JR Silver
Journal Issue: 
Volume 41: Issue 4: 2011


Karl Gebhardt (1897–1948) had a distinguished career as professor of sports medicine before the Second World War. He developed sports for the disabled at a specialised orthopaedic clinic at Hohenlychen and was President of the Red Cross in Germany. During the war, Gebhardt also acted as Heinrich Himmler’s personal physician and was responsible for medical experimentation on prisoners in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. In his capacity as SS consultant surgeon, he treated Reinhard Heydrich (a high ranking Nazi official, also known as ‘the Hangman’1) after an attempt was made on his life. When Heydrich died, Gebhardt was accused of failing to treat him with sulphonamides. To prove his innocence 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. He was tried after the war and executed for these crimes in 1948. This paper explores the paradox of a gifted doctor who was also the perpetrator of inhuman crimes.