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  • Poland, 1939. A school teacher namedadysława  Karolewska becomes a courier in the anti-German  

  • resistance after the invasion of her countryIn February 1941, she's arrested, and following  

  • interrogation, sent to Ravensbrueck concentration  camp. There she is selected to be part of one of  

  • the Nazi's medical experiments. She can have no  idea what's in store for her, neither can many of  

  • the other women who will share a similar fate. This is a tale of body transplantation,  

  • just one of the medical horrors  prisoners at those camps faced

  • Let's stick with Karolewska's story for now. She survived, and later testified against  

  • the Nazis, but before we get to what she  said, here's how medical professionals  

  • later described such experiments: “The criminal experiments consisted in  

  • the deliberate cutting out and infection of bones  and muscles of the legs with virulent bacteria,  

  • the cutting out of nerves, the introducing  into the tissues of virulent substances  

  • and the causing of artificial bone fractures.” The experiments conducted showed no regard  

  • whatsoever for something calledasepsis.”  This means a state in which the human body  

  • is free from dangerous micro-organismssuch as viruses or pathogenic bacteria

  • As you'll see in this show, some victims died  as a result of infections. Others died during  

  • the operations, while somesuffered major and  extensive injuries to their organs of movement.”  

  • There were also times that the Nazishaving injured the victim so devastatingly,  

  • just took them outside and shot them. At the beginning of Karolewska's testimony, she  

  • was asked, “Witness, were you operated on while  you were in Ravensbrueck concentration camp?” 

  • She replied, “Yes, I was.” Here's what happened

  • On July 22, 1942, she and around 75 other  Polish prisoners were ordered to stand before  

  • the camp office. In front of them were  several high-ranking Nazi officers and  

  • Dr. Fritz Ernst Fischer, a man later imprisoned  for conducting medical experiments at the camp

  • The all-female prisoners were inspected, and then  three days later, they were summoned to go to the  

  • prison hospital. Karolewska said in court, “On  this day, we did not know why we were called  

  • before the camp doctors, and on the same day, ten  of twenty-five girls were taken to the hospital,  

  • but we did not know why.” She said a few of the girls  

  • went into the hospital. They were given  injections without being told the reason.  

  • They were called again, and they didn't return  to the hut. Karolewska learned the women were  

  • still in the hospital, their legs now in casts. Then she and some other girls were summoned.  

  • This was incredibly frightening. In  her own words, she explained why,  

  • We were called at a time when usually executions  took place, and I was going to be executed  

  • because before some girls were shot down.” While she was in a hospital bed, a nurse  

  • gave her an injection without explaining whyWhatever had been put into her made her vomit,  

  • after which she was rushed off to an operating  room. There she said Dr. Schidlauski and Rosenthal  

  • intravenously injected her with something  else, after which she fell unconscious

  • She woke up, only to feel excruciating pain in  her leg. Before she could try and understand  

  • what was happening, she was unconscious againWhen she awoke, she said she was burning up.  

  • She felt an intense pain in her leg, and when she  looked down, she saw that her leg was in a cast

  • She said, “I noticed also that my leg was  swollen from the toes up to the groin.  

  • The pain was increasing and the  temperature, too, and the next day I  

  • noticed that some liquid was flowing from my leg.” On the third day, she was moved to another room.  

  • Dr. Fischer was waiting for her, dressed in  a white gown with rubber gloves on his hands.  

  • This time she remained conscious, although  the nurse put a sheet over her eyes.  

  • She said in court, “I had the impression that  something must have been cut out of my leg.” 

  • In the days and weeks that passed, she went  back to the hospital on many occasions,  

  • each time not knowing what was happening to herAt times she was blindfolded, but conscious of  

  • the pain the doctors were causing her. She said, “Two weeks later we were all  

  • taken again to the operating room and put on  the operating tables. The bandage was removed,  

  • and that was the first time I saw my leg.” What she saw was a giant incision, so deep she  

  • could see bones. She, and other girls who'd been  experimented on, were sent back to their huts.  

  • She couldn't walk at this point. The doctors weren't done yet

  • On another day, she was carried back to  the operating room. That day she saw an  

  • ambulance outside, so she thought she was going  to be executed. But the doctor operated again,  

  • although she'd been administered a drug that  knocked her out. She woke up in pain. “The  

  • symptoms were the same. The leg was swollenand the pus flowed from my leg,” she said

  • The hut she stayed in was now full of women who  couldn't walk, who each night cried in pain. At  

  • one point, they were told to go back to the  operating room, but this time some of them  

  • could only hop, which caused more pain. During her testimony, she was asked,  

  • Do you remember when you got out  of bed and were able to walk?” 

  • She replied, “I stayed in bed several  weeks; and then I got up and tried to walk.” 

  • It still wasn't over, but the girls had  had enough. Once they were able to stand,  

  • they stood in the line that was usually  for people headed for the gas chamber

  • This is what she testified, “We went out of the  line and stood before the ninth block in line.  

  • Then Binz (officer) said: 'Why do you stand  so in line as if you were to be executed?'  

  • We told her that the operations  were worse for us than executions  

  • and that we would prefer to be executed  rather than to be operated on again.” 

  • The next time she was operated on, she woke up  with both her legs in iron splints and bandages,  

  • from her toes right up to her groin. She was, of course, one of the fortunate people  

  • to make it out of the camp. He legs were a messas she showed people who attended her testimony.

  • We'll come back to more victim testimoniesbut first, we need to know what the Nazi  

  • doctors were doing to Miss Karolewska. In a paper published in the National Institutes  

  • of Health, the author said that he spent three  years looking through the national archives  

  • in Germany in an effort to try and understand  what actually went on in the camps' hospitals

  • He wrote that one study found that 27,759 people  were victims of Nazi medical experiments in all  

  • the camps, and 4364 of them died as a result. For  the most part, these experiments were conducted  

  • in an effort to bolster the German campaign on  the battlefield, in the ocean, and in the skies

  • We won't go into it today, but as far as the  ocean is concerned, sometimes-deadly experiments  

  • used prisoners to understand better how to  treat someone for hypothermia. As for the air,  

  • some also-deadly experiments featured  victims being forced into a special chamber  

  • where they experienced changes in air pressure. But it was on the battlefield where most injuries  

  • happened. German soldiers routinely lost  limbs; they had bullets fired into them;  

  • they suffered terrible burns, and frequently  they almost succumbed to head injuries.  

  • These people had to be operated on quicklysometimes without much time or expertise at hand

  • Untold numbers of German soldiers were getting  seriously injured, and that's why the army  

  • demanded that the medical corps conduct  experiments on the prisoners they had in  

  • those camps. According to NIH, experimentswere  carried out to observe bone, muscle, and nerve  

  • regeneration, and the possibility of bone and  limb transplantation from one person to another.” 

  • Now you likely have a better  understanding of what happened  

  • to Miss Karolewska and many of her comrades. Just so you know, Ravensbrück was the biggest  

  • women's concentration camp, in total holding  something like 40,000 Polish prisoners and 26,000  

  • Jewish prisoners. It's thought about 28,000 of  them died in all, from overwork, hunger, disease,  

  • beatings, but also medical experiments. Other  sources state that there were about 130,000 from  

  • various countries, of which 30,000 to 90,000 died. Women, of course, weren't the only ones  

  • experimented on. In the NIH paper, it says 20  men from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp  

  • were used and abused. Just to give you an idea of  what sometimes happened, we'll talk about them

  • The Nazis wanted to understand if they could  treat an infected wound with a certain drug on  

  • the battlefield, or if that infection needed  to be treated surgically in a field hospital.  

  • To understand this, they used Guinea pigsthe prisoners. They sliced open their legs and  

  • purposely infected them with bacteria. They then  sewed up the wounds and administered the drug

  • Here's what the actual report said: “An incision was made five to eight centimeters  

  • in length and one to one-and-a-half centimeters  in-depth on the outside of the lower leg in  

  • the area of the peroneus longus. The bacterial  cultures were put into dextrose, and the resulting  

  • mixture was spread into the wound. The wound  was then closedno serious illnesses resulted.” 

  • Success! But had it not been, those 20  prisoners could have been in serious  

  • trouble. Who knows if they survived anyway? The women at the other camp were known not as  

  • Guinea pigs, but asrabbits”. They became  known as theRabbits of Ravensbrück”,  

  • and many were victims of transplantation. That wasn't always the case, though. The  

  • reports state that because success had been  achieved at the male camp regarding infections,  

  • the Germans upped the ante at the female campThey rubbed many things into their wounds,  

  • hoping to simulate what might happen on the  battlefield. Not that it will mean much to  

  • many of you, the bacteria introduced into the  wounds included, “staphylococci, streptococci,  

  • clostridium perfringens, and clostridium novyi.” So, when women woke up with wounds in their legs  

  • and their temperature was high, it was sometimes  the consequence of one of those experiments.  

  • Sometimes they ensured numerous operationsand the experiment could differ each time

  • Take for instance the story of Barbara  Pietrzyk. This 16-year old went through  

  • five separate operations, which resulted  in paralysis of one of her legs. We don't  

  • know exactly what happened to her each timebut it's said she underwent bone operations

  • Simulation of the battlefield, as we said earliercould include many different types of injuries

  • One of the most common injuries was  getting shot. Bullets pierced through skin,  

  • wrecked muscle tissue, destroyed major organsbroke bones, and left infections. That gave a  

  • lot of scope to doctors working at the camps. Thankfully for the women, when it was proposed  

  • to Dr. Fischer that to better simulate  real-life the women should be shot,  

  • he turned his head up and instead said there must  be a better way to simulate injuries. Maybe that's  

  • why he wasn't hanged after his trial. He actually became a doctor many years  

  • later and died aged 90, a free man. At  the Nuremberg Trials, sixteen doctors  

  • were found guilty. Seven were executed, while  the others received lengthy prison sentences

  • They did stuff like stop blood circulation  in the legs by tying off muscles,  

  • which led to deaths and severe infections. The  doctors later admitted that with some experiments,  

  • they knew that a number of women would die. It  was all for the greater cause, or as many Nazis  

  • later said, they were just following orders. Some German soldiers were so badly wounded  

  • on the battlefield that they lost limbsbut at times they perhaps needed to borrow  

  • tissue or nerves to heal their wounds.That's  why the Nazis were interested inbone,  

  • muscle, and nerve regeneration, and the  possibility of bone and limb transplantation.” 

  • This is why many women woke up with bits of  them missing. Some had nerve tissue removed,  

  • which was transplanted to another prisoner. At  times, the doctors would remove a part of the leg,  

  • the fibula or tibia, and then they would  try to graft that part to another woman,  

  • who now was missing some part of her leg. Muscles were also removed and moved. We'll give  

  • you some scientific language now, only because we  don't have much medical acumen ourselves. The NIH  

  • paper said about muscle experiments, “These  involved repeated myomectomies (removal of  

  • parts of skeletal muscle) from the same anatomic  locations, so that the legs got thinner and weaker  

  • over the course of the experiment.” The vast majority of the time,  

  • the doctors were working with bone grafts  and tissue grafts, but on some occasions,  

  • they tried to transplant an entire boneAccounts of this are scant, but it did happen

  • In one account, Dr. Fischer said, “I returned to  Hohenlychen as quickly as possible with the bone  

  • which was to be transplanted. In this manner, the  period between removal and transplantation was  

  • shortened. At Hohenlychen the bone was handed  over to Professor Gebhardt, and he, together  

  • with Doctor Stumpfegger, transplanted it.” Limbs of women were sometimes amputated,  

  • and those limbs were used as, erspare parts, for German soldiers

  • Dr. Zdenka Nedvedova-Nejedla later testified to  this, saying, “High amputations were performed;  

  • for example, even whole arms with shoulder  blade or legs with iliaca were amputated. These  

  • operations were performed mostly on insane  women who were immediately killed after the  

  • operation by a quick injection of evipan. All  specimens gained in operations were carefully  

  • wrapped up in sterile gauze and immediately  transported to the SS hospital nearby.” 

  • What's perhaps even worse is this doctor said not  all women were taken outside and shot. She said  

  • sometimes they were just left on the operating  table. The nurses weren't allowed to assist them,  

  • and they werenot permitted to administer  sedatives even against the most intensive  

  • post-operational pains.” Now we need to hear  

  • something from the survivors again. Here's just a snippet from a former  

  • inmate named Zofia Sokulska. She talked  about the kind of professionalism, or  

  • lack thereof, that the women endured. She said: “Dr. Rosenthal dressed the wounds, he tortured  

  • the victims terribly, ripping open the wounds  with instruments, vented his sadistic urges,  

  • half- or completely drunk, flirting simultaneously  with Gerda Quernheim, who was assisting him.” 

  • Not surprisingly, many women died. Kazimiera Kurowska died from a tetanus  

  • infection. Aniela Lefanowicz died from an edema  malignum bacterial infection. Jadwiga Dzido died  

  • from a pyogenic bacterial infection. Stanisława Czajkowska was subjected to  

  • various muscle experiments, but she said  surviving the camp itself wasn't easy.

  • Just to give you an idea of life in the  camp, she talked about the first few days.  

  • She said she and the other women received  underwear, “belts for our dresses,  

  • aprons, and white headscarves.” For their  first meal, they received two pieces of bread,  

  • a bit of sausage, and a spoonful of fat. They got up at four each morning,  

  • after which was roll call. They were subsequently  sent to work for the day, or as you know,  

  • they awaited their doom at the hospital. They  usually ate soup and potatoes, although she said  

  • on Sundays and holidays they got a special treat  of, “a mugful of coffee or herbal tea, 100 grams  

  • of margarine, and cheese or 50 grams of sausage.” If they were ever out of line, they were beaten  

  • and deprived of any food at all. She said any  infraction, even if just being accused of not  

  • working every second, could result in severe  punishment. Sometimes they were incarcerated,  

  • but she also said some women were  punished by beingmauled by a dog.” 

  • In her own words, she said, “If I recall  correctly, Józefa or Maria Bednarczyk was  

  • on several occasions beaten, battered, taken  away to the bunker where she was subjected to  

  • various tortures, mauled by a dog, and ultimately  finished off. Other women who were severely beaten  

  • include Stanisława Szewczyk and Hanka Starkwho has had an impaired leg ever since.” 

  • She said these punishments and worse punishments  were not metered out by the German guards but by  

  • other non-Polish inmates. We are sure you've  all heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment.  

  • When given free rein, trustee prisoners  can be particularly nasty to each other

  • She said they were worked almost to deathsuffering from frostbite in the winter and  

  • dehydration in the summer. She said this  was deliberate. They were slowly being  

  • exterminated. But then came the medical  experiments, when they became more useful

  • Here's how: This following testimony  

  • is from Bogumiła Bąbińska, who was subjected  to several different operations. One of them  

  • included an attempt to graft bone into muscle, but  her account revealed she endured more than that

  • She said one day she woke up from an operation  and saw this: “My right leg was in a plaster cast  

  • and saw that I had a piece of plaster near my  appendix area; this was covered by gauze held  

  • in place by sticking plaster. The dressing was not  tight, so I drew it aside and saw that my stomach  

  • had been cut open and sewn up in this area.” She was given morphine on a daily basis. The  

  • wounds were also washed daily, although with  petrol. She said sometimes she and others would  

  • hide the newer bandages. She explained that this  was because they were at a premium. She said, “Had  

  • they noticed that we had fresh bandages, there  would have been a tremendous row. It was often  

  • the case that the visiting doctors were drunk.” After weeks of pain, a high temperature, puss  

  • leakage, and the inability to walk, she finally  felt better again. A female prisoner, who was  

  • also a doctor, inspected her wounds. She informed  Bąbińska that some of her nerves had been cut

  • Like the other women, Bąbińska fought to not  be operated on again. She said if that meant  

  • execution, then so be it. For that, she was locked  up with the others. She testified, “Once again we  

  • declared that we would not go for an operationThe door to our cell was closed, leaving us locked  

  • inside.” They weren't fed for three days after. She said one day something unusual happened.  

  • She managed to find a German newspaperJoseph Goebbels' propaganda rag,  

  • theDas Reich”. It was dated August or July  30, 1943. She said there was an article that  

  • describedthe extraordinary achievements of  German scientists in the field of surgery.” 

  • Shocked and sad, knowing she'd seen friends  die and some rendered disabled, she read about  

  • how scientists had made extraordinary  breakthroughs in bone transplantation,  

  • muscle and skin grafts, and more. In her own  words, she testified, “There was no indication  

  • of where the experiments had been conducted.” Now you need to watch, “What Actually Happened to  

  • Nazi Leaders After World War 2?” Or, have a look  at, “What Was Found Inside Hitler's Last Will.”

Poland, 1939. A school teacher namedadysława  Karolewska becomes a courier in the anti-German  

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B1 leg camp bone german muscle hospital

Body Transplantation - Nazi Camp Experiments