Sigmund Rascher (12 February 1909 – 26 April 1945) was a German SS
doctor. He conducted deadly experiments on humans about high altitude,
freezing and blood coagulation under SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s
patronage, to whom his wife Karoline “Nini” Diehl had direct
connections. When police investigations uncovered that the couple
defrauded the public with their supernatural fertility by ‘hiring’
and kidnapping babies, she and Rascher were arrested in April 1944. He
was accused of financial irregularities, murder of his former lab
assistant, and scientific fraud, and brought to Buchenwald and Dachau
before being executed. After his death, the
Nuremberg Trials judged
his experiments as inhumane and criminal.
1 Early life
3 Career with the SS
3.1 High altitude experiments
3.2 Freezing experiments
3.3 Blood coagulation experiments
4 Personal life and execution
5 Further reading
Sigmund Rascher was born the third child of Hanns-August Rascher
(1880–1952) a physician and avid follower of Rudolf
Steiner. Therefore, Rascher attended the first
Waldorf School, a school based on Steiner's anthroposophist approach
to education. He came under the influence of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who
believed in the influence of cosmic rhythms on life processes. He
completed his secondary education, the German
1930 or 1931—he used both dates.
In 1933, he began to study medicine in Munich, where he also joined
the NSDAP. The exact day of his joining is uncertain: Rascher insisted
that it was on 1 March, whereas documents show 1 May. This is relevant
in that the first date is 4 days before the Nazi victory in the German
national election, March 1933, whereas the second date is after Hitler
had consolidated power on 23 March with his Enabling Act.
After his medical internship, Rascher worked with his now divorced
father in Basel, Switzerland, and continued his medical studies there,
joining the Swiss Voluntary Work Forces. In 1934, he returned to
Munich to finish his studies, and received his doctorate in
1936. In May 1936, Rascher joined the SA.[citation
needed] From 1936 to 1938 Rascher worked on cancer diagnostics,
supported by a DFG stipend under Prof. Trumpp in Munich.[citation
needed] Until 1939 he was an assistant physician at Munich's hospital
Schwabinger Krankenhaus.[page needed]
In 1939, Rascher transferred to the SS with the rank of
Career with the SS
In 1939 Rascher denounced his father, and was conscripted into the
Luftwaffe. A relationship with and eventual marriage to former singer
Karoline "Nini" Diehl gained him direct access to Reichsführer-SS
Heinrich Himmler. Rascher's connection with Himmler gave him immense
influence, even over his superiors. Though it is unclear as to the
precise nature of Diehl's connection to Himmler, she frequently
corresponded with him and interceded with him on her husband's behalf;
it is suggested that Diehl may have been a former lover of Himmler.
A week after first meeting Himmler, Rascher presented a paper, "Report
on the Development and Solution to Some of the Reichsfuehrer's
Assigned Tasks During a Discussion Held on April 24, 1939". Rascher
became involved in testing a plant extract as a cancer treatment. Kurt
Blome, deputy of the Reich Health Leader 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.
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 Himmler a letter 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.
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 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, the interior pressure of which 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.
Mugshot of Wolfram Sievers, taken by American authorities after his
Rascher also conducted so-called "freezing experiments" on behalf of
Luftwaffe on 300 test subjects without their consent. 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.
The experiments were 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 outdoors
naked in freezing weather for up to 14 hours, or kept in a tank of
icewater for three 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 hot water; at least one witness, an assistant to some of
these procedures, later testified that some victims were thrown into
boiling water for rewarming.
Himmler attended some of the experiments, and told Rascher he should
go to the North Sea region and find out how 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.
Four Romani women were sent from
Ravensbrück concentration camp
Ravensbrück concentration camp and
warming was attempted by placing the hypothermic victim between two
In October 1942, results of the experiments were presented at a
medical conference in
Nuremberg in two presentations named "Prevention
and Treatment of Freezing", and "Warming Up After Freezing to the
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
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 Wolfram Sievers.
Sievers is known to have visited Dachau on 20 July 1944, to speak with
Kurt Plötner and the non-
Ahnenerbe Wilhelm Beiglboeck, who ultimately
carried out the experiments.
While at Dachau, Rascher developed the standard cyanide capsules,
which could be easily bitten through, either deliberately or
Blood coagulation experiments
Rascher experimented with the effects of Polygal, a substance made
from beet and apple pectin, which aided blood clotting. He predicted
that the preventive 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.
Personal life and execution
Attempting to please Himmler through demonstrating that population
growth could be sucked accelerated by extending female childbearing
age, Rascher publicized the fact that his wife had given birth to
three children even after reaching 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 while attempting to
kidnap a baby. An investigation later revealed that her other three
children had been either purchased or kidnapped. Himmler felt
betrayed, and Rascher was arrested in April 1944.
In addition to acting as an accessory in the kidnappings of the three
infants, Rascher was also accused of financial irregularities, the
murder of his former lab assistant, and scientific fraud. Both Rascher
and his wife were hastily condemned without trial to the concentration
camps. Rascher was imprisoned at Buchenwald following his arrest
in 1944, until the camp's evacuation in April 1945. He and other
prisoners were then taken to Dachau where Rascher was executed by
firing squad on 26 April 1945, three days before the camp was
liberated by American troops. In another first hand account a
fellow SS officer witnessed Rascher's execution by
SS-Hauptscharführer Theodor Bongartz on Himmler's direct order by
shooting him through the cell observation and food delivery door, then
kicking his body with the words 'You pig, now you've got the
punishment you deserve'.
After his death, the
Nuremberg Trials judged his experiments as
inhumane and criminal.
Siegfried Bär: The Fall of the House of Rascher. The bizarre life and
death of the SS-doctor Sigmund Rascher. 500pp, e-book, Size: 1436 KB,
ASIN B00MBOFX5K, July 31, 2014
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