Online Module: The Holocaust and Fundamental Rights

Doc. 3: Cross examination of the SS-doctor Herta Oberheuser

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In her cross-examination in 1946 Herta Oberheuser denies any responsibility in the murder of inmates and pretends not to remember important facts.

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  • Angelika Ebbinghaus/Klaus Dörner (Eds.), Vernichten und Heilen. Der Nürnberger Ärzteprozess und seine Folgen, Berlin 2001.

Question: “[…] You indicated, Miss Oberheuser, that the operations were carried out by Dr Fritz Fischer, and you say: ‘sometimes assisted with the operations and had the task of caring for the patients after the operations‘. Now, was it or was it not your duty to care for these patients after the operations?

Answer: I understood it to be my duty and hoped to be able to help here as a woman too, because I saw a chance that the women would be pardoned, and I thought I could help here as a woman.

[...] I was told by Prof. Gebhardt, as I have already said in my direct interrogation, that it had been ordered on the highest level, that the state had ordered it, and that it was legal and, in any case, that the experiments were not supposed to be dangerous, and besides, that they were Poles who had been sentenced to death. [...]

[...] I did not know anything about it at first. Then I would also like to say that my position was that of a subaltern [subordinate] assistant doctor, and a specialist at that. I had no disciplinary power. I was the complete opposite of the SS. [...]

Did you not know then, that the sulphonamides experiments caused considerable pain to the subjects?

The way they were carried out, I do not believe that the patients suffered that much; because they never expressed any kind of disagreement, either with the treatment by Professor Gebhardt, or by Dr Fischer. I myself never had any difficulties, but always believed that they were pleased with my care, and moreover they had a chance of being pardoned.

Now, Doctor, these girls, after they were operated on, did they walk around smiling and saying: ‘I’m glad that Dr Fischer operated on me?‘

It wasn’t quite like that: but I never heard anything to the contrary; it was never the case that they expressed any hatred towards me. To be precise, they were always glad if I was there when their bandages were changed.

Did you ever consider, Dr Oberheuser, that these girls might potentially suffer serious mental depression, because of the pain they had to go through during the experiments, and the fact that, in later life, they were no longer able to walk?

 I am sure that they suffered serious mental distress; but that was probably before, because after all, they were expecting to be executed, because they lived in the block where people lived when they had been sentenced to death, and where they saw a chance of a reprieve in precisely this operation, and in any case only a few of them were seriously injured because the others healed very quickly and the disease pattern was actually just that of a boil. […]

How many people did you kill with injections of petroleum ether in the Ravensbrück camp before these fatalities arose as a result of the sulphonamide experiments?

I killed nobody.

How many people did you help with this so-called mercy killing, before the deaths of these girls, who were subjected to the experiments, took place?

What I did was not mercy killing. It was medical help for suffering patients in their death throes.

What injections did you give to these patients to minimise their suffering?

I gave morphine and then I got another mixture from the ward doctor. I don’t know exactly what it contained.

This mixture contained petroleum ether, did it not?

I cannot say. [...] I do not know myself precisely what it was. I got it from the garrison doctor.

Do you mean to tell me that you could not tell if you were carrying out a petroleum ether injection on a person or not? Could you not smell the petroleum ether?

I gave the garrison doctor the syringe and he drew up the liquid, and I do not know.




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