Karl Gebhardt

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Karl Gebhardt
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Karl Franz Gebhardt

(1897-11-23)23 November 1897
Died2 June 1948(1948-06-02) (aged 50)
Cause of death Execution by hanging
Resting place Ostfriedhof (Munich)
Nationality German
Occupation Physician
Title SS-Gruppenführe and Generalleutnant of the Waffen-SS
Political party Nazi Party
Criminal charge War crimes, crimes against humanity
Criminal status convicted in the Doctors' Trial (9 December 1946–20 August 1947), part of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
AwardsKnight's Cross of the War Merit Cross

Karl Franz Gebhardt (23 November 1897 – 2 June 1948) was a German medical doctor and a war criminal during World War II. 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. [1]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Hohenlychen Sanatorium hospital

The Hohenlychen Sanatorium was a complex of sanatoriums in Lychen, Uckermark district, Germany, that was in use from 1902 to 1945. While the complex was originally built in 1902 to house tubercular children, by the 1930s the Hohenlychen Sanitorium had become one of the main medical facilities of the Schutzstaffel, where injured or convalescing SS-men were treated.

<i>Waffen-SS</i> armed wing of the Nazi Partys Schutzstaffel

The Waffen-SS was the armed wing of the Nazi Party's SS organisation. Its formations included men from Nazi Germany, along with volunteers and conscripts from both occupied and un-occupied lands.


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. [1]

Ravensbrück concentration camp Womens concentration camp in Germany during World War II

Ravensbrück was a German concentration camp exclusively for women from 1939 to 1945, located in northern Germany, 90 km (56 mi) north of Berlin at a site near the village of Ravensbrück. The largest single national group consisted of 40,000 Polish women. Others included 26,000 Jewish women from various countries: 18,800 Russian, 8,000 French, and 1,000 Dutch. More than 80 percent were political prisoners. Many slave labor prisoners were employed by Siemens & Halske. From 1942 to 1945, medical experiments to test the effectiveness of sulfonamides were undertaken.

Auschwitz concentration camp German network of concentration and extermination camps in occupied Poland during World War II

The Auschwitz concentration camp was a complex of more than 40 Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust. It consisted of Auschwitz I, the main camp (Stammlager) and administrative headquarters in Oświęcim; Auschwitz II–Birkenau, a combined concentration and extermination camp three kilometers away in Brzezinka; Auschwitz III–Monowitz, a labor camp seven kilometers from Auschwitz I set up to staff an IG Farben synthetic-rubber factory; and dozens of other subcamps.

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 sentenced to death on 20 August 1947. He was hanged on 2 June 1948, in Landsberg Prison in Bavaria. [1]

Doctors trial Post-World War II trial of German doctors for war crimes

The Doctors' trial was the first of 12 trials for war crimes of German doctors that the United States authorities held in their occupation zone in Nuremberg, Germany, after the end of World War II. These trials were held before US military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms at the Palace of Justice. The trials are collectively known as the "Subsequent Nuremberg Trials", formally the "Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals" (NMT).

Military justice is the body of laws and procedures governing members of the armed forces. Many nation-states have separate and distinct bodies of law that govern the conduct of members of their armed forces. Some states use special judicial and other arrangements to enforce those laws, while others use civilian judicial systems. Legal issues unique to military justice include the preservation of good order and discipline, the legality of orders, and appropriate conduct for members of the military. Some states enable their military justice systems to deal with civil offenses committed by their armed forces in some circumstances.

War crime Serious violation of the laws of war

A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction and proportionality, such as strategic bombing of civilian populations.

Career before World War II

In his student days Gebhardt had been a supporter of the national counter-revolutionary movement and was active among other things in the Volunteer Corps "the Upland Alliance." Gebhardt studied medicine in Munich beginning in 1919. [1] In 1924, after two years as an unpaid assistant physician he received a post as an intern at the Surgical Clinic of the University of Munich. [2] Gebhardt trained under the tutelage of Ferdinand Sauerbruch and later under Erich Lexer, finally gaining his habilitation in 1932. [1] Gebhardt had a distinguished career prior to World War II, contributing a great deal to the development of the field of sports medicine. He wrote articles on physical medicine and rehabilitation, a textbook on sports rehabilitation [3] and he disseminated his ideas in Germany and throughout the rest of Europe. [4]

Medicine The science and practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of physical and mental illnesses

Medicine is the science and practice of establishing the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Medicine encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness. Contemporary medicine applies biomedical sciences, biomedical research, genetics, and medical technology to diagnose, treat, and prevent injury and disease, typically through pharmaceuticals or surgery, but also through therapies as diverse as psychotherapy, external splints and traction, medical devices, biologics, and ionizing radiation, amongst others.

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Medical intern is a term used in some countries to describe a physician in training who has completed medical school and has a medical degree, but does not yet have a full license to practice medicine unsupervised. Medical education generally ends with a period of practical training similar to internship, but the way the overall program of academic and practical medical training is structured differs depending upon the country, as does the terminology used.

Gebhardt's Nazi career began with him joining the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, more commonly known as the Nazi Party) on 1 May 1933. In 1935, he moved to Berlin, where he was appointed associate professor. That year, Gebhardt joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) and was also appointed Medical Superintendent of Hohenlychen Sanatorium in the Uckermark, [1] which he changed from a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients into an orthopedic clinic. At Hohenlychen Sanatorium, Gebhardt started the first sports medicine clinic in Germany and developed sports programs for amputees and other disabled people. Gebhardt was also appointed to the Deutsche Hochschule für Leibesübungen (German College for Physical Education) in 1935, where he became the first professor of sports medicine in Berlin. [4]

National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism, is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party – officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party – in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar aims.

Nazi Party Fascist political party in Germany (1920-1945)

The National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party, existed from 1919 to 1920.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

In 1936 he distinguished himself in his post as a head of the Medical Department of the Akademie für Sport und Leibeserziehung (Academy for Exercise and Physical Training) as senior physician of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Hohenlychen Sanatorium became the sports sanatorium for the Third Reich and served as the central hospital for the athletes who participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics. In 1937 he became chair holder for orthopedic surgery at the University of Berlin. In 1938, Gebhardt was appointed as Heinrich Himmler's personal physician. [4]

1936 Summer Olympics games of the XI Olympiad, celebrated in Berlin in 1936

The 1936 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event held in 1936 in Berlin, Nazi Germany. Berlin won the bid to host the Games over Barcelona, Spain, on 26 April 1931, at the 29th IOC Session in Barcelona. It marked the second and final time the International Olympic Committee gathered to vote in a city that was bidding to host those Games.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Humboldt University of Berlin university in Berlin, Germany

Humboldt University of Berlin is a university in the central borough of Mitte in Berlin, Germany. It was established by Frederick William III on the initiative of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher as the University of Berlin in 1809, and opened in 1810, making it the oldest of Berlin's four universities. From 1810 until its closure in 1945, it was named Friedrich Wilhelm University. During the Cold War the university found itself in East Berlin and was de facto split in two when the Free University of Berlin opened in West Berlin. The university received its current name in honour of Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1949.

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. [4]

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. [5] 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. [6] 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. [7] [8]

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. [9] Gebhardt eventually rose to the rank of Gruppenführer in the Allgemeine SS and a Generalleutnant in the Waffen-SS.[ citation needed ]

By 22 April 1945, the day before the Red Army entered the outskirts of Berlin, Joseph Goebbels brought his wife and children into the Vorbunker to stay. German dictator Adolf Hitler and a few loyal personnel were present in the adjoining Führerbunker to direct the final defence of Berlin. [10] 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. [11]

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. [12]

In order to absolve Gebhardt for his failure to prescribe sulfonamide for Heydrich, 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. [7] [8]

Trial and execution

Photograph of Karl Gebhardt as a defendant in the Doctors' Trial at Nuremberg. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Karl Gebhardt, SS-Arzt.jpg
Photograph of Karl Gebhardt as a defendant in the Doctors' Trial at Nuremberg. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

During the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Gebhardt stood trial in the Doctors' Trial (9 December 194620 August 1947), along with 22 other doctors. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death on 20 August 1947. He was hanged on 2 June 1948, in Landsberg Prison in Bavaria. [1]

Two of Gebhardt's assistants were also tried and convicted at Nuremberg. Fritz Fischer worked in the hospital of the Ravensbrück concentration camp as a surgical assistant to Gebhardt, and participated in the surgical experiments carried out on the inmates. [13] He was initially condemned to life imprisonment, but his sentence was reduced to 15 years in 1951 and he was released in March 1954. Fischer subsequently regained his medical license and resumed his career at the chemical company Boehringer Ingelheim, where he remained employed until his retirement. He died in 2003 at the age of 90.[ citation needed ]

Herta Oberheuser was another of Gebhardt's assistants at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was the only female defendant in the Doctors' Trial, where she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. She was released in April 1952 and became a family doctor in Stocksee, Germany. She lost her position in 1956 after a Ravensbrück survivor recognized her, and her medical license was revoked in 1958. [14] She died on 24 January 1978 at the age of 66.[ citation needed ]

See also

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