Malaria and World War II: German malaria experiments 1939-45

Parassitologia. 2000 Jun;42(1-2):53-8.


The epidemiological and pharmacological fight against malaria and German malaria research during the Nazi dictatorship were completely under the spell of war. The Oberkommando des Heeres (German supreme command of the army) suffered the bitter experience of unexpected high losses caused by malaria especially at the Greek front (Metaxes line) but also in southern Russia and in the Ukraine. Hastily raised anti-malaria units tried to teach soldiers how to use the synthetic malaria drugs (Plasmochine, Atebrine) properly. Overdoses of these drugs were numerous during the first half of the war whereas in the second half it soon became clear that it would not be possible to support the army due to insufficient quantities of plasmochine and atebrine. During both running fights and troop withdrawals at all southern and southeastern fronts there was hardly any malaria prophylaxis or treatment. After war and captivity many soldiers returned home to endure heavy malaria attacks. In German industrial (Bayer, IG-Farben) and military malaria laboratories of the Heeres-Sanitäts-Akademie (Army Medical Academy) the situation was characterised by a hasty search for proper dosages of anti-malaria drugs, adequate mechanical and chemical prophylaxis (Petroleum, DDT, and other insecticides) as well as an anti-malaria vaccine. Most importantly, large scale research for proper atebrine and plasmochine dosages was conducted in German concentration camps and mental homes. In Dachau Professor Claus Schilling tested synthetic malaria drugs and injected helpless prisoners with high and sometimes lethal doses. Since the 1920s he had been furiously looking for an anti-malaria vaccine in Italian mental homes and from 1939 he continued his experiments in Dachau. Similar experiments were also performed in Buchenwald and in a psychiatric clinic in Thuringia, where Professor Gerhard Rose tested malaria drugs with mentally ill Russian prisoners of war. Schilling was put to death for his criminal research in 1946, Rose was condemned to lifelong imprisonment in 1947, though, not for his malaria research but for his dreadful experiments with epidemic typhus sera which he also had performed in concentration camps and with prisoners of war in Russia.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Concentration Camps
  • DDT
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Human Experimentation*
  • Humans
  • Insecticides
  • Malaria* / drug therapy
  • Political Systems
  • Quinacrine / therapeutic use
  • Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Warfare*


  • Antimalarials
  • Insecticides
  • DDT
  • Quinacrine

Personal name as subject

  • C Schilling