Karl Gebhardt : biography
Karl Franz Gebhardt (23 November 1897 in Haag in Oberbayern – 2 June 1948 in Landsberg Prison, Landsberg am Lech) was a German medical doctor. He served as Medical Superintendent of the Hohenlychen Sanatorium, Consulting Surgeon of the Waffen-SS, Chief Surgeon in the Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police, and personal physician to Heinrich Himmler.
Gebhardt was the main coordinator of a series of surgical experiments performed on inmates of the concentration camps at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz. These experiments were an attempt to defend his approach to the surgical management of grossly contaminated traumatic wounds, against the then-new innovations of antibiotic treatment of injuries acquired on the battlefield.
During the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Gebhardt stood trial in the Doctors' Trial (American Military Tribunal No. I). He was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and condemned to death on 20 August 1947. He was hanged on 2 June 1948, in Landsberg Prison in Bavaria.
World War II
Gebhardt served as Chief Surgeon of the Staff of the Reich during World War II, and under his direction the Hohenlychen Sanatorium became a military hospital for the Waffen-SS.
On 27 May 1942, Himmler ordered Gebhardt dispatched to Prague in order to attend to Reinhard Heydrich, who was wounded by an anti-tank grenade during Operation Anthropoid earlier that day. Heydrich was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, and the acting Reichsprotektor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. When Heydrich developed a fever after surgery for his extensive wounds, Theodor Morell, personal physician to Adolf Hitler, suggested to Gebhardt that he should treat Heydrich with sulfonamide (an early antibiotic). Gebhardt refused Morell's advice, expecting Heydrich to recover without antibiotic therapy. Heydrich died of sepsis on 4 June 1942, eight days after the attack. Gebhardt's refusal to prescribe sulfonamide contributed to Heydrich's death and had many unfortunate implications for concentration camp prisoners, upon whom he later conducted medical experiments.
In early 1944, Gebhardt treated Albert Speer for fatigue and a swollen knee. He nearly killed Speer until he was replaced by another doctor, Dr. Friedrich Koch, who intervened on Speer's behalf. Gebhardt eventually rose to the rank of Gruppenführer in the Allgemeine SS and a Generalleutnant in the Waffen-SS.
By 22 April 1945, the Soviet Army was massing to the immediate east of Berlin and Joseph Goebbels brought his wife and children into the Vorbunker. German dictator Adolf Hitler and a few loyal personnel were present in the adjoining Führerbunker to direct the final defence of Berlin. Gebhardt, in his capacity as leader of the German Red Cross, approached Goebbels about taking the children out of the city with him, but he was dismissed by Goebbels.
Medical experiments in concentration camps
During the war, Gebhardt conducted medical and surgical experiments on prisoners in the concentration camps at Ravensbrück (which was close to Hohenlychen Sanatorium) and Auschwitz. At Ravensbruck he had initially faced opposition from camp commandant Fritz Suhren, who feared future legal problems given the status of most camp inmates as political prisoners, but the SS leadership backed Gebhardt and Suhren was forced to cooperate.Heberer P, Matthäus J (2008). Atrocities on Trial: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Prosecuting War Crimes, University of Nebraska Press, p. 136
Gebhardt was blamed for the death of Reinhard Heydrich, which some believed could have been prevented had Heydrich been treated with sulfonamide. Himmler suggested to Gebhardt that he should conduct experiments proving that sulfonamide was useless in the treatment of gangrene and sepsis. In order to vindicate his decision to not administer sulfa drugs in treating Heydrich’s wounds, he carried out a series of experiments on Ravensbrück concentration camp prisoners, breaking their legs and infecting them with various organisms in order to prove the worthlessness of the drugs in treating gas gangrene. He also attempted to transplant the limbs from camp victims to German soldiers wounded on the Russian front. The Ravensbrück experiments were slanted in Gebhardt’s favor; women in the sulfonamide-treated experimental group received little or no nursing care, while those in the untreated control group received better care. Not surprisingly, those in the control group were more likely to survive the experiments.
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