Karl Brandt was Adolf Hitler’s personal physician. As such, Brandt was very much part of Hitler’s inner circle. Brandt was involved in the euthanasia programme in Nazi Germany and in Occupied Europe. After World War Two ended Brandt was arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity.
Karl Brandt was born on January 8th 1904 in Mulhouse. He qualified as a doctor in 1928, one year before the Wall Street Crash that crippled Weimar Germany’s economy. Unemployment rapidly grew from 1930. The environment was not good for a newly qualified doctor – with so many unemployed very few could afford a doctor’s fees. Like a great many professionals, Brandt became disillusioned and he did what many others did – in 1932, he joined the Nazi Party as to him it seemed that it was the only party that offered any hope of a future. In 1933, he became a member of the SA.
In August 1933, Hitler’s niece and his adjutant, Wilhelm Brückner, were hurt in a car crash. Brandt, who was working as a doctor in Upper Bavaria, was summoned to help them. Brandt made such a good impression that he was invited to become one of Hitler’s personal physicians. By 1934, Brandt was a regular member of the inner circle that lived in Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat – the Berghof. He was given the rank of Major General in the Waffen-SS and was appointed Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation.
Hitler’s personal doctor was Theodor Morrell. Brandt was highly suspicious about the medication that Morrell proscribed for Hitler. Morrell claimed that they were vitamin or glucose based injections but Brandt had his doubts. After the war, it was suggested that the injections administered by Morrell may have contained morphine as Morrell himself was a morphine addict. Possibly it was this that aroused Brandt’s suspicions. However, until 1944, Hitler would not hear any criticism of Morrell.
Brandt was the driving force behind the euthanasia programme that started in pre-war Nazi Germany and was rolled out across all of Occupied Europe after September 1939. Brandt was officially appointed by Hitler as co-head of the T4-Euthanasia programme on September 1st 1939. He was also behind a programme of enforced abortions for women classed as “genetically defective”. This included those who were physically or mentally disabled. Brandt also pushed forward a programme of enforced sterilisation and he conducted medical experiments to see which method of sterilisation was most effective in terms of the number of people who could be sterilised at one go.
Brandt remained in Hitler’s favour until the very last days of World War Two in Europe. However, Hitler was furious when he learned that Brandt had moved his wife and son out of Berlin and towards the Allied lines. Brandt did this in the expectation that they would be in an Allied zone of occupation as opposed to an area occupied by the Soviet Union. Hitler accused him of defeatism and ordered that he should face a court-martial on the charge of treason. Hitler attempted to influence the decision of the court by sending them a letter accusing Brandt of giving his wife secret documents which she was going to hand over to the Allies. The verdict was never in doubt and Brandt was sentenced to death. He was only saved when Himmler delayed the execution to allow for “new witnesses” to be identified and brought before the court martial for cross-examination before the execution was carried out. Why Himmler took this stand is not known but he may well have viewed Brandt as one of ‘his men’, someone he could rely on for support in his attempt to sue for peace in obvious defiance of Hitler.
Brandt was released from prison on May 2nd 1945 on the orders of Karl Dönitz, who succeeded Hitler as Führer.
While Brandt may have survived a SS firing squad, he did not escape the attention of the Allies who arrested him on May 23rd and charged him with crimes against humanity and membership of a criminal organisation. He was one of twenty-three doctors who were put on trial in the so-called ‘Doctors’ Trial’ that lasted from 1946 to 1947.
Brandt attempted to defend himself against the charges. He used the ‘I was following orders’ approach. He was asked:
Prosecutor: “In your view were the freezing experiments dangerous?”
Brandt: “Yes. Because death sometimes occurred, they were undoubtedly dangerous experiments.”
Judge Sebring: “Would an order which authorised or directed a subordinate medical officer to select subjects involuntarily and subject them to experiments, the execution of which that officer knew would likely result in the death of the subject, would such an order be reasonable?”
Brandt: “That is a difficult question to answer, because it depends on a clear chain of command. If Himmler ordered a Dr X to conduct a certain experiment, it is quite possible that Dr X might be unwilling to carry out such an order. If he refused, he would surely have been called to account for his failure. In such a case – and here the authoritarian character of our system of government must be taken into account – any personal code of ethics must give way to the total character of war.”
His arguments were not accepted and Brandt, along with six other doctors, was sentenced to death by hanging. Before the execution was carried out Brandt offered his body for medical research. The offer was refused.
Brandt’s execution was carried out at Landsberg Prison on June 2nd 1948. He said on the scaffold:
“It is no shame to stand upon the scaffold. This is nothing but political revenge. I have served my Fatherland as others before me…………..”
However, he was cut off mid-sentence as a black hood was placed over his head.