Germany Offers Compensation to Victims of Nazi Experiments

NEW YORK - The German government has agreed to compensate Nazi concentration camp survivors who were subjected to medical experiments during the Holocaust. An official announcement on the new compensation program, to be administered by the New York-based Claims Conference, is expected to be released during the coming days.

A symbolic, one-time compensation of 8,300 DM (about $5,400) will be paid to each of the 1,778 survivors of the medical experiments, who were held in special blocks of the concentration camps set aside for this purpose. Most of these survivors are now in their eighties or older. Another 119 people whose family members died as a result of these experiments are also slated to receive this special compensation.

There are 389 survivors of the Nazi medical experiments who now live in Israel; the remaining survivors (or their heirs) are scattered among 33 other countries.

The proposal for this special program for the victims of Nazi medical experiments was first made by the Claims Conference in discussions with the German government that resulted in the Program for Former Slave and Forced Laborers, a global compensation agreement signed in 2000.

In recent years, the Claims Conference has administered the distribution of payments to Holocaust victims from several humanitarian funds. Some of the money for these funds came from the dormant accounts of Holocaust victims at Swiss banks.

The executive vice-president of the Claims Conference, Gideon Taylor, told Haaretz that a major effort was made to locate the surviving victims of Nazi-era medical experiments. Now that this effort has been concluded, he explained, the Claims Conference will begin distributing the compensation payments.

Part of this effort also included collecting testimony from the survivors. These testimonies will now be officially published; some of this documentation will be stored at the New York offices of the Claims Conference, and some will be transferred to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

"Until now, there was little historic research focusing on the victims of medical experiments," Taylor said. "The information we found will make a huge contribution to investigating some of the most horrendous events in world history."

According to the victims' testimonies, the Nazi doctors carried out 178 different types of experiments on their human subjects in over 30 concentration camps. The most famous case is that of Josef Mengele, a physician and SS officer known as the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz.

Mengele coordinated the "selection" process for those arriving at Auschwitz, and was known for his cruelty and pseudo-medical experiments, particularly those involving twins and midgets.

Many of the experiments entailed the amputation of organs without anesthesia. Others experiments included injections of viruses and attempts to find a way to change the color of eyes.

Most of the survivors who provided testimony asked to remain anonymous. A., an 83-year-old woman who now lives in Israel, was a prisoner at Auschwitz for two years (1943-45). "The experiment was done on my uterus," she said. "I received an injection in my uterus and, as a result, I suffered from terrible pain for a year and a half, and my uterus shrank to the size of a 4-year-old."

One of the victim who agreed to be identified by name, Hyman Torenstein, was the subject of sterilization experiments as a 13-year-old boy in Auschwitz. Torenstein, now 76 and a resident of the U.S., noted: "The financial compensation is not important to me. But it's important for the stories of the victims of medical experiments to be published and become part of the history of the Holocaust. Eyewitnesses like me are getting old, and the world must not forget what they did to us."