Experiments in reversal of hormonal polarity at Buchenwald

ln contrast to the compulsory castration and typhus fever experiments, the hormonal experiments on homosexual men at Buchenwald are quite well documented. They were conducted in strict secrecy on the orders of the SS by the Danish doctor Carl Peter Jensen, alias Carl Vaernet. He went to Germany in 1942 after being forced to give up a practice he had had in Copenhagen since 1934. His contact with the leader of the Danish Nazi Party, his colleague Frits Clausen, must already have cost him a lot of patients in the first year of the war. In summer 1943 he was brought to Himmler's attention by the SS Reich Doctor, Dr Grawitz. Vaernet's claim that his hormonal research in the thirties had made it possible to cure homosexual men aroused Himmler's undivided interest. He gave instructions for Vaernet to be treated with 'the utmost generosity', and to be given the possibility of continuing his research in a Prague cover firm coming under the Reichsführer-SS, 'German Medicines Ltd.' By July 1944 he was in a position to start the human experiments. Buchenwald concentration camp was instructed to place five prisoners at his disposal.

Surviving documents tell us about the choice and temporal sequence of the experiments. Together with Schiedlausky, the Waffen-SS garrison doctor at Weimar-Buchenwald, Vaernet first selected the five prisoners during a visit to Buchenwald in late July 1944, then nominated a further ten on 8 December. According to a memorandum (from the prisoners'sick bay?) four of the five selected in July were identified as homosexuals and one as an SV or Sittlichkeitsverbrecher [sex criminel]. Of the December batch all we know (from a memorandum drawn up in October) is that six of them had been castrated. It is very likely that these too were pink-triangle prisoners, so that altogether at least ten male homosexuals would have been subjected to Vaernet's experiments.

A total of fifteen prisoners were selected. Vaernet 'operated' on twelve men - if that term can be applied at all in the nightmarish conditions of the camp. What actually happened is that he made an incision in the groin and implanted a hormone preparation in the form of a briquette; the release of hormones was then checked through examination of the blood and urine.

What seems to us today a macabre experiment was heralded by Vaernet as a great success. But in his reports to the SS leadership he did not say a word about one effect which was nevertheless quite apparent to him. If the victims readily gave the answers expected of them, they did so partly at least in the hope that they would be pronounced 'cured' and soon released from the terrible reality of the concentration camp. To the SS Reich Doctor Vaernet suggested three results of 'direct importance to the war': the maintenance or restoration of a full capacity for work, the better possibilities of sustenance, and an increase in the birth-rate.

Little is known of the victims' fate. One prisoner was already dead by December 1944. But of those who may have survived, we do not know of any who applied for compensation after 1945. (This is true also of persons born after 1910, who might have been likely to take advantage of the new regulations for the compensation of victims of sterilization and castration that came into force in the late 1980s.)

As for the perpetrators, the experiments were not explicitly mentioned in the list of charges at the Nuremberg doctors' trial. The SS doctors Schiedlausky and Ding were condemned to death for other profoundly inhuman experiments. Vaernet himself evaded responsibility by fleeing to South America.

Source : Hidden Holocaust ?, Günter Grau, London: Cassell, 1995. Translated from German by Patrick Camiller.

Photo (en bas) : Carl Vaernet ; (en haut) : Expérience pratiquée sur un déporté par le personnel médical de Buchenwald.

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