Phenol was discovered in 1834 by Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge.... Injections of phenol were used as a means of individual execution by the Nazis during the Second World War. It was originally used by the Nazis in 1939 as part of Action T4.

Thus saith Wikipedia.

Was this the first known use of phenol to purposefully execute individuals? I am not only asking about its use as an official means of execution, but about anybody who purposefully used phenol to execute an individual, whether sanctioned by a government or not.

  • 2
    If you think this question can be answered with a Wikipedia link or a simple Google search, show me it and I'll vote to close too.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 21:07
  • This was a disinfectant. I have no doubt whatsoever that Trump alluded to this yesterday when he suggested injecting disinfectant to “cure” Covid19. Not mentioned in the answers but it was injected by the Nazis straight into the heart of children.
    – Gordon
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 18:28

2 Answers 2


Yes. In fact, the Nazis appear to be the only people to have ever used phenol for executions.

Primarily, the purpose of using lethal injection is to reduce suffering and "sanitize" the process of executions. If he protocol for administering these drugs is inadequate, lethal injection can cause great pain and be very drawn out. Phenol was used primarily as an antiseptic during this time period.

The antiseptic properties of phenol were used by Sir Joseph Lister (1827–1912) in his pioneering technique of antiseptic surgery. Lister decided that the wounds themselves had to be thoroughly cleaned. He then covered the wounds with a piece of rag or lint[15] covered in phenol, or carbolic acid as he called it. The skin irritation caused by continual exposure to phenol eventually led to the substitution of aseptic (germ-free) techniques in surgery.

Phenol is the active ingredient in some oral analgesics such as Chloraseptic spray and Carmex.

Because phenol was not very effective in causing swift death, the Nazis injected it into the ventricles of the heart. (In other words, its an unusual choice)

The first execution using lethal injection after WWII was in Texas in 1982 using a more effective three drug protocol. Alternatively, other countries use overdoses of barbituates.

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    Also, I'll add that the Nazis tried adding cyanide to the phenol to make it more deadly. Some scientists were charged with war crimes for human experimentation using phenol, so it seems they invented it. I've tried to find a source about why the Nazis used phenol, since I highly suspect it was about cost effectiveness in trying to create hundreds of thousands of doses.
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 18:46

'For use in "medical" executions of prisoners and members of the SS and other branches of the German armed forces, simple lethal injections, particularly phenol injections, remained the instrument of choice.' (from the book The Doctors of Infamy: The story of Nazi Medical War Crimes)

Himmler initiated the 'medical' research which was carried out by Mengele, Brandt et al. While it has been known since the 1880s that phenol would cause death if injected, it wasn't used as a method of execution because of the varying amount necessary and the intense smell. The Nazis used it on prisoners and on German submariner's accused of crimes in particular because the smell was not a concern and it was easy and inexpensive to obtain or make.


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