The Holocaust itself could be considered one of the worst ‘social experiments’ in history. Not only was it Hitler’s goal to rid the world of the Jewish people and gypsies (just to name a few…), but it was also a greater goal to create a new world filled with only perfect people of the Aryan race. At the forefront of many unethical Nazi research studies was Josef Mengele. Most notable for his studies on twins during WWII, Mengele was the “prodigy” of Professor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, one of the premier minds in the field of
genetics. With his new association to the Nazi party, Mengele was now able to begin fulfilling his ambitions of becoming a renowned scientist and a genetic purifier.
After serving his time in the Nazi army Mengele rose to become one of the head doctors at Auschwitz where his goal was to unlock the secrets of genetic engineering and to devise methods for eradicating inferior gene strands from the human population as a means to creating a Germanic super-race. His work was funded through a grant that Professor von Verschuer had secured through the German Research Council in August of 1943. As people were herded from the arriving trains at Auschwitz Mengele called for all twins to be taken away to the Zoo (name of the barracks where the twins were kept). The twins at Auschwitz were treated surprisingly well. To many of the children Mengele did not connote fear. Often he would visit the children with candy filled pockets, and even some of the children referred to him as ‘Uncle Mengele’. Also twins were allowed to keep their hair and their own clothes. Mengele, however, had special plans for these children. He was only treating them well so that they would be ideal test subjects for his inhumane experiments. Preliminary examinations for the children were pretty standard…the children filled out a questionnaire, were weighed and measured. Furthermore, children were subjected to daily blood tests. Some of Mendele’s experiments on the children included taking the blood sample of one twin and injecting it into another twin of a different blood type and observing the reaction. This caused severe headaches and fevers that lasted for days. Mengele also wanted to discover if eye color could be genetically controlled. Dyes were injected into the eyes of many children, often times resulting in blindness and infections that were extremely painful. If these children were to die it is said that Mengele harvested the eyes and pinned them on his walls, not unlike biologists pinning insect samples to styrofoam. Mengele also liked to perform surgery sans anesthetic. It is said that he often removed hearts and examined stomach contents in this manner. Other children were subjected to spinal taps to see if the procedure was painful and still others were injected with diseases such as typhus and tuberculosis in order to see how long it took the disease go into full effect.
Though Mendele claimed to be conducting these experiments in the name of science, it was truly nothing more than the work of a madman and serial killer. because of the nature of these experiments no real scientific data or significant findings were discovered. Mengele, a man who is remembered by some surviving twins as a gentle man who loved children, was simply a ruthless killer struggling with dual personas. Mengele’s experiments not only examined twins, but also examined dwarfs, giants, and anyone else with a unique hereditary trait. Mengele didn’t simply become a leading doctor at Auschwitz, but he became Auschwitz in itself. There is no end to the countless ethical principles that Mengele, among many other Nazi scientists, violated and there is really no way to justify or correct these horrifying experiments to be acceptable. The only real benefit from stemming from these experiments and other Nazi studies is the Nuremberg Code, which is a set of research ethics principles that were a result of the Nuremberg Trials at the end of WWII.
As far as relating this ‘research’ back to our Worldplay Initiative, I think that the lack deception is a key component to conducting ethical research. During his time at Auschwitz Mengele was the king of deception. As prisoners exited arriving trains Mengele would often have an orchestra of prisoners serenading the new prisoners with a waltz and he gave candy to his child subjects. As we go forth with our research we need to remember that we must be 100% honest when interacting with others in order to ensure that we are trustworthy researchers with a positive goal in mind.