Note 8

The so-called ‘sulfa’ drugs have a ‘bacteriostatic’ action – preventing bacteria from multiplying in the host, so permitting the patient’s immune system to kill them – and were isolated and tested by Gerhard Domagk during his time as research director of the German chemical combine I.G. Farbenindustrie. Domagk was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1939, but prevented by Hitler from receiving it (he did eventually in 1947). By 1941, 1700 tons of sulfa drugs were given to ten million Americans. Yossarian’s liberality with the ‘white crystalline powder’ thus reflects a wholesale development in biotherapeutics at this time: penicillin and other antibiotics were being simultaneously produced by British drug companies, and by D-Day would be available in unlimited quantities to treat battlefield wounds. The irony of the 20th century’s medical advances is, as ever, given the darkest shading by the experiments of the Nazi doctors, who, in Ravensbrück concentration camp between 1942 and 1943, deliberately wounded inmates, then infected these wounds with streptococci, gas gangrene and tetanus, and tied off the blood vessels to simulate the conditions of a battlefield wound, before applying sulfa drugs to determine their effectiveness.

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