Typhus is a virulent, louse-borne disease that is often rampant in unclean environments, such as a battlefield or concentration camp, and thus the Germans urgently sought a vaccine. By the fall and winter of 1941, typhus was running rampant on the Eastern Front, decimating German ranks like Stalin’s guns. Dr. Siegfried Handloser, at a conference held at Buchenwald on December 29, 1941, directed the medical chiefs present to conduct experiments with chicken-egg-yolk vaccine on inmates who were to be deliberately infected with the typhus virus. The German chemical firm I.G. Farben, manufacturers of the poison gas Zyklon-B that was used in the Nazis’ various gas chambers, was contracted to produce the typhus vaccine.
At that December 29th conference, Buchenwald was selected to become the main facility for testing anti-typhus vaccines (the others being the Typhus and Virus Institute of the Army in Cracow, Poland, and the concentration camps of Schirmeck and Natzweiler-Struthof, both in France). Dr. Joachim Mrugowsky, head of the Hygenic Institute of the Waffen-SS in Berlin, directed SS-HauptsturmfÃ¼hrer Dr. Erwin Ding, Buchenwald’s then-chief doctor, to conduct tests of various anti-typhus vaccines. In response, Ding opened the Typhus and Virus Institute in Block 46 at Buchenwald. During Ding’s first experiments, fresh blood was injected into five inmates who had been deliberately infected with the disease; all the subjects died.
After supervising typhus experiments at Sachsenhausen, Dr. Mrugowsky joined Ding at Buchenwald where they infected hundreds of inmates with the disease, then tried various vaccines in human-subject trials in Block 46 beginning on January 6, 1942——trials that continued nonstop until March 1945. Dr. Ding (who later changed his name to Schuler) outwardly appeared to be pleasant, intellectual, and gentle——not the kind of evil scientist that one stereotypically associates with Nazi doctors. And yet his gentle smile and relaxed manner made his murderous deeds all that much more chilling.
After earning his medical degree (through the assistance of the Nazi Party), he became indebted to the Nazis and was more than willing to do their bidding; he became quite adept at killing inmates quickly with injections of phenol.
Before the war began, Dr. Ding had joined the SS Totenkopf Division and served as a surgeon until August 1940, when he transferred to the Hygenic Institute of the Waffen SS and was assigned to study the typhus problem. This led Ding to Buchenwald, where he replaced the camp’s previous chief doctor, SS-HauptsturmfÃ¼hrer Hannes “Hans” Eisele.
At Buchenwald, Ding soon acquired a reputation as one of the most sadistic of the camp doctors. One post-war assessment said that he was “a very ambitious man who was apparently willing to engage in any professional activity which he thought might further his medical career. He gladly seized upon the opportunity to conduct experiments on concentration camp inmates in connection with the vaccine study. Every German officer holding a position comparable to that held by Dr. Ding was required to keep a journal or diary showing his official activities. It appears that Dr. Ding kept two diaries. Ding’s personal diary containing official and personal entries and work reports had disappeared; his official log or journal concerning his work at Buchenwald is the document in evidence [at his war-crimes trial].”
Vivien Spitz, a court reporter at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and author of Doctors From Hell, noted, “In the beginning, subjects were infected artificially by lacerating the skin and introducing a typhus culture from contagious lice.This changed in 1943 when subjects were injected with fresh blood containing the typhus virus intravenously or intramuscularly. Of twenty-five subjects, nineteen died.”
Eugen Kogon, an inmate working as Ding’s clerk in Block 46, recalled a far higher number. Kogon noted that, “All in all, about a thousand prisoners passed through Ward 46. Some of them had the good fortune to be used only in blood-bank tests, or in other experiments that, for one reason or another, stopped short of actual infection. Of the remainder of some 450 persons, 158 died….”
Dr. Alfred Balochowsky, an inmate working in the Buchenwald typhus laboratory, was required to take part in obtaining cultures of the typhus germs with which the human guinea pigs were infected. He noted, “A constant supply of these cultures was kept in Block 46 by means of the contamination of healthy individuals through sick ones. Now, it is well known that artificial inoculation of typhus by intravenous injection is invariably fatal. Therefore, all these men who were used for bacterial culture during the whole time such cultures were required died, and we counted 600 victims sacrificed for the sole purpose of supplying typhus germs.”
In another typhus experiment, a group of inmates, selected from the healthier ones who had developed some resistance to the disease, was injected with an unproven vaccine.Thereafter, all the persons in the group were infected with typhus. At the same time, other inmates who had not been vaccinated were also infected for purposes of comparison——a so-called “control” group. Still others were intentionally infected for the sole purpose of keeping the typhus virus alive and generally available in the bloodstream of the inmates for future research. The experiments continued until November 1944. Ding’s underlings——Buchenwald physicians Dr. Arthur Dietsche and Dr. Waldemar Hoven, the latter one of Ilse Koch’s lovers——selected the test subjects from the inmate population and assisted Ding.
Another of Ding’s clerks was a German political prisoner named Walter Poller. He described Ding as being “a highly intelligent man, who was well- mannered, of an agreeable disposition, friendly, and sometimes actually genial. His features were rather pleasant than stern, his eyes lively and observant. Above all, he was exceptionally self-assured, and I was repeatedly surprised at the ease with which he always found a way out of the most complicated situation…. Nobody who knew Dr. Ding could avoid the impression that he was a man of undoubted talent and even fine character.”
Euthanasia was commonplace at Buchenwald. As Ding himself testified after the war, prisoners were often selected to be murdered without any explanation to the person assigned to do the killing. “I do not remember a diagnosis as to why euthanasia was to take place, but probably I did not ask about it, either,” Ding admitted at trial. “They [the victim] sat down quietly on a chair…. A male nurse blocked the vein in the arm, and Dr. Hoven quickly injected the phenol. They died in an immediate total convulsion during the actual injection without any sign of other pain. The time between the beginning of the injection and death [of the inmate] I estimate at about one-half second.”
Dr. Hoven admitted after the war, “In some instances I supervised the killing of these unworthy inmates by injections of phenol at the request of the inmates. These killings took place in the camp hospital…. On one occasion Dr. Ding came to witness the killings with phenol and said that I was not doing it correctly, therefore, he performed some of the injections himself. At that time three inmates were killed with phenol injections, and they died within a minute.
“The total number of [inmates] killed was about 150, of whom 60 were killed by phenol injections, either by myself or under my supervision in the camp hospital, and the rest were killed by various means, such as beatings, by the inmates.”
Killing their human test subjects quickly and quietly via injection was something at which the camp doctors became quite adept. Inmate Eugen Kogon recalled that SS Dr. Hoven “finished off a whole row of prisoners with injections of sodium evipan,” then “strolled from the operating room, a cigarette in his hand, merrily whistling ‘The End of a Perfect Day.’”