Communist Use of American POWs as Human Guinea Pigs (Part I): The Korean Experiment

Russell L. Blaylock, MD
Article Type: 
Feature Article
Summer 1997
Volume Number: 
Issue Number: 

The mastery of human consciousness should be a paramount political objective.
Antonio Gramsci

We have nothing to repent of.
General Kryuchkov, Chairman KGB


Most of the world is aware that the Nazis conducted medical experiments in National Socialist Germany. At least they are somewhat familiar with the eugenic experiments of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, since he was the subject of several popular movies, and, after all, that is the source of the average American's knowledge on most subjects.

The National Socialist conducted their experiments primarily in two areas: Those with military application and those related to racial extermination or purification. There were lesser experiments conducted concerning disorders not related to either of these broad classifications, such as the experiments performed by Eduard Wirths as regarded precancerous cervical growths and those done by a Polish neurologist related to electroshock therapy on male "schizoid" patients.

One of the more gruesome practices of the Nazi doctors consisted of training young student doctors by letting them perform various surgical operations and amputations on inmates in the various prison camps, especially Auschwitz. Some of these patients survived these operations while others were either killed outright by injecting phenol directly into their hearts, or by a well placed gunshot to the head. The bodies were disposed of in the crematoriums. Most of these gruesome practices were kept secret from the general population in Germany and certainly the world.

Once the world learned of these horror camps and of the particulars of the experiments from the Nuremberg Medical Trials, a call was immediately sounded calling for the civilized world to take steps to make sure that such terrifying acts of inhumanity would never happen again. Unfortunately, many came to believe this could, and had been done, both by letting the world know what had happened in these death camps and by creating a system of international courts to punish future tyrants. This was a very naive notion.

In fact, I can remember as late as the 1980s, many comments by survivors of the Holocaust stating that we must keep this incredible tragedy alive in the minds of all so that it can never happen again. At the time, I was taken aback by such a naive statement, knowing that since the National Socialist holocaust over a hundred million human beings had not only been exterminated, but a equal number had suffered, and were suffering, horribly under one of the most oppressive and murderous political philosophies known to the modern world --- communism.

Most Americans have not known, far less, experienced, communist oppression. Yet, there is a wide literature documenting the true nature of communism in practice as told by emigrés and even high ranking defectors from the communist dictatorships. But recently, we have learned that there are a significant number of Americans who were made quite familiar with the full force of the darkest aspect of the communist system.(1) These men include over one thousand POWs who were separated from the general population of POWs and transferred to highly secret hospitals to be used as human guinea pigs in a series of grotesque and night-marish experiments. The information concerning these atrocities was supplied by General Jan Sejna, one of the highest ranking officials to ever defect from the Soviet system. He was not only able to visit several of the facilities in his own country of Czechoslovakia, but he also visited several hospitals and research institutes in the Soviet Union itself. In addition, Sejna participated in virtually all of the high level, super-secret meetings and planning sessions.(2)

The reason I am writing this paper is that I believe that, like the holocaust story, we must also make the world aware of what happened to these unfortunate and brave men, and what was their subsequent fate. We owe at least that much to their families and to their memories. Robert Jay Lifton in his book, The Nazi Doctors, stated that the story of the National socialist experiments exposed the dark side of humanity.(3) I believe that the "institutionalization of this dark side of humanity" continued, and still continues, in the various communist systems of the world.

We must also use this experience to better appreciate the evils of state regimentation of medical care. Physicians acting either under duress from state officials or having been convinced by such regimentation that this behavior is justified, are no longer free to resist these darkest of evils.

How It All Began

The Soviets have a long history of experimenting with chemical (CW) and bacteriological warfare (BW) agents. Our first glimpse at this gruesome industry came from the extensively compiled data performed by Dr. Walter Hirsch of the German Chemical Warfare Section.(4) This data was based on documents and interviews with Soviet CW and BW officers who worked in the various plants and experimental facilities. This information was kept tightly guarded by the NKVD (Precursor of the KGB).

In his report Hirsch states: "...chemical warfare agents were tried on political prisoners in most inhuman ways without any consideration whatsoever." It was also noted in this report that a Professor Klimoshinski used human beings as experimental subjects in 1941 in Ulan Bator and other sections of Mongolia, using anthrax, pest and glanders. In most cases, the experimental subjects were Soviet prisoners and in some cases Japanese war prisoners. In the summer of 1941 the escape of one of the experimental subjects started a Bubonic plague epidemic among the Mongols. In an effort to stop the plague from spreading further, 3000 to 5000 Mongols were slaughtered.(5) It is known that there are numerous BW proving grounds located throughout the Urals and in Mongolia, mostly in close proximity to political prisoner camps so as to furnish "human experimental subjects."

But even more shocking was the testimony by former Moscow State University student Luba Markish and former Moscow University Professor David Azbel before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on March 30,1976.(6) In their testimony they told a horrifying story of how they, as well as numerous other students, had been exposed to a wide variety of biological and chemical agents as unwilling and unknowing test subjects. Many of these individuals were either killed or left severely incapacitated by these experiments.

Azebel testified that poison gases acting on the nervous system seemed to have priority among the agents used by the Soviets. The students were used because they were young and healthy and because their reactions could be closely monitored by the university health clinics. This entire program was shrouded in utmost secrecy by the Soviet authorities.

The use of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric prisons to test various mind-altering agents was both well known within the Soviet Union and, eventually, outside the Soviet block as well. This use of chemicals and drugs to alter the mental functioning of dissidents and political "criminals" was condemned by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1971 as well as the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), as a practice which they equated with torture and "chemical lobotomies." Instead of altering their practice, the Soviets merely withdrew their membership from the WPA.

Among the 2000 plus prisons within the Soviet block, there existed a large network of psychiatric hospitals and prisons. Those interred within the walls of these houses of horror included thousands of normal, healthy individuals who either protested the Soviet

system, asked for a visa to leave the Soviet Union, or expressed a belief in God. These unfortunates were diagnosed as having a "misjudgment of the surrounding reality."(7) The medical superintendent of the Skvortsov-Stepanov psychiatric hospital in Leningrad, Kkaterina Kurakina, stated repeatedly that "people who believe in God belong in a mental ward," which was, of course, Soviet policy.

One of the most terrifying of these psychiatric facilities was the special psychiatric prison of Sychevka, again in Leningrad. Inmates were beaten, continuously drugged with a multitude of unknown agents, and often placed in wet straight jackets that, when allowed to dry, produced intense constriction of the chest. Others were confined in solitary cells ankle deep in filthy water, without bathroom facilities, bed and with little food. The military used many of these inmates to test new mind-altering drugs that could produce intense disorientation, memory loss, or an inability to perceive reality. Many of these effects were permanent.

Several of these facilities were run by the KGB to handle special dissidents and political prisoners. For example, the Kresty prison in Leningrad was a KGB prison holding over 10,000 inmates. Within this huge facility was a special psychiatric hospital that could only be described in terms similar to those of Dante's Inferno. Inmates were given forced injections which produced unconsciousness and later, disorientation.

A Hospital of Horror in North Korea

Much of what is known about the use of American POWs in medical experiments comes from the first hand information given to researcher Dr. Joseph D. Douglas by General Jan Sejna, one of the highest ranking communist defectors throughout the entire period of the Soviet Unions' existence. Dr. Douglas has extensive experience in the field of defense policy, technology and intelligence and was the deputy director of the Tactical Technology Office of the Advance Research Projects Agency. He is the author of numerous books on this subject, several of which were the source of this paper.

Czechoslovakian participation in the Soviet medical intelligence operation began early in the Korean war. The Czechs were instructed by Moscow to build an experimental hospital in North Korea for the sole purpose of using American POWs for medical experiments. The plans for this operation were drawn up by the Military Project Institute, a part of the Construction Administration of the Czech Ministry of Defense. A special department was established to make sure that all of this was kept top secret.

The cover for the hospital construction was that it was to be used to treat military causalities and to train young military doctors in treating combat wounds. In fact, the hospital was to be used to experiment on captured American POWs using various CW, BW, and mind-altering agents. A crematorium was constructed adjacent to the hospital to dispose of the gruesome "evidence." Involved in these experiments were roughly 1000 American servicemen captured during the Korean war. Approximately 100 of these men were later shipped to the Soviet Union for "special experiments." These unfortunate individuals were shipped to the Soviet Union via East Germany, and primarily Czechoslovakia in order to disrupt the trail leading to the Soviet Union as the originator and primary benefactor of the project.(8)

Overall direction of the medical experiments in North Korea were under the control of Colonel Rudolf Babka, Czech General Staff deputy director of military intelligence for strategic intelligence. He was known as a hard-line Stalinist. The hospital itself was designed to hold 200 patients but it was frequently overcrowded, with over 600 patients being reported in one period. It was not unusual that two patients shared the same bed, as was often the case in most Soviet hospitals.

The selection of doctors chosen to work in these facilities was carried out principally by the Czech Military Health Administration, assisted by the Administrative Organs Department. The doctors had to be cleared by a rigorous Soviet KGB examination. Once they were selected and cleared, the list was submitted to the head of the Soviet Military Health Administration who was individually and personally responsible for the medical aspects of the plan. Approximately fifteen doctors and scientist were finally approved. The doctors came from the Central Military Hospital, The College for Military Doctors, and the Airforce Scientific Research Institute at Kradack Kralove, where many of the experimental drugs had been developed. This insured that the doctors working on the project were most loyal and under strict guidance from the military. The scientist were from the Academy of Sciences. Regimentation produces loyal soldiers, even among doctors and scientist. This entire operation was shrouded in utmost secrecy.

In order to train the doctors for their new duties, a select group was sent to the Institute for Nuclear Medicine in Moscow. The doctor in charge of this institute was the head of the Airforce Science Institute. The doctors were, of course, accompanied by a counter-intelligence officer. The cover for this operation was that these doctors were studying the effects of nuclear war on Soviet soldiers. In truth, they were studying the effects of chemical and biological agents, radiation, and drugs on American POWs from the Korean war.

The Korean Hospital Experiments

Our knowledge concerning the actual experiments comes from the annual review reports of the intelligence plans. These were highly classified reports but they were read by General Sejna who had the highest security clearance. The reports discussed the improvements in chemical and biological warfare capabilities and the tremendous advances that had been made in their knowledge concerning the clinical and pathological effects of radiation exposure, all obtained from these gruesome experiments on American soldiers. It was only later that the CIA learned of the incredible knowledge the Soviets possessed concerning the effects of radiation exposure on humans, which far exceeded anything possessed by the United States.

One of the reports discussed the effects of various drug exposures and described several severe and debilitating side effects, many of which were permanent. In each case, test were performed to find antidotes and prophylactic treatments, with the goal being to produce agents that would incapacitate or kill enemy soldiers but protect their own soldiers.

The POWs severely incapacitated by the experiments were killed and their bodies incinerated. It was reported that a few such unfortunates were kept alive to study the long term effects of these drugs and biological agents and to see if the effects would subside over a long period of time. Sejna suspects that these individuals were kept in Soviet mental hospitals for close observation for periods of 20 to 50 years. It may be that some American survivors of these inhumane experiments are still being held in these psychiatric houses of horror.

As for the radiation experiments, something the Soviets were most interested in the period during the 1950s, they not only studied the effects of radiation on the human body, but were also looking for ways to limit damage to their own soldiers. These experiments involved the use of radioactive isotopes supplied by the Soviet Union and included exposure of American POWs to high intensity radiation within a nuclear reactor. These "subjects" were transported to the Institute of Nuclear Medicine in Moscow. Such a terrifying and painful death can only be imagined.

While these experiments are horrifying enough, they get even worse. Some American GIs were used to test the effects of a nuclear blast. They were placed varying distances from the site of detonation of a nuclear device to study the effects, not only of radiation, but also over-pressure, shock, and thermal burns. Over-pressure involves the enormous pressures created by the compression of the atmosphere around the epicenter of the blast as it expands outward. We know from our Vietnam experience that the over-pressure from a 2000-pound bomb can literally liquify every organ in the body. One can only imagine the effects of a nuclear blast.

Exposing humans to nuclear test was, of course, nothing new to the Soviet leadership. They had been doing it all along, having been known to purposefully exposed whole communities to low level radiation and fallout during atomic testing. In another well known experiment using Soviet prisoners from the gulag, scientist tied these helpless men to post situated varying distances from a central point. At this central point various chemical agents were released to test the effects of high and low concentrations during diffusion of these agents.

Another program, right out of a Stephen King novel, was designed to train combat surgeons to perform various operations, especially amputations. American POWs were used as living cadavers. Their limbs were amputated and organs removed. Following these surgeries, should the victim not die outright, they were killed and their bodies cremated in the crematoriums next to the hospital. This is especially horrifying when you consider that many of these soldiers were in their early 20s. You may recall, the National Socialist Nazis also used inmates to train their budding surgeons.

Fate of the POWs after the Korean War

After the war officially ended for the United States in 1954, the Soviets decided to terminate their operation in the North Korean hospital and turn the operation over to the North Koreans. As part of this decision, all of the POWs that were either severely mentally or physically impaired and of no further experimental use, were killed and their bodies cremated to destroy the evidence. Those still being used in experiments or being observed long term were shipped to the Soviet Union for further, more elaborate, experiments. This contingent included roughly 100 Americans.(9)

Again, the Soviets wanted to keep this operation absolutely secret, knowing that any connection to themselves would cause severe diplomatic repercussions and ultimately damage the communist world movement. To do this, they had to break the trail to themselves. They did this by shipping the American POWs first, to an allied Warsaw country before being shipped to Moscow. While other countries were involved in this subterfuge, East Germany, North Korea, and even China, most were ferreted through Czechoslovakia.The POWs were first flown to Prague, given medical exams and then shipped out to the Soviet Union for various medical experiments. The stop over in Prague lasted for approximately one week.

The Horror Continues

As we shall see in Part II of this report, the use of American soldiers captured during war was to continue during the Vietnam experience. The amount of knowledge gained by the Soviets utilizing human guinea pigs was highly significant. By the time of America's entry into the Vietnam war, the Soviets were far ahead of the United States in radiation biology and the development of chemical and biological weapons.

In Part II, I shall review events occurring during the Vietnam war as well as possible uses of these agents against our Gulf war soldiers. I will also examine some of the advances made by the Soviets in various specialized fields. It should be noted that while the Soviet Union no longer exist as a unified communist state, socialism is still very much alive. The reorganized KGB, called the Ministry of Security, still dominates the CIS, especially as regards all aspects of commerce and trade. The KGB not only continues to participate in an enormous espionage effort in the West, but they are still the prime movers in the world-wide narcotics trade.


1. Douglas JD. Preliminary development of information on the use of American POWs by Soviet intelligence and main medical administration and following the Korean and Vietnam wars. In press.
2. Ibid., p.1.
3. Lifton RJ. The Nazi Doctors. Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York, Basic Books, Inc. Publishers, 1986, p.3.
4. Hirsch W. Soviet chemical warfare and biological warfare preparation and capabilities - 1935-1945. Translated by Zaven Nalbandian, Office of the Chief, Chemical Corp., U.S. Army, 1951.
5. Ibid.
6. Humans Used as Human Guinea Pigs in the Soviet Union. Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Laws Act and other Internal Security Laws, Committee on the Judiciary, Senate, 30, March 1976.
7. Shifrin A. The First Guidebook to Prisons and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union. New York, Bantam Books, 1982, p.24.
8. Douglas, op. cit., p.4.
9. Ibid.

Dr. Blaylock is a member of the Editorial Board of the Medical Sentinel; Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Mississippi at Jackson; President of Advanced Nutritional Concepts in Jackson, Mississippi; and author of Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills (1994).

This article may be cited as: Blaylock RL. Communist Use of American POWs as Human Guinea Pigs (Part I): The Korean Experiment Medical Sentinel 1997;2(3):93-96. Available from:

Copyright ©1997, 2015 Hacienda Publishing Inc.

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