“The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole,” stated Moshe Katsav, former president of Israel. The Holocaust not only deeply impacted the Jewish people, but it created new laws about the treatment of human beings. After Germany lost WWI Hitler did not want to blame himself for the loss and instead he blamed the Jews. This led to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a devastating period in history. Approximately 11 million people were killed. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) The Holocaust was a turning point in history because it made nations pledge to prevent the crime of “genocide”, established criminal trials for government officials who commit crimes against humanity, and created the idea of “informed consent” for medical experimentation on human beings.
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Before the beginning of WWII, there was prevalent religious persecution against the Jewish people in Europe. When WWII started Hitler saw the Jews and many other groups of people as inferior races. Once WWII officially started, the mass killing of Jews began. Surprisingly, the Nazis were not even officially instructed to get rid of the large Jewish population until Hitler gave the order in the second half of 1941.
As soon as Hitler declared genocide on the Jews the death rates skyrocketed. “To use a modern comparison, about three thousand people were killed in the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. Between June 1941 and March 1945, an average of four thousand European Jews were murdered every day.” (Downing 4) The Nazis utilized many tactics to kill the Jews. Such as leaving them to freeze or starve, working them to death, shooting them and burying them in mass graves, and gassing them to death in gas chambers.
Possibly the greatest contributor to the millions of deaths of the Jews was the concentration camps, especially the death camps. At these camps, the Nazi soldiers killed or severely punished the Jews if they thought that they had said or done something hostile. Many were killed just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Nazis had many methods of killing, the three most notorious were executions into mass graves, the gas chambers, and uninformed medical experimentation. Before the gas chambers, one of the biggest ways that the Nazis killed Jews was by mass executions. They would either have mass hangings or mass shootings. Many Nazi soldiers forced the Jews to sit on the edge of the mass grave while the soldier would shoot them in the back. The gas chambers started when Heinrich Himmler, Nazi special force leader, noticed that shooting the Jews was putting too much stress on his men. They got the idea of the gas chambers for the T-4 Euthanasia Program which killed seventy thousand people with disabilities. Most of these gas chambers were in death camps such as Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. As many as 2,000 people were killed in the gas chambers at once. Many gas chambers used Zyklon B, and hydrogen cyanide-based fumigant, to kill the Jews almost instantly. (USHMM)
One more common atrocity that was committed in these concentration camps was using the prisoners as human test subjects for their experimentation of medicines and procedures. As a result, many died or were severely and permanently injured. Some of these experiments were Lost (Mustard) Gas Experiments (September 1939 and April 1945), Sulfanilamide Experiments (from about July 1942 to about September 1943); and Bone, Muscle, and Nerve Regeneration and Bone Transplantation Experiments (from about September 1942 to about December 1943) (Nuremberg Military Trials: Indictments) There were many more experiments that were conducted, all of which were just as physically and emotionally painful as the next.
As a result of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, “twenty-two major Nazi war criminals were brought before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany, commenced in November 1945 and extended to October 1946.” (Rice 7) The IMT was a joint tribunal between the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France. These four allied nations were the nations to convict these Nazi war criminals. These trials called the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings, or the Nuremberg Trials were, and still are very controversial. More than a half-century later, controversy still rages over the previously nonexistent charges (created only after the alleged crimes had been committed); and whether the Allies really sought a just judgment or merely to vindictively punish a defeated nation. (Rice 8) By the end of 1942 when the Nazis had control of most of Europe, the reports of the Nazi atrocities escalated and people were informed of the brutality the Jews were facing from the Nazis there was a greater push to do something about it.
The action that was taken was the Moscow Declaration. In October 1943 at the Moscow Conference of the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, representatives of the three principal Allied nations, met to reconcile differences and define a common postwar policy. (Rice 9) On November 1, 1943, the allied nations released a unified policy statement called the Moscow Declaration. The declaration warned that “ At the time of the granting of any armistice to any Government which may be set up in Germany those German officers and men and members of the Nazi Party who in … atrocities, massacres, and executions will be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done, in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of these liberated countries and the Governments which will be erected therein.” (Rice 9) This statement set up the basis for the Nuremberg trials.
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One of the largest reasons that top Nazi officials were standing trial was because of the lack of informed consent in human experimentation. When held in the trial many of the accused officials “attempted to excuse themselves by arguing that there were no explicit rules governing medical research on human beings in Germany during the period and that research practices in Germany were not different from those in allied countries.” (Vollmann, Winau). It was not until the Nuremberg Code that there were any rules for human experimentation on human beings. The Nuremberg Code of 1947 is regarded as the first document to set ethical regulations in human experimentation based on informed consent. (Vollmann, Winau) These early regulations came about after public discussion and political debate, not by the medical profession. (Vollmann, Winau)
At the Nuremberg trials, 185 Nazi officials were put on trial. There were 12 subsequent proceedings, 24 death sentences, 92 prison sentences, and 69 were either found not guilty of not fit to stand trial. (Truman Presidential Museum and Library) The most famous trial that was held was the medical trial held against the medical professionals that would experiment on the Jews without informed consent. There were 24 people that were held in this trial. One of them committed suicide before the trial and another was deemed unfit to stand trial. The 24 “major '' war criminals were people such as Hitler's physician, high ranking military officials, and leaders of the Nazi's special force.
After the Nuremberg Trials, there was new research that uncovered ethical issues of informed consent, or permission granted in the knowledge of the possible consequences, in human experimentation as early as the nineteenth century. After much critical public discussion and political debate, the Nuremberg code was created. The code explains that the voluntary consent of the human subject is essential, that the human subject should be able to stop the experiment, the experiment should be conducted by a trained professional, and the experiment should not inflict any physical or emotional pain on the subject. In the code, basic elements of the modern legal concept of informed consent can be found.
The Holocaust had a great effect on world history. As a result, there were trials held against German officials that committed crimes against humanity, and new laws were created that are still followed today. The events of Holocaust had a substantial effect on not only the Jewish population, but also the Nazi party. Because of the Holocaust, there will be an everlasting effect on the victims and their descendants. It would be disaster if this ever happened again.
- “Background Essay on the Nuremberg Trials.” Truman Presidential Museum and Library.
- Bard, Mitchell Geoffrey. The Nuremberg Trials. Greenhaven Press, 2002.
- “A Changed World: The Continuing Impact of the Holocaust.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/aftermath.
- Downing, David. The Nazi Death Camps. World Almanac Library, 2006.
- Downing, David. Toward Genocide. World Almanac Library, 2006.
- “Nuremberg Military Trials: Indictments.” Military Legal Resources.
- Rice, Earle. The Nuremberg Trials. Lucent Books, 1997.
- Vollmann, Jochen, and Rolf Winau. “Informed Consent in Human Experimentation before the Nuremberg Code.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 7 Dec. 1996, www.bmj.com/content/313/7070/1445.short.
- “War Crimes.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/war-crimes-trials.
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