Pathways to human experimentation, 1933-1945: Germany, Japan, and the United States

Osiris. 2005;20:205-31. doi: 10.1086/649419.


The history of human experimentation in the twelve years between Hitler's rise to power and the end of the Second World War is notorious in the annals of the twentieth century. The horrific experiments conducted at Dachau, Auschwitz, Ravensbrueck, Birkenau, and other National Socialist concentration camps reflected an extreme indifference to human life and human suffering. Unfortunately, they do not reflect the extent and complexity of the human experiments undertaken in the years between 1933 and 1945. Following the prosecution of twenty-three high-ranking National Socialist physicians and medical administrators for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg Medical Trial (United States v. Karl Brandt et al.), scholars have rightly focused attention on the nightmarish researches conducted by a small group of investigators on concentration camp inmates. Less well known are alternative pathways that brought investigators to undertake human experimentation in other laboratories, settings, and nations.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemical Warfare / history*
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / history
  • Concentration Camps / history*
  • Ethics, Research / history*
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • Human Experimentation / ethics
  • Human Experimentation / history*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Political Systems / history
  • United States
  • War Crimes / history*
  • World War II*


  • Chemical Warfare Agents