Attempts to exterminate the Polish people under the pretext of fighting tuberculosis during the 1939-1945 Nazi German occupation of Poland

How to cite: Kłodziński, Stanisław. Attempts to exterminate the Polish people under the pretext of fighting tuberculosis during the 1939-1945 Nazi German occupation of Poland. Kapera, Marta, trans. Medical Review – Auschwitz. June 22, 2021. Originally published as “Próby biologicznego wyniszczenia narodu polskiego pod pozorem „walki z gruźlicą” w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej 1939-1945 r.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1962: 70-77.


Stanisław Kłodzinski, MD, 1918–1990, lung specialist, Department of Pneumology, Academy of Medicine in Kraków. Co-editor of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. Former prisoner of the Auschwitz‑Birkenau concentration camp, prisoner No. 20019. Wikipedia article in English.

A preliminary report from the Kraków Medical Academy Lung Disease Clinic, Head: Prof. Stanisław Hornung, MD

The correspondence preserved in the records of the Nuremberg Trials1 shows that the Germans were planning to kill tubercular Poles in the Reichsgau Wartheland.2 The aim of this study is to publish and disseminate some historical facts that are not well-known to Polish physicians. The documents gathered for the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial demonstrate that if medicine is used in the service of an inhumane ideology and policy, it can become a powerful tool of destruction for the annihilation of human beings, instead of serving on their behalf. It would be wrong and superficial to infer from those few trials of Nazi physicians which were held after the war that Hitler’s plans to act against humanity had just a few individual supporters. There were hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of doctors who implemented those criminal projects, and among them were professors of medicine and internationally recognised specialists who were mentors to younger generations of medical professionals. For example, there were about forty SS physicians working in Auschwitz alone, so we need to realise that the overall figure was much higher given the number of all the concentration camps, experimental institutes, euthanasia centres, and other medical establishments that were run by the Germans in the occupied countries. The purpose of discussing these matters is to make the world understand what happens when science takes the path of crime and to condemn Nazi ideology. However, the world seems to be tired of the war atrocities and would be glad to forget about them without charting a clear new course to follow. We have enough evidence to prove that: the Federal Republic of Germany, the successor of the Third Reich,3 has not meted out punishment to all the war criminals yet, and many other countries have been granting asylum to them, while Interpol is not prosecuting them for murder.

There are many instances of intentional cover-ups of war crimes or wilful distortion of facts related to them. The Nuremberg Trials and other similar proceedings have formally dealt with just a fraction of those cases which showed the whole world that some Nazi applications of medicine violated the principles of ethics and moral standards.

To help the reader understand why German medicine strayed from the right path, I shall present an overview of the Nazi plan to euthanise patients affected with incurable diseases.

Hitler introduced eugenics into the Nazi Party’s programme. The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (Das Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses) was enacted on 14 July 1933,4 and in March 1934 it was supplemented with an interpretive commentary by Ernst Rüdin, Arthur Gütt and Falk Ruttke.5 This legislation paved the way for acts of “mercy death” (Gnadentod) that befell the mentally ill and the crimes of genocide perpetrated against ethnic groups considered inferior, e.g. Jews, Slavs, and Roma.

In his Nuremberg testimony (US Military Tribunal, Transcript of the Proceedings in Case 1, p. 2413), Prof. Karl Brandt6 stated that already in 1935 Hitler said that “since war was approaching, he was going to come back to the issue of euthanasia and put it in force, because he knew that this solution would be simpler and easier to implement in wartime: the general turmoil would prevent too much resistance from ecclesiastical circles, which could otherwise be expected.” Indeed, having defeated Poland in 1939, Hitler told Karl Brandt and Philipp Bouhler,7 chief of the Führer’s Chancellery, that he wanted euthanasia used in a more definitive way. In late October 1939 he signed an order antedated to 1 September, which said that Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr Brandt were entrusted with the duty to extend the powers of designated physicians, authorising them to take “mercy killing” decisions for patients diagnosed to be in an incurable condition. Such decisions were to be made “objectively and on the grounds of human judgment” (document 630 PS).

The first recommendations were drafted by Bouhler and his deputy, Viktor Brack;8 12-15 authorised physicians; Dr Herbert Linden,9 an official of the Ministry of the Interior; as well as three euphemistically named organisations: Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft Heil- und Pflegeanstalten (RAG),10 which sent out and collected questionnaires on the basis of which patients were selected for death; Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Anstaltspflege,11 which supervised the financial matters; and Gemeinnützige Krankentransportgesellschaft,12 which transported patients to their last destination. Those who studied the questionnaires to decide about patients’ life or death included Profs. Werner Heyde,13 Paul Nitsche,14 and Max de Crinis.15 Following assessment, selected patients were dispatched to euthanasia centres, e.g. Hadamar in Hessen, Hartheim16 near Linz, Grafeneck in Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg near Kassel, and Sonnenstein near Pirna.

All those complicit in the euthanasia programme were obliged to ensure its maximum confidentiality and were exempt from criminal liability (document S 1871). From the point of view of the law, the programme was based exclusively on Hitler’s secret order and no other legal grounds. All the participants, therefore, had to be trusted members of the Nazi Party or the SS. Those who applied for a job on the project did so on a voluntary basis, but they had to take an oath pledging confidentiality and obedience on pain of death. On 24 October 1939 Dr Leonardo Conti17 sent out a circular to the medical establishments, setting 1 December 1939 as the due date for the submission of the questionnaires concerning patients who might be “mercifully dispatched” (document NO-852). The operation involved Jewish patients. It was carried out according to schedule and met with no protests. Within a month it had gained full momentum (documents NO-1129 and NO-1130). For instance, from 14 November to 1 December 1940, one of the “experts,” Dr Hermann Pfannmüller,18 reviewed and gave his opinion on 2,109 questionnaires. The relatives and friends of the people murdered received death certificates with false causes of death. The families were not allowed to collect the bodies, because the establishments were apparently battling against outbreaks of infectious diseases, so they just delivered the ashes to the addresses provided by relatives. The patients were asphyxiated with carbon monoxide in gas chambers. Afterwards their brains were examined by scientists who seized the occasion. For example, Dr Julius Hallervorden19 received 600 human brains (document L-170) and Prof. Carl Schneider20 of Heidelberg University obtained some materials too (document S 1900).

In Grafeneck euthanasia centre, where Drs Horst Schumann21 and Ernst Baumhardt22 were employed, the patients who were to be gassed were given an injection of 2 cu. cm of morphine and scopolamine.23 Dr Günther Hennecke24 carried out post-mortems on the bodies. Grafeneck Castle received about 70 new arrivals a day. In Hadamar euthanasia centre, starting from 1943, the patients were not gassed, but killed with an overdose of veronal, luminal,25 or morphine and scopolamine. The number of fatalities was about 75 daily. In Dr Valentin Faltlhauser’s26 institution, Irsee27 mental hospital near Kaufbeuren, patients were killed with injections and tablets. Some of the victims were mentally retarded children aged 6-13. The procedure went on until the end of the war (document NO-825).

However, the implementation of the involuntary euthanasia programme was more and more difficult to hide and aroused more and more protests. Due to the growing number of petitions, enquiries, and appeals, in August 1940 Hitler gave Brandt an oral order to discontinue it.

After28 his Nuremberg hearing, Prof. Carl Brandt29 presented figures for deaths in the euthanasia programme. According to him, out of about 3 million mental patients in Germany, circa 600 thousand were in regular outpatient care, while 250 thousand were in permanent care in mental health institutions. In the latter group, 70-80% were patients suffering from schizophrenia. For every thousand healthy persons, there were ten patients, five resident in institutions, and one victim of enforced euthanasia. So out of 60 million Germans, 60 thousand were killed in the programme (S 2481). The Düsseldorf court estimated that as many as 100 thousand persons had been euthanised.

Soon after the euthanasia programme for “patients with incurable diseases” finished, the procedure was extended to embrace Jews and, subsequently, concentration camp prisoners. In some euthanasia centres, for instance Hadamar, the gas chambers intended for mental patients were dismantled and in the autumn of 1941 they were sent east, e.g. to Lublin.30 However, several other euthanasia centres were still operational, although the Reich Ministry of the Interior dissolved the central administration institutions which had previously supervised them. Even though on Hitler’s orders Gnadentod was no longer “granted” to adult citizens of the Third Reich, the euthanasia programme was continued on psychiatric patients and mentally retarded children. It was run by a Berlin-based organisation known as Der Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung von erb- und anlagebedingten schweren Leiden,31 whose grandiose name hid a grim reality. Pursuant to Ordinance No. IV b 3088/39 || 1079 Mi issued by the Reich Minister of the Interior32 in August 1939, health clinics, midwives, physicians, and children’s health centres were obliged to send in special forms to report the children eligible for euthanasia. The experts in Berlin issued authorisation (Ermächtigung) to a particular institution, e.g. the Eichberg centre, to examine a child who was reported and, if it was deemed necessary after the examination, to provide Sterbehilfe, i.e. “assisted death.” Similar facilities functioned, for instance, in Idstein, Kanternhof,33 and Görden.34

The Beast. Artwork by Marian Kołodziej. Photo by Piotr Markowski. Click the image to enlarge.

The methods used to kill the mentally ill, adults with hereditary diseases, and malformed children were soon extended for application in Nazi racist policies. In May 1943 even absolutely healthy children of mixed Aryan and Jewish blood, who were dubbed Mischlinge or Halbjuden, were deported to the Hadamar euthanasia centre and killed (document NO-1427).

This means that human beings were murdered for ideological, political, and economic reasons. They were eliminated if they were unfit for work or disabled (Arbeitsunfähige, Krüppel), if they had infectious diseases, if they were exhausted slave farmhands from East European countries under German occupation, concentration camp prisoners, or simply members of “unwanted nations” (das unerwünschte Volkstum). All these efforts were code-named Aktion 14f13.

In Viktor Brack’s own words, the euthanasia programme was a preliminary to the annihilation of entire nations. Even before the War, the leaders of the Third Reich planned to treat euthanasia as a useful weapon against all the real and imagined enemies of Germany. Initially euthanasia was supposed to be grounded on ethical premises, but pretty soon they were distorted (S 7632f). Also, quite independently of Aktion 14f13, crimes of genocide were perpetrated in Eastern Europe during the mass killings of Jews, Poles, Russians, and others, and no medical justification was sought for these atrocities.

The plan to kill tubercular Poles, which is presented below, overlapped the mass killings and the expanded euthanasia programme because, like them, it was implemented by the same institutions and the same people, who were driven by the same ideological convictions and used the same equipment.

Following Hitler’s defeat of Poland in September 1939, on his order of 12 October 1939, some Polish territories were incorporated in the Third Reich (and renamed the “Warthegau”), and the rest35 formed the German-occupied Generalgouvernement.

After the annexation of the Warthegau, the German eastern border ran roughly along the line that had been demarcated in 1795, following the Third Partition of Poland.36 The Warthegau was administered by Gauleiter Arthur Greiser37 and was still inhabited by about three million Poles, even though a large proportion of the native Polish population had been deported to the Generalgouvernement in late 1939 and 1940, and about 100,000 Polish citizens of Jewish descent had been killed.

During the War, the indigenous Polish territories of the Warthegau were systematically colonised by German settlers, while the dwindling Polish community was supposed to provide a slave labour force and ultimately die out. One of the many ways the Germans used to accomplish that objective was to involve the medical profession in the implementation of Nazi extermination projects. For instance, the prevalence of tuberculosis in the Polish population was found to be five times higher than among the Germans. This provided a pseudo-scientific justification for a measure that had no precedent in the history of medicine: in order to eradicate the source of infection and stamp out the disease, infected persons were to be done away with.

Normally tuberculosis is combated by isolating and treating infected patients, to prevent the transmission of tubercle bacilli to more individuals, and by appropriate measures to protect healthy people. Sources of TB infection may be eliminated only in animals (i.e. infected animals may be killed).

The documents I am going to discuss show that the leaders of the Third Reich, Hitler, Himmler,38 Heydrich,39 and Greiser, co-operating with scientists like Prof. Kurt Blome40 and Prof. Hans Holfelder,41 intended to commit genocide against the Polish people using tuberculosis as a pretext and a formal excuse for their criminal designs. The passages I will quote come from the following sources: a book entitled Nie oszczędzać Polski! by Tadeusz Cyprian and Jerzy Sawicki,42 and especially its chapter “Radykalny sposób leczenia gruźlicy43, pp. 195-199; the book SS im Einsatz: eine Dokumentation über die Verbrechen der SS,44 p. 324; an article by Wacław Kozłowski “Jak hitlerowcy zwalczal igruźlicę”45 published in the magazine Za Wolność i Lud, issue 2 (95), p. 14, year VIII, February 1956; Medizin ohne Menschlichkeit—Dokumente des Nürnberger Ärtzteprozesses by Alexander Mitscherlich and Fred Mielke (Frankfurt-am-Main & Hamburg: Fischer Bücherei, April 1960).46The records of the Nuremberg Trials are presented in chronological order and their content was translated into Polish almost literally.47

On 1 May 1942 Gauleiter Arthur Greiser sent Heinrich Himmler the following letter:48


The special treatment (Sonderbehandlung) (Polish text: operation to exterminate (Aktion der Sonderbehandlung)) of about 100 000 Jews in the territory of my district (Gau) (Polish text: Gaugebiet), approved by you in agreement with the Chief of the Reichs-Main-Security-Office, SS-Obergruppenfuehrer HEYDRICH, can be completed within the next 2-3 months. I ask you for permission to rescue the district (Gau) immediately after the measures taken against the Jews, from a menace, which is increasing week by week, and use the existing and efficient special commandos for that purpose. (Polish text: In connection with the Jewish operation, I ask you for permission to use the well-trained special commando (Sonderkommando) stationed here, to free the district of a danger which has been rising week by week and assuming a catastrophic scale.)

There are about 230 000 people of Polish nationality in my district (Gau), who were diagnosed to suffer from TB. The number of persons infected with open Tuberculosis is estimated at about 35 000. This fact has led in an increasing frightening measure to the infec[tion] of Germans, who (Polish text: although they) came to the Warthegau perfectly healthy. In particular (Polish text: more and more alarming) reports are received with our increasing effect of German children[’s] danger of infection. A considerable number of well known leading men especially of the police, have been infected lately and are not available for the war-effort because of the necessary medical treat[ment]. The ever increasing risks were also recognised and appreciated by the deputy of the Reich Leader for Public Health (Reichsgesundheitsfuehrer) Comrade Professor Dr BLOME as well as by the Leader of your Xrays[ba]tallion SS Standartenfuehrer Prof. Dr HOLFELDER.

Though in Germany proper it is not possible to take appropriate draconic steps against this public plague (Polish text: this national bubonic plague), I think I could t[ake] responsibility for my suggestion to have cases of open TB exterminat[ed] among the Polish race (Polish text: Polish community) here in the Warthegau. Of course only a Pole should be handed over to such an action, who is not only suffering f[rom] open tuberculosis, but whose incurability is proved and certified by a public health officer.

Considering the urgency of this project I ask for your approval in principle as soon as possible. This would enable us to [make] the prepara[t]ions with all necessary precautions now to get the action against the Poles suffering from open tuberculosis under way, while the action against the Jews is in its closing stages.

Heil Hitler!


This letter must have been discussed in further correspondence between Himmler, Greiser, and the police, and Greiser’s suggestion was accepted by Wilhelm Koppe,49 the SS and Police Chief in the Warthegau (see Cyprian and Sawicki). On 3 May 1942 Koppe submitted his approval to Rudolf Brandt,50 Himmler’s personal administrative officer, who referred to Geiser’s project as “the only feasible solution” (Tgb. Nr. 132/42g and Kozłowski’s article in Za Wolność i Lud). Reinhard Heydrich, then chief of the Reich Main Security Office, said in his letter of 9 June 1942:51

I have no scruples against having the Protectorate-members and stateless persons of the Polish race, who are living within the territory of the Reichsgau Wartheland, and who are afflicted with open tuberculosis, submitted to the special treatment in the sense of the proposal of Gau-Leader Greiser, insofar as their disease is incurable, according to the diagnosis of an official physician (Amtsarzt) (document NO-245).

Further correspondence on the matter comes in Himmler’s letter of 27 June 1942, addressed to Greiser (document NO-244). Himmler apologises to his “Dear Comrade” for replying so late to his letter of 1 May 1942 and informs him he has no objections against exterminating Poles with open tuberculosis. However, he asks Greiser to discuss individual measures with the Security Police first (quoted after Kozłowski).

Another letter concerning measures against tubercular Poles (“Tuberkulose-Aktion im Warthegau”) is dated 18 November 1942.52 It was written by Prof. Blome, the deputy of the Reichsgesundheitsführer, and sent from Berlin, Lindenstrasse 42, to Comrade Arthur Greiser, the Reich Governor (Gauleiter) of the Wartheland, in Poznań.53

Re.: The TB operation in Wartheland

Dear Comrade GREISER,

To-day I return to our various conversations concerning the fight against tuberculosis in your Gau and I will give you—as agreed on the 9th of this month in Munich—a detailed picture of the situation as it appears to me.

Conditions for quickly getting hold of all consumptives in your Gau exist. The total population of your Gau amounts to about 4.5 million people of which about 835,000 are Germans. According to previous observations the number of consumptives in the WartheGau is far greater than the average number in the old Reich (Altreich). It was calculated that in 1939 there were among the Poles about 35,000 persons suffering from open tuberculosis and, besides this number, about 120,000 other consumptives in need of treatment. In this connection it must be mentioned that, in spite of the evacuation (the Polish text adds: deportation, editor’s note) of part of the Poles further to the east, the number of sick persons is at least as great as in 1939. As, in consequence of the war, the living and food conditions have deteriorated steadily one must expect an even higher number.

With the settlement of Germans in all parts of the Gau an enormous danger has arisen for them. A number of cases of infection of settled children and adults occurs daily.

What goes for the WartheGau, must to a certain degree also hold true for the other annexed (Polish text: newly incorporated) territories, such as Danzig-West Prussia, the administrative districts of Ziechenau and Kattowitz (Polish text: Gdańsk, West Prussia, and the Ciechanów and Katowice regions). There are cases of Germans settled in the WartheGau who refuse to have their families follow because of the danger of infection. (Polish text: We are observing cases of this kind first and foremost in the schools.) If such behaviour is imitated and if our compatriots see that necessary measures for combatting tuberculosis among the Poles are not carried out, it is to be expected that the necessary further immigration will come to a halt. In such a way the settlement programme for the East might reach an undesired state.

Therefore, something basic must be done soon. One must decide the most efficient way in which this can be done. There are three ways to be taken into consideration:

1. Special treatment (Sonderbehandlung) (Polish text: Extermination (Sonderbehandlung)) of the seriously ill persons,

2. Most rigorous isolation of the seriously ill persons,

3. Creation of a reservation for all TB-patients.

For the planning attention must be paid to different points of view of a practical, political and psychological nature. Considering it most soberly, the simplest way would be the following: Aided by the X-ray batallion (Roentgen Sturmbann) (Polish text: By using radiophotography) we could reach the entire population, German and Polish, of the Gau during the first half of 1943. As to the Germans, the treatment and isolation is to be prepared and carried out according to the regulations of Tuberculosis Relief (Tuberkulosehilfe). The approximately 35,000 Poles who are incurable and infectious will be “specially treated” (sonderbehandelt) (Polish text: We will exterminate (werden sonderbehandelt) the approximately 35 thousand incurable Poles who could spread the disease.) All other Polish consumptives will be subjected to an appropriate cure in order to save them for work (Polish text: to restore their labour capacity) and to avoid their causing contagion.

According to your request I made arrangements with the offices in question, in order to start and carry out this radical procedure within half a year. You told me, (Polish text: They have told me) that the competent office agreed with you as to this special treatment (Polish text: extermination (Sonderbehandlung)) and promised support. Before we definitely start the program, I think it would be correct if you would make sure once more that the Fuehrer will really agree to such a solution.

I could imagine that the Fuehrer, having some time ago stopped the program in the insane asylums, might at this moment consider a “special treatment”of the incurably sick as unsuitable and irresponsible from a political point of view. As regards the Euthanasia Program it was a question of people of German nationality afflicted with hereditary diseases. Now it is a question of infected sick people of a subjugated nation.

There can be no doubt of the intended program’s being the most simple and most radical solution. If absolute secrecy could be guaranteed all scruples—regardless of what nature—could be overcome. But I consider simply maintaining secrecy impossible.

Experience has taught that this assumption is true. Should these sick persons, having been brought, as planned, to the old Reich supposedly to be treated or healed, actually never return, the relatives of these sick persons inspite of the greatest secrecy would some day notice “that something was not quite right.” One must take into consideration that there are many Polish workers in the old Reich who will inquire as to the whereabouts of their relatives; that there are a certain number of Germans related to or allied by marriage with Poles who could in this way learn of the transports of the sick. Very soon more definite news of this program would leak out which would be taken up by enemy propaganda. The Euthanasia program taught in which manner this was done and which methods were used. This new program could be used better politically, as it concerns persons of a subjugated nation. (Polish text: The new operation could stop being worthwhile politically, because it concerns members of a subjugated nation.) The church will not remain silent either. Nor will people stop at discussing this program. (Polish text: And of course, we could not stand idly by watching the discussions on the operation.) Certain interested circles will spread the rumour among the people that similar methods are also to be used in the future on German consumptives. Yes, that one can count on more or less all incurably ill being done away within the future. In connection with this I recall the recurring recent foreign broadcasts in connection with the appointment of Prof. BRANDT as Commissioner General, spreading the news that he was ordered to attend as little as possible to the healing of the seriously sick, instead, all the more to the healing of the less sick. (Polish text: In this connection I remind you of the frequently invoked recent example of the appointment of Prof. Brandt, when foreign radio stations broadcast the news that he is in favour of providing as little treatment as possible for the seriously wounded [soldiers] and instead doing as much as possible to help those with minor wounds to recuperate.) And there are more than enough people who listen to illegal broadcasts.

Furthermore it is to be taken into consideration that the planned proceeding will provide excellent propaganda material for our enemies, not only as regards the Italian physicians and scientists, but also as regards the entire Italian people in consequence of their strong Catholic ties. It is also beyond all doubt that the enemy will mobilize all the physicians of the world. And this will be all the more easy as the general age-old conception of medical doings and activity is “to keep alive the poor and guiltless patient as long as possible and to allay his sufferings.”

Therefore, I think it necessary to explain all these point of view to the Fuehrer before undertaking this program, as, in my opinion, he is the only one able to view the entire complex and to come to a decision.

Should the Fuehrer decline the radical solution, preparations for another way must be made. An exclusive settlement of all Polish consumptives (Polish text: An isolation settlement for all Poles with TB), both incurable and curable, would be one possibility of assuring an isolation of the infected. One could settle with them their immediate relatives, if they so desire, so that nursing and livelihood would be assured. As regards labor commitment, besides agriculture and forestry certain branches of industry could be developed in such territories. I can not judge whether you can conceive such a possibility within your Gau. I also could imagine the creation of a common area for the settlement of the consumptives of not only your Gau, but also of the Gaus of Danzig/West Prussia (Polish text: Gdańsk and West Prussia), of the administrative district of Ziechenau (Polish text: Ciechanów) and of the province of Upper Silesia. In order to avoid unnecessary overtoping of the public means of communication, the removal could be accomplished by walking. (Polish text: To prevent the abuse of free public transport, the resettlement could be conducted with the help of tractors.) This would be a solution that the world propaganda could hardly use against us, and one, on the other hand, that would not arouse any of those stupid rumors in our own country (Polish text: that would not give the fanatical whispered propaganda mongerers in our own country an opportunity for action).

Another solution to be taken into consideration would be a strict isolation of all the infectious and incurable consumptives, without exception, in nursing establishments.54 This solution would lead to the comparatively rapid death of the sick. With the necessary addition of Polish doctors and nursing personnel, the character of a pure death camp would be somewhat mitigated.

The following Polish accommodation possibilities are at present available in your Gau:

Nursing home Waldrose53400 beds
Nursing home “Grosse Wiese”54300 beds
smaller establishments200 beds
Liebstadt55 barracks, district of Leslau561000 beds
Total1900 beds

Should the radical solution, i.e., proposal No 1, be out of question, the necessary conditions for proposals No 2 or 3 must be created.

We must keep in mind that the conditions of the war deprive us of the possibility of arranging for a fairly adequate treatment (Polish text: arranging a half-measure kind of treatment) of the curable consumptives. To do so would require procuring at least 10.000 more beds. This figure, under the condition that the program is to be carried out within half a year. (Polish text: This number [of beds] would be enough, provided the operation were completed within half a year.)

After a proper examination of all these considerations and circumstances the creation of a reservation, such as the reservations for lepers, seems to be the most practicable solution. Such a reservation should be able to be created in the shortest time by means of the necessary settlement. Within the reservation one could easily set up conditions for the strict isolation of the strongly contagious.

Even the case (Polish text: care) of the German consumptives represents an extremely difficult problem for the Gau. But this cannot be overcome, unless the problem of the Polish consumptives is solved at the same time.

Heil Hitler!


signed: Dr BLOME

(document NO-250, quoted after Mitscherlich and Mielke, pp. 231-234)

Concurrently, Greiser was corresponding with Himmler and in his letter of 21 November 194259 notified him about the following developments:

The examinations are to start soon in accordance with the method of Prof. HOLFELDER, who will be assigned to this Gau in a few weeks with his X-ray-battalion. (Roentgensturmbann) The first utilization of this method is estimated to be possible in approximately half a year. (after Cyprian and Sawicki)

Himmler must have been acquainted with Prof. Blome’s plans, because his next letter to Greiser, dated 3 December 1942 (Tgb. No. 1441/42),60 shows he agreed with Blome’s arguments and suggested that Greiser should find an area where all the incurable TB patients, as well as those who were not so seriously ill, could be conveniently resettled: “Of course, the operation should be exploited for propaganda purposes.”

In the closing part of the letter he added,

Before writing this letter to you, once again I carefully reconsidered the original plan [to kill tubercular patients—SK], whether there was a way to carry it out. However, I am convinced now, that it is better to proceed the other way.

This is the last item of the extant correspondence on the extermination of tubercular Poles. These documents were not known at the time when Arthur Greiser, Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter of the Wartheland, was tried by Poland’s Supreme National Tribunal, sentenced to death on 9 July 1946, and hanged.

The Poles afflicted with tuberculosis were not exterminated exactly in the way that Himmler, Greiser, and Blome had envisioned for them. However, Rudolf Brandt, who stood trial in Nuremberg as Himmler’s personal administrative officer, testified in his affidavit that thousands of tubercular Poles were deported to an isolation camp (document NO-144).

Deputy Reichsärzteführer Kurt Blome, another physician tried in Nuremberg, testified that this matter had to be negotiated with Greiser, because all medical examinations in which chest X-rays were used required his approval. Blome believed he had found a solution to the problem and put it into practice. When questioned about his letter, he explained that following his talks with Prof. Holfelder and Dr Oskar Gundermann, chief physician in the Warthegau, he decided to put his argument in this particular way for ethical reasons, expecting it to appeal to the minds of his superiors. His exact words were as follows:

The best way would have been to state in my letter, honestly and openly, that what they were planning was a crime. However, I knew the mindset of those men and was convinced that expressing myself freely would have brought only negative results. I believed, and this view was shared also by Prof. Holfelder, that I had to skirt that design and to put forward a counterproposal which would be efficient. In my opinion, positive outcomes were to be obtained by listing all the political risks that were involved (S 4616).

Dr Gundermann was called by the defence and testified as follows:

I saw that Blome’s letter to Gauleiter Greiser had the desired effect when I observed the subsequent course of events, that is the measures undertaken to fight tuberculosis in the Warthegau. On 1 April 1943 a decree was issued on combatting TB in all the Reich and, consequently, I was able to issue a similar decision which concerned protecting Polish people against tuberculosis in the Warthegau. A central institution was established for that end, which was run by competent medical specialists. Thanks to that, both German and Polish patients received the same treatment. Also, some beds in the sanatoria were assigned for the Polish population. (See file Kurt Blome I)

Yet the statistics contradict Gundermann’s testimony. Before the war, the annual death rate for tuberculosis was 19.8 deaths for every 10,000 inhabitants, while by the end of the war the figure had risen to 36, i.e. it had almost doubled (after Marian Zierski, Epidemiologia gruźlicy, Warszawa: PZWL, 1958), The analogous data for the Polish population in the city of Łódź were 17.6 before the war, 48.8 in 1943, and 46.1 in 1944, while the TB death rate for the Germans living there was three times less.

Prof. Kurt Blome was not taken into custody pending trial. Other Nuremberg documents shed more light on him, so the reader may form a more comprehensive opinion about him. General Walter Schreiber,61 a physician, who had been taken prisoner and incarcerated in a Soviet POW camp, was brought to Nuremberg to testify. He stated that in the summer of 1943 the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht62 (OKW) was preparing for biological warfare and described the following events:

In March 1945 Prof. Blome visited me in my office at the Military Academy of Medicine. He arrived from Poznań63 and was very agitated. He turned to me with a request to give him and his co-workers laboratories in Sachsenburg64 to continue their work there. He had to flee from Poznań because of the approaching offensive of the Red Army and abandoned his institute before he managed to have it blown up. He was concerned about the fact that he left behind the equipment that had been used for experimenting on humans and that the Soviets would certainly realize what purposes it had served, as that was absolutely obvious. Blome tried to have his lab bombed by a Stuka, but that plan failed as well. Therefore he asked me to allow him to continue his work on Yersinia pestis, the plague bacteria, in Sachsenburg: he had managed to get his plague cultures out65 (Cyprian and Sawicki, Sprawy polskie w procesie norymberskim,64 Poznań: Instytut Zachodni, 1956, p. 690).

In his book Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu na jeńcach wojennych armii regularnych w II wojnie światowej,65 Warszawa: Wydawnictwo MON, 1961, p. 351), Szymon Datner writes that in July 1943 the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht convened a conference on biological warfare. The plan was to use infectious bacteria to kill or harm the enemy population. Hitler had ordered such an operation due to the disastrous German losses on all fronts. During the conference, a team was formed to work on germ warfare, and its members were Prof. Schumann68 from the science department in the Wehrwirtschafts- und Rüstungsamt;69 the ministerial counsellor Stantin70 from the armaments research department in the same institution; General Richter, a professor of veterinary science from the Veterinary Inspectorate of the OKW; Prof. Heinrich Kliewe71 from the Medical Services Inspectorate of the OKW; representatives of the Luftwaffe, the Wehrwirtschafts- und Rüstungsamt as well as other organisations. A decision was made to establish an institute to produce cultures of infectious bacteria, e.g. Yersinia pestis, on a mass scale and to carry out experiments to find how these germs could be used.72 The institute was to be headed by Dr Blome, the deputy Health Leader, and to be based in Poznań. The experiments with the bacteria were performed on Soviet POWs. In 1945, with a Red Army offensive imminent, Dr Blome was forced to move his institute from Poznań to Sachsenburg. The madcap plan to use plague bacteria for warfare was never carried out as Blome’s research had not been completed and, above all, German troops now had to fight on their own territory: the germs could infect both invaders and German military and civilians alike.

Kurt Blome was tried by the US Military Tribunal in Nuremberg and on 20 August 1947 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and membership in organisations recognised as criminal by the International Military Tribunal.73 SS Standartenführer Holfelder, chief radiologist of the Third Reich, took part in a project to sterilise human beings using X-rays (such experiments were also conducted by Prof. Clauberg74 and Dr Schumann75). It is hard to believe that in 1942, when decisions were made about the life or death of 230,000 tubercular Poles, Blome and Holfelder were inspired only by noble motives and the fundamental principles of medical ethics.


Translated from original article: Kłodziński, S. “Próby biologicznego wyniszczenia narodu polskiego pod pozorem „walki z gruźlicą” w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej 1939-1945 r.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1962.

  1. The documents quoted in brackets in this article are from the records of the Nuremberg Trials.a
  2. When the Germans invaded and occupied Poland in 1939, they annexed the western part of the country, which they called the “Reichsgau Wartheland” and incorporated this territory in the German Reich.a
  3. This text was written and published in the People’s Republic of Poland, when the country was within the Soviet sphere of influence, so for censorship reasons its author could not write the whole truth—that the German Democratic Republic, another Soviet Bloc state, was also harbouring ex-Nazis.a
  4. Generally known as the Sterilisation Law, it came into force on 1 January 1934.a
  5. Ernst Rüdin (1874-1952) and Arthur Gütt (1891-1949) were physicians specialising in “racial hygiene”; Falk Ruttke (1894-1955) was a lawyer. All three made their careers in the Nazi German government and academic world on the basis of their work on “racial hygiene.” Their jointly written commentary on the Sterilisation Law was issued by the Munich publisher J.S. Lehmann. Cf.üdin,ütt and
  6. Karl Brandt (1904–1948), head of the Nazi German health and sanitary service, “Hitler’s doctor,” the highest-ranking defendant in the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial, found guilty on 3 charges, sentenced to death and hanged. Cf.
  7. SS-Obergruppenführer Philipp Bouhler (1899-1945), Nazi German war criminal, senior Nazi Party functionary, pioneer of the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme on the disabled and co-initiator of Aktion 14f13, the “special treatment” that killed 15–20 thousand concentration camp prisoners. Apprehended by American troops at the end of the war, but committed suicide in custody.
  8. Viktor Brack (1904-1948), Nazi German war criminal, member of the SS, held several top jobs in the Nazi administration, incl. chief-of-staff to Bouhler. Involved in the T4 programme and the design of the Final Solution for the exterminaltion of the Jews. Brought to trial by the Allies, convicted and hanged.
  9. Herbert Linden (1899-1945), German physician and government official, war criminal involved in the T4 euthanasia programme and the extermination of the Jews. Committed suicide at the end of the war to evade prosecution. In 1946 he was given a state funeral and buried in a war victim's grave in the Waldfriedhof cemetery in Berlin. This fact only came to light in 2014. Cf.
  10. The Reich Co-operative for State Hospitals and Nursing Homes.a
  11. The Public Welfare Foundation for Nursing Institutions.a
  12. The Public Welfare Transport Company.a
  13. Werner Heyde (1904-1962), German psychiatrist and neurologist, professor of medicine, war criminal. Head of the medical department at the T4 headquarters, January–November 1941. Also worked in Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. Apprehended at the end of the war but escaped and not identified until 1959. Committed suicide before his trial started.;
  14. Hermann Paul Nitsche (1876-1948), German psychiatrist, professor of medicine, war criminal. Heyde’s successor at the T4 headquarters. Arrested in 1945, tried and convicted of crimes against humanity, sentenced to death and executed by guillotine.;
  15. SS-Obersturmbannführer Maximus Friedrich Alexander de Crinis (1889-1945), professor of psychiatry at the University of Cologne and head of the Psychiatry Clinic at the Charité University Hospital, Berlin. Medical expert for the T4 euthanasia programme. Committed suicide in May 1945.
  16. Name misspelled “Harthsheim” in the original Polish text.a
  17. SS-Obergruppenführer Leonardo Conti (1900-1945), German physician, Reich Health Leader. Involved in T4, the Nazi involuntary euthanasia programme, and in pseudo-medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners. Imprisoned after the War but committed suicide before the Doctors’ Trial started.
  18. Hermann Pfannmüller (1886–1961), German psychiatrist, Nazi Party member. Implemented Aktion T4 in Augsburg. Convicted in 1951 and sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment (reduced to 4 years on appeal).
  19. Julius Hallervorden (1882–1965; the name is misspelled in the original Polish article), eminent German neuropathologist. For his involvement in the T4 programme, see Kylee Yturralde, Dr Julius Hallvorden’s role in Nazi “Euthanasia,”
  20. Carl Schneider (1891–1946), German psychiatrist and medical expert for Aktion T4. After the war committed suicide while in custody.
  21. Horst Schumann (1906–1983), German physician holding a doctorate in medicine; member of the Nazi Party, lieutenant in the Luftwaffe, member of the SS in the rank of Sturmbannführer; head of the euthanasia centres at Grafeneck (Württemberg, Germany) and Sonnenstein near Dresden (Germany). For his sterilisation experiments in Auschwitz, Block 10, see Maria Ciesielska, “Experimental Block No. 10 in Auschwitz.” Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire. Conference Proceedings 2018, Kraków: Medycyna Praktyczna, Polski Instytut Evidence-Based Medicine, 2019, pp. 59–75. and the biography of Dr Lorska on this website.a
  22. Ernst Baumhardt (1911-1943), German physician, Schumann’s successor in Grafeneck, and later director of Hadamar euthanasia centre. and
  23. Scopolamine is a tropane alkaloid drug producing psychoactive effects. When administered with morphine, it gives rise to an amnesic state known as “twilight sleep.”
  24. Günther Hennecke (1912–1943), German physician, Baumhardt’s deputy at Grafeneck. Later both Hennecke and Baumhardt were conscripted in the German navy and both died when their u-boats sank.;ünther_hennecke.a
  25. Veronal and luminal are barbiturate drugs.a
  26. Valentin Faltlhauser (1876-1961; name misprinted “Falthausen” in the original Polish text), German psychiatrist. Implemented the T4 programme, killing 1,200-1,600 patients, including about 210 children. Prosecuted after the war by an American court and sentenced to 3 years in prison, but reprieved in 1954.
  27. Place name misprinted “Irrsee” in the original Polish text.a
  28. The Polish text says “After his hearing” (po przesłuchaniu), but it is not fully clear at which point in time Karl Brandt presented this data. The following part of the paragraph suggests it was during his statement when he was giving evidence on trial before the Nuremberg Tribunal.a
  29. Name misspelled in the original Polish article. See comment 6.a
  30. To Majdanek (Lublin) concentration camp.a
  31. The Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses.a
  32. Wilhelm Frick (1877–1946), German politician; Reich Minister of the Interior, 1933-1943. After the war stood trial before the Nuremberg Tribunal, convicted of war crimes, and executed by hanging.
  33. Probably a misprint for the mental hospital known as Idstein-Kalmenhof.b
  34. Probably a misnomer for the Brandenburg euthanasia centre set up by the Nazis in the same city of Branderburg an der Havel as the Görden prison, in which the Nazis confined and executed political prisoners.örden_Prison.a
  35. Except for those Polish territories which were annexed by the Soviet Union after its invasion of 17 September 1939.a
  36. In the late 18th century Poland-Lithuania was partitioned in three stages by its three neighbours, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, and in 1795 ceased to exist as an independent country.a
  37. Obergruppenführer SS Arthur Karl Greiser(1897-1946), German politician, Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter (governor) of Wartheland, war criminal. Put on trial after the war before an American court, convicted and executed in Poland.
  38. Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), Reichsführer of the SS, one of the most powerful men in the Hitler regime and co-initiator of the German genocide policy. Apprehended after the war but committed suicide before his trial started.
  39. Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942), high-ranking German SS and police official, Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia (the Czech territories under Nazi German occupation); co-initiator of the German genocide programme. Assassinated by the Czech underground resistance movement.
  40. Kurt Blome (1894-1969), German microbiologist and politician. Deputy Reich Health Leader (Reichsgesundheitsführer) and Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research. Stood trial in the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial on charges of practising euthanasia and conducting pseudo-medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners, but acquitted. See comment 73 below.
  41. SS-Standartenführer Hans Holfelder (1891-1944). His surname is misspelled “Hohlfelder” in Kłodziński’s article (we have corrected it). German physician and radiologist involved in cancer research and TB screening for the SS. Pursued a university career and planned Nazi extermination projects in the Warthegau. Killed during the fighting for Budapest in 1944. Ernst Klee, Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. 2nd edition, Frankfurt-am-Main: Fischer, 2007, p. 267.a
  42. Nie oszczędzać Polski! Warszawa: Iskry, 1960; English working title “Don’t spare Poland!”a
  43. “A radical TB treatment”a
  44. SS im Einsatz: eine Dokumentation über die Verbrechen der SS, Berlin: Kongress Verlag, 1957; English working title “The SS in Action: Records of SS Crimes.”a
  45. “How the Nazis fought TB.”a
  46. This book was published in English in 1949 as Doctors of Infamy. The story of the Nazi Medical Crimes (translated by Heinz Norden) and in 1962 as The Death Doctors (translated by James Cleugh).b
  47. Kłodziński is using these sources, especially Mitscherisch and Mielke’s publication, which came out in a Polish version as well, rather than one of the official language versions of the Nuremberg Records (English, German, French, and Russian).a
  48. All the letters quoted in Kłodziński’s article which served as evidence during the Nuremberg trials are presented here verbatim in their original English translation. Passages which differ significantly in the Polish text from the official English translation have been italicized, given a comment, or both. This letter was translated by Max Wagner and is available at In places, the right-hand margin is not fully visible in this scan. Square brackets have been used to mark the parts of the text missing on the right-hand side of the scan. The original spelling, grammar, punctuation, and notoriously poor quality of the English translation have been preserved. German-language transcripts of letters quoted in this article and their French translations are available at
  49. SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe (1896-1975), Senior Police and SS Chief in the Wartheland, German war criminal responsible for numerous atrocities in the Wartheland and Generalgouvernement. Arrested in 1960 but never brought to trial.
  50. SS-Standartenführer Rudolf Brandt (1909–1948), German war criminal. A law graduate and Himmler’s personal administrative officer, defendant in the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed.
  51. Translated by Leo Davenport and available at
  52. Translated by Gertrude Levinger and available at
  53. Gostynin on annexed Polish territory.a
  54. Presumably Wielopole Wielkopolskie, a small place on annexed Polish territory.a
  55. Lubień Kujawski on annexed Polish territory, renamed Lubenstadt in 1943. The Polish text does not mention this place name.a
  56. Włocławek on annexed Polish territorya
  57. Kłodziński uses the city’s Polish name, Poznań, although the German name Posen appeared in the original letter. a
  58. The Polish text does not mention “nursing establishments.”a
  59. English translation by Max Wagner, available at
  60. English translation by Gertrude Levinger, available at
  61. Walter Paul Emil Schreiber (1893-1970), German physician involved in typhus experiments on concentration camp prisoners. Testified at Nuremberg under Soviet sponsorship against German doctors, and later worked for the Americans under Operation Paperclip.
  62. Supreme Command of the German Land Forces.a
  63. Kłodziński and other Polish authors use the city’s Polish name, but under German occupation it was known as "Posen,” and that is the name which Schreiber must have used in his testimony before the Tribunal.a
  64. Presumably the abandoned site of a former concentration camp in the vicinity of Chemnitz, Saxony.
  65. Part of this statement is quoted after the book Biologists under Hitler in the Wikipedia entry for Kurt Blome.
  66. English working title: Poland-related cases in the Nuremberg Trials.a
  67. English working title: Wehrmacht war crimes on POWs during World War II.a
  68. Erich Schumann (1898-1985), German physicist and musicologist. During the war organised many of Germany’s scientific projects, including research on biological warfare.
  69. Office for the Defence and Armaments Industry.a
  70. We have not been able to identify this individual; most probably the name is misspelled in the original Polish article.b
  71. Heinrich Kliewe (1892–1969), German bacteriologist and university professor. During the war head of German institutes of hygiene in occupied Poland. Involved in research on biological warfare. Gave an affidavit for Blome during the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial.
  72. Officially, it conducted cancer research and therefore had a camouflage name Zentralinstitut für Krebsforschung. b
  73. In fact Blome was acquitted of the war crimes charge and is believed to have been “saved from the gallows” by co-operating with Operation Paperclip. By 1952 he was working for the Americans.
  74. Carl Clauberg (1898-1957), German war criminal. Gynaecologist and professor of medicine at Königsberg University. Conducted criminal sterilisation experiments on women prisoners in Auschwitz. Maria Ciesielska, “Experimental Block No. 10 in Auschwitz,” Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire. Conference Proceedings 2018, Kraków: Medycyna Praktyczna, Polski Instytut Evidence-Based Medicine, 2019, pp. 59–75.a
  75. Horst Schumann (1906–1983), German physician holding a doctorate in medicine; member of the Nazi Party, lieutenant in the Luftwaffe, member of the SS in the rank of Sturmbannführer; head of the euthanasia centres at Grafeneck (Württemberg, Germany) and Sonnenstein near Dresden (Germany). For his sterilisation experiments in Block 10, see Maria Ciesielska, “Experimental Block No. 10 in Auschwitz,”. Not to be confused with Erich Schumann.b

a—notes by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Head Translator for the Medical Review Auschwitz project; b—notes by Marta Kapera, the translator of the text.


A publication funded in 2020–2021 within the DIALOG Program of the Ministry of Education and Science in Poland.

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