On this date, the first of two sets of medical experiments involving castration were performed on homosexuals at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany.
Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazi regime. Although not technically a death camp, in that it had no gas chambers, nevertheless hundreds of prisoners died monthly, from malnutrition, beatings, disease, and executions.
The camp boasted a sophisticated-sounding facility on its grounds called the “Division for Typhus and Virus Research of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS”. In truth, it was a chamber of horrors where medical experiments of the cruelest kind were carried out on prisoners against their will. Victims were often intentionally infused with various infections to test out vaccines. Euthanasia was also performed regularly on Jews, Gypsies, and mentally ill prisoners.
Dr. Carl Peter Værnet, serving as a doctor at Buchenwald concentration camp, performed medical experiments on inmates who were convicted under Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 — the statute against male homosexuality. According to Richard Plant’s The Pink Triangle:
Since surviving entries are spotty, if not nearly illegible, one can only conclude that on October 1, 1944, a group of seven homosexuals was operated on, and a second group, consisting of eleven more, on October 10. Additional tests may have been administered because Værnet visited Buchenwald again in December. … Some subjects became ill; some, so it seems, must have died, because new names appear on the rosters of those actually castrated. Værnet carefully filled out order forms for chloroform, bandages, and new medical instruments, and handed out instruction sheets explaining how Buchenwald physicians should continue the castration-hormone tests without him. No final report has survived that notes the results of the experiments on the castrated men.
Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies on April 11, 1945. Ironically, it was later used by the Soviet Union as a concentration camp for the “enemies” of East Germany.
After World War II, Værnet was captured by the British and handed over to Danish authorities. At some point, he was transferred to a hospital after claiming to suffer from a heart ailment. He told doctors there that his problem could only be treated in Sweden. Despite being accused of war crimes, he was allowed to go to Sweden, where he contacted a Nazi escape network and fled to Argentina where he worked in the Ministry of Health. He was never tried for his crimes. He died on November 25, 1965. His grave was located in Argentina’s Britanico Cemetery in April, 1998.
- Heinz Heger. The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True, Life-And-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps (Alyson Books, 1979).
- Simon LeVay. Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality (Mass. Institute of Technology Press, 1996).
- Richard Plant. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (Macmillan, 1988) pp. 177-178.