Human Experimentation and the Double Facelessness of a Merciless Epoch


When you take an idea or a concept and turn it into an abstraction, that opens the way to take human beings and turn them, also, into abstractions. When human beings become abstractions, what is left? The image is remarkable and unforgettable: Former SS Gruppenfiibrer, Waffen SS Generalleutnant, Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation, and personal physician to Adolf Hitler, Dr. Karl Brandt, a chillingly handsome man with precisely correct posture even under the weight of defeat and condemnation, has just been sentenced to death by the court in Tribunal No. 1, Case 1 of the Nuremberg trials. He very slowly and very carefully removes the headphones through which he has heard his death sentence translated into German, raises his hand to his head, and smoothes back his hair. One hand, one stroke, front to back. Having heard the court’s judgment that he bears a significant share of the responsibility for some of the worst human rights abuses in history, committed in the name of biomedical science, his first reaction is to straighten his hair, to correct his appearance. Even at the end, Karl Brandt’s movement is reflexive, from his own face and hair outward. The man who helped ensure the suffering, mutilation, and death of countless innocents shows no awareness of anyone but himself.

Suggested Reading

Culture provides a foundation for the way we experience the world.[1] Rooted in traits such as ethnicity, race, religion, and gender identity, culture influences people’s values, behaviors, and beliefs.[2] Scholars have described culture as something akin to “the air we