Nazis developed Thalidomide and tested it on concentration camp prisoners, author claims
By Andrew Levy
8th February 2009
Ten thousand babies were born with physical deformities and brain damage caused by Thalidomide
Thalidomide was developed by the Nazis and tested on prisoners at concentration camps, it has been claimed. The drug, which was prescribed to expectant mothers between 1957 and 1961 for morning sickness led to thousands of babies being born deformed.
It was supposedly invented in the early 1950s by German firm Chemie Grunenthal. But documents unearthed by Dr Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust, suggest it was created as a antidote to nerve toxins including sarin and was developed by Otto Ambros, a Third Reich scientist. Dr Johnson claims the drug was worked on by Ambros before he went to Grunenthal after the war.
'It is now appearing increasingly likely that thalidomide was the last war crime of the Nazis,' Dr Johnson said.
Grunenthal's 1954 thalidomide patent indicated it had already been tested on humans - before official tests began, he added.
Another document, found by an Argentinian writer Carlos De Napoli, appears to show the drug was tested in the death camps. The claim could have implications for the compensation of surviving victims, including 457 in the UK, if the German government is held liable for their condition.
Thalidomide was prescribed in dozens of countries between 1957 and 1961 despite inadequate tests being carried out to test its safety. A total of 10,000 babies in Europe and Africa were born with physical deformities and brain damage.
The company insists it was invented in 1953 but a document suggests it had previously purchased the trade name Contergan, and therefore presumably the drug, from a French firm which had been controlled by the Nazis. The firm, Rhone-Poulenc, registered 14 drugs from 1942, all ending with 'ergan'. No other company used the suffix and the drugs often had distinct similarities with thalidomide.
'Not only is the name typical of the Rhone-Poulenc brand names of the 1940s - the action of thalidomide also belongs to this range of products,' Dr Johnson told the Sunday Times.
In a separate development, Argentinian author Carlos De Napoli says he has discovered a November 1944 document from German pharmaceutical company IG Farben which refers to a substance with the same chemical formula as thalidomide.
In his book Hitler's Laboratories, he states company director Fritz ter Meer sent a memo to Karl Brandt, an SS general who ran Hitler's euthenasia programme. The memo refers to the drug by a number - 4589 - and adds it has been tested and is ready for use.
'There is absolutely no doubt of the Nazi development of, and experimentation with, thalidomide in the World War Two camps,' he said.
Grunenthal has claimed to have lost documents relating to drug trials but Dr Johnson said its 1954 patent for thalidomide indicated it had already been tested on humans - before official tests began.
He concludes in a report: 'The patents suggest that thalidomide was probably one of a number of products developed at [chemical laboratory] Dyhernfurth or Auschwitz-Monowitz [a synthetic rubber and petrol processing plant which used labour from concentration camps] under the leadership of Otto Ambros in the course of nerve gas research.'
Grunenthal insisted it had not worked with Rhone-Poulenc to develop the drug.
A spokesman said: 'Three Grunenthal employees discovered thalidomide and Grunenthal is the sole inventor on the patent.'
Sanofi-Aventis, which has taken over the French firm, said it was investigating the claims by looking at documents in its archives.