New research reveals that the Nazis attempted to use mosquitoes as biological weapons during World War II. In 1941, Heinrich Himmler ordered the creation of a research station based out of the Dachau concentration camp. The station claimed to be conducting defensive research aimed at protecting the German people from deadly diseases. However, evidence discovered by University of Tubingen ecologist Klaus Reinhardt shows that the station was actually working on a program to breed and disseminate malaria-ridden mosquitoes into enemy territory.

“Hitler repeatedly and strictly ordered that biological weapons should not be used, even for defensive purposes,” Reinhardt told Smithsonian.com. “However, his order of ‘extreme’ efforts into defense from biological weapons left the door open for those authorities that attempted to circumvent Hitler’s biological weapons ban.” Hitler had officially agreed not to use biological or chemical weapons when Germany signed the Geneva Protocol in 1925.

Reinhardt’s research also uncovered a secret plot to use fleas to spread the plague. The project, code-named Siebenschläfer, or Dormouse, had the potential to wreak inconceivable and irreversible damage.

Himmler’s insufficient scientific knowledge, however, kept the potentially fatal program from taking flight (literally). Behind the project was “a bizarre mix of Himmler’s smattering of scientific knowledge, personal paranoia, an esoteric world view,” Reinhardt told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. In comparison with the biological research of the allied forces, he said, Nazi research had been “risible.”

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