The notorious drug thalidomide, which produced birth defects in the children of women who were prescribed it as a treatment for morning sickness, appears to have been developed by Nazi concentration camp doctors as a nerve gas antidote.
“It is now appearing increasingly likely that thalidomide was the last war crime of the Nazis,” said Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust and author of one of the papers.
Thalidomide, marketed between 1957 and 1961 by the German company Chemie Grünenthal, caused women to give birth to children with developmental deformities including brain damage and malformed arms, legs, hands and feet. Grünenthal has always claimed that its scientists developed the drug independently while searching for a new antihistamine formula, and the German government has consistently refused to compensate any victims without German citizenship.
An estimated 6,000 thalidomide victims are still alive, many of whom have never received financial compensation.
Among the new evidence presented by Johnson is an internal document proving that
Grünenthal purchased the trade name for thalidomide (Contergan) from Rhône-Poulenc, a French company controlled by the Nazis during World War II. Johnson notes that Rhône-Poulenc registered 14 chemically similar drugs after 1942 ending in the unique suffix “-ergan,” and that thalidomide falls easily into that category.
“Not only is the name typical of the Rhône-Poulenc brand names of the 1940s; the action of thalidomide also belongs among this range of products,” the report reads.
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Johnson further notes that Grünenthal’s 1954 patent on the drug implied that human trials had already been carried out, but no documentation was provided of those trials.
“The patents suggest that thalidomide was probably one of a number of products developed at [the chemical laboratory] Dyhernfurth or Auschwitz-Monowitz under the leadership of Otto Ambros in the course of nerve gas research.”
This claim is supported by evidence unearthed by Carlos De Napoli for his forthcoming book on the Nazi scientists. De Napoli has uncovered a 1944 memo from an IG Farben executive to Hitler’s personal doctor, referencing the development of a chemical with the exact same formula as thalidomide.
“There is absolutely no doubt of the Nazi development of and experimentation with thalidomide in the World War Two camps,” De Napoli said.