Journal Article

‘The Scars of Ravensbrück’: Medical Experiments and British War Crimes Policy, 1945-1950

Ulf Schmidt

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 23, issue 1, pages 20-49
Published in print January 2005 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online January 2005 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/0266355405gh334oa
‘The Scars of Ravensbrück’: Medical Experiments and British War Crimes Policy, 1945-1950

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Although the fiftieth anniversary of the Nazi Doctors' Trial in 1946 and 1947 sparked significant debate about medical research ethics and the origins of the Nuremberg Code, historians have so far paid little, if any, attention to Allied war crimes policy on the investigation of German medical atrocities, of which the Ravensbrück trials formed part. British war crimes policy, in particular, was concerned with medical war crimes committed by German scientists at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Much of the evidence against some key defendants at the Doctors' Trial was compiled by British experts and made available to the US prosecution. Although the British investigated this group, some of the defendants were later extradited and tried with the Nuremberg doctors. To date, little has been written about the broader political and legal context of the first Ravensbrück trial, its origin, and overall place in the context of Allied denazification policy. The article investigates the genesis of the Ravensbrück trial and the extensive investigations and discussions that preceded its opening. It looks at how members of the German public perceived the Ravensbrück trial, and contextualizes the British response to criticism levelled against it at the dawn of the Cold War. It aims, in part, to reconstruct the wider historical context of postwar British policy on medical war crimes, and suggests that British war crimes investigations conducted in preparation for the Ravensbrück trials formed one of the most substantial bodies of legal testimony and scientific expertise on human rights violations in experimental human research before the establishment of the Nazi Doctors' Trial. The article also acknowledges Britain's contribution to the war crimes programme, and emphasises that the memory of the first Ravensbrück trial has largely been overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the Nuremberg trials.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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