Johann Paul Kremer (26 December 1883 – 8 January 1965) was a professor of anatomy and human genetics at Münster University who joined the Wehrmacht on May 20, 1941. He served in the SS in the Auschwitz concentration camp as a physician during World War II, from 30 August 1942 to 18 November 1942.
A member of the NSDAP, he was involved in Nazi human experimentation on the prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was sentenced to death in the Auschwitz Trial, but this sentence was later commuted to one of life imprisonment. He was released in 1958.
Kremer received notoriety for his diary, which recounted mundane day to day activities interspersed with entries of his witnessing murder and depravity through gassings and special actions.
September 5, 1942 : In the morning attended a special action from the women's concentration camp (Muslims); the most dreadful of horrors. Obersturmführer Thilo (troop doctor) was right when he said to me that this is the anus mundi. In the evening towards 8:00 attended another special action from Holland [sic]. Because of the special rations they get a fifth of a liter of schnapps, 5 cigarettes, 100 g salami and bread, the men all clamor to take part in such actions. Today and tomorrow (Sunday) work.
Life prior to Auschwitz
Kremer was born in Stellberg. He was a doctor of medicine as well as philosophy he also studied natural science and mathematics. He studied in Heidelberg, Strassburg as well as Berlin; he received his medical degree in 1919 and his philosophy degree in 1914. He was the “assistant surgeon at the surgical clinic of the University, Charité, the ward of internal diseases of the Municipal Hospital Berlin-Neukölln, the surgical clinic of the University of Cologne and prosector in the Institutes of Anatomy in Bonn and Münster. He became Dozent of anatomy in 1929 and was promoted there in 1936 to be professor in commission. At the same time he was commissioned to lecture on the science of human hereditariness.” He also did some writing, he mentions two articles that he wrote in the diary he kept, the first being “Inherited or Acquired? A Noteworthy Contribution to the Problem of Hereditariness of Traumatic Deformations” and the second titled “New Elements of Cell and Tissues Investigations”.
The main priority of the SS doctors was not to provide basic medical services to prisoners, but rather to give the appearance of competent medical care. Mostly, they were busy with the camp exterminations, the selection of the newly arrived Jewish transports and the prisoners, as well as being present at the executions and gassings, conducting experiments and lastly, signing thousands of prisoners’ death certificates with fabricated causes of death. The experiments conducted by the SS Doctors were done for three main reasons: to improve the health of the soldiers, for post-war plans, and to support the bases of racial ideas. Some experiments were also done on the behalf of pharmaceutical companies and medical institutes, for their own interests and to benefit their personal careers. Kremer was particularly interested in the effects starvation had on the body, especially on the liver, and seeing as Kremer was responsible for examining the prisoners that sought admission to the camp hospital, he was able to select the prisoners that he believed would make good test subjects. He often performed autopsies in order to extract samples from the liver, spleen and pancreas. On several occasions in his diary, he mentions the extraction of living-fresh material from various victims, such as on October 15, 1942, when he writes, “Living-fresh material of liver, spleen and pancreas taken from an abnormal individual.” Dr. Kremer mentions at least five more similar instances. Kremer states at his hearing on July 30, 1947 that “I observed the prisoners in this group [to be liquidated] carefully and whenever one of them particularly interested me because of his advanced stage of starvation, I ordered the medical orderly to reserve him and to inform me when this patient would be killed by injection.”
All SS doctors were required to be present at what were called “special actions,” which was when the mass gassings took place. The most common victims were children, the elderly, mothers with young children and any others considered unfit to work. During his trial, Kremer describes how a gassing was conducted and what his role as doctor was. The gassings were conducted in cabins located on the outskirts of the camp; the victims were transported by railway, and once “here people were first driven to barracks where the victims undressed and then went naked to the gas chambers. Very often no incidents occurred, as the SS men kept people quiet, maintaining that they were to bathe and be deloused. After driving all of them into the gas chamber the door was closed and an SS man in a gas mask threw the contents of a Cyclon tin through an opening in the side wall.” Kremer’s role was to sit in a van along with a medical orderly ready to treat any officers that might succumb to the gas.
Executions and beatings
Throughout the doctor’s diary there are multiple occasions where he mentions being in attendance at various executions and beatings. At least four instances can be found where he mentions executions either by gun, phenol injection or some other method not mentioned by him. He mentions briefly no less than three instances where he oversaw the punishment of prisoners. The physicians were required to examine the victim before the punishment and to remain throughout. In general though, physicians never actually examined the victims and never objected to the punishments.
Testimony and indictment
Johann Kremer was tried in the Auschwitz trials at the sitting of the Supreme Court National Tribune in Cracow throughout November and December 1947. Based on the contents of his diary and his own confessions, Kremer participated in fourteen gassings as well as multiple public executions and special actions, also known as gassings. During his testimony, he describes the process by which he selected his victims, the process of gaining the necessary information required for his research, and he states that “after I had been given this information a medical orderly would come and kill the patient with an injection in the heart area. To my knowledge all these patients were killed with phenol injections. The patient died immediately after being given such an injection. I myself never administered fatal injections.”.
- Klee, Ernst, W. Dressen, V. Riess, eds. “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by its Perpetrators and Bystanders. New York: The Free Press, 1991.
- Bezwińska, Jadwiga and Czech, Danuta. KL Auschwitz seen by the SS. New York: Howard Fertig Inc., 1984.
- Strzelecka, Irena. "Medicine in Auschwitz: Selection, executions, and experiments" Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu. Accessed November 14, 2012. www.en.auschwitz.org