Herta Oberheuser, one of the main characters in Lilac Girls

Herta Oberheuser is one of the three main characters in my novel Lilac Girls. It was a fascinating research experience getting to know and understand her better. The only female doctor at Ravensbruck, Hitler’s only all-female camp, Herta played an important role there.

Herta, below, ended up at Ravensbruck by answering an advertisement in a medical journal for a camp physician at a “woman’s re-education camp.”

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At Ravensbruck she worked closely with Dr. Karl Gebhardt and Dr. Fritz Fischer on the pseudoscientific sulfonamide experiments (operating room below) performed on Polish prisoners. The survivors of the experiments became known, to the camp staff and prisoners alike, as “The Rabbits,” since they’d become the Nazi’s laboratory rabbits and because they hopped about the camp on their damaged legs. images-3 copy

Dr. Karl Gebhardt, below, Herta’s supervisor in the experiments, received a guilty verdict at the trial and was executed on June 2, 1948. During the trial he offered to have the same operations performed on himself to prove the surgeries were not life-threatening.

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Dr. Fritz Fischer (below) after his arrest for his part in the sulfonamide experiments. He was one of the few defendants to express remorse for his participation.

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Herta, shown below after her arrest for crimes against humanity

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Beginning December 9, 1946, an American military tribunal opened The Nuremberg Doctor’s Trial, procedings against 23 prominent doctors and administrators for voluntarily participating in war crimes. Herta was tried along with her Ravensbruck colleague Fritz Fischer seated to her left, below. Since Herta was the only woman defendant in the trial there was an intense debate concerning where she should sit. Inside the box with her co-defendants? In the front of the box? In a chair outside the box? The resulting decision was that she would sit with her co-defendants, in the order in which she was listed in court documents.

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Herta was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison but was released early by American authorities. Can’t reveal much more or it would spoil the ending of the book!

14 thoughts on “Herta Oberheuser, one of the main characters in Lilac Girls”

    1. Thank you for the incredible support, Connie. My next book is a prequel to Lilac Girls set in WWI. Can’t wait to share it!

  1. I just finished listening to the audio version of Lilac Girls and I truly loved it! Thank you for this wonderful book!

  2. Read lilacs twice. Was stationed in Germany army 1974. Nuremburg. Can’t believe humans could be so horrible then and now. Keep up your books. Enjoyed how you explained how you researched book.

  3. Was there documentation supporting the reference to Herta cutting herself, or was that incorporated into the story to add dimension to her personality? Does Herta cut herself as a way to identify with the people she was experimenting on in addition to providing her with an outlet for the psychological stress she was experiencing? And was there any evidence that she had homosexual tendencies? In the book it seemed that with the loss of her inmate assistant an important piece of her humanity was also lost. I am very curios to know if these events were merely creative liberties or if there was something in the archives that alluded to these tendencies.

  4. Hi Martha. Thank you for writing the book. My book club said it was the best one yet. We had heated debates and my question to you is do you feel herta had any remorse for her actions. Or was she doing what she had to to survive herself. Was she not drilled and brainwashed to believe her actions would serve her country? Thank you!!

    1. So glad you all enjoyed it, Denise! I think for Herta it was a little of both. She showed little remorse, and she was indeed doing what she did to survive. She also totally bought into all the Nazi propaganda. It’s a shame, since she could have contributed a lot to society.

    2. Herta never publicly showed remorse but she died a broken woman and I have to believe she eventually regretted her actions and understood how wrong they were. She was a product of Hitler’s hate-filled rhetoric, which made believe anyone not German was inferior and in some cases sub-human.

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