no choice. With their husbands, fathers and sons overseas, the work needed to get done, and it was up to the women to financially support their families. There is no doubt, however, that the “riveters” of WWII changed the way women were viewed, especially in the workplace. It was the first time women were considered capable of doing “men’s work”.

So why has the image painted by Miller surpassed Rockwell’s in popularity? Very simple. Rockwell’s painting had a copyright and Miller’s did not.

On October 18, 2017, Rosie the Riveter will firmly take her place in history as she is inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Several women worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Michigan in the 1940’s. Most of the women who influenced the making of Rosie are gone now. But the impact they had on the country, the war, and women’s rights lives on.


Heidi A. Strobel. “Rosie the Riveter, Rose Will Monroe, and Rose Bonavita.” American National Biography Online Feb 2000. July 3 2017.

“Rosie the Riveter.” History 2012. Publisher A&E. July 3 2017.

Caitlin Schneider.  “Meet the Real Rosie the Riveter.” Mental Floss May 2015. July 3 2017.

“Rosie the Riveter to be inducted into Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.” Detroit Free Press June 28 2017. July 3 2017

Dave Collins. “Model for Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter painting dies at 92.” MSN April 22 2015. July 4 2017.