But the Nazi doctor was a great guy?

A letter-to-the-editor in response to last week’s front-page Wall Street Journal article about a space medicine award being named for a Nazi researcher reveals that some people — a physician, in this case — apparently still don’t get it.

For background, here’s an excerpt from the WSJ article:

Every year since 1963, the Space Medicine Association has given out the Hubertus Strughold Award to a top scientist or clinician for outstanding work in aviation medicine.

The prestigious 50-year-old prize is named in honor of the man known as the “Father of Space Medicine,” revered for his contributions to America’s early space program. The German émigré, who made Texas his home after World War II, is credited with work that helped American astronauts walk on the moon.

Dr. Strughold, a former scientist for the Third Reich, was listed as one of 13 “persons, firms or organizations implicated” in some notorious Dachau concentration camp experiments, according to a 1946 memo by the staff of the Nuremberg Trials. The document referenced the infamous hypothermia, or “cold experiments,” in which inmates were used, and typically died, as subjects exposed to freezing conditions.

For years, former colleagues and disciples have defended him, saying there was no evidence to conclude he engaged in atrocities. Other space scientists have argued that his involvement in Hitler’s war machine should prevent any honors, including the eponymous prize, from being named for him.

He was never tried at Nuremberg. In America, the U.S. Justice Department investigated him at several junctures but never found sufficient grounds for prosecution.

For years, former colleagues and disciples have defended him, saying there was no evidence to conclude he engaged in atrocities. Other space scientists have argued that his involvement in Hitler’s war machine should prevent any honors, including the eponymous prize, from being named for him.

He was never tried at Nuremberg…

But as more evidence surfaced in recent years about Dr. Strughold’s wartime activities—including the disclosure by German scholars that his institute in Berlin had conducted experiments on young children from a psychiatric asylum—the doctors, scientists and astronauts who inhabit the rarefied world of space and aviation medicine have become embroiled in an anguished debate…

Here is the letter of interest:

Dr. Strughold’s Past Confronts His American Legacy
I have become very frustrated with the witch hunts designed to destroy the legacies of people such as the world’s leading space-medicine scientist, Hubertus Strughold (“A Scientist’s Nazi-Era Past Haunts Prestigious Space Prize,” page one, Dec. 1), and the greatest of our Founding Fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Almost none of those attacking these leaders lived or could place themselves in the arena of Washington, Jefferson or Dr. Strughold, who taught me at the U.S. Air Force School of Aviation Medicine in 1957. He took our class through his amazing research lab, which was essential to our early space endeavors. On two occasions I had the pleasure of one-on-one conversations with him. We talked about life in Germany during World War II, the history of the German people and the derivation of German family names. He was friendly, relaxed and ended both encounters by telling me that he was very happy to be invited to live and work in America.

A distant cousin of mine, a Jew, was killed in a gas chamber. Her husband, a Catholic, spent the war in a concentration camp and barely survived. I have no love for the Hitler regime, but I do respect those non-Nazi Germans who came to America and made great contributions for us and the world. I would hope that the Space Medicine Association would rightfully keep Dr. Strughold’s name on its award.

White McKenzie Wallenborn, M.D.

Charlottesville, Va. [Emphasis added]


25 thoughts on “But the Nazi doctor was a great guy?”

  1. Oh, by the way Gamecock. You think religion is not important – well, OK not as important as making money (you have read “The Merchants of Death? I presume). But tell a Jew, a Christian, A Buddhist, a Muslim that religion is not important!! – Trouble is they all have it f***d up – well, not ALL of them, but a lot of their so-called “authorities”.

  2. OK Gamecock, you have your point of view but whoever paid the reparations it worked. Lots of people have picked fights with me Gamecock – and guess who got shot down? – But you’re a good buddy, so don’rt worry.

  3. The “solution” wasn’t religious. Introducing religion is bogus.

    What happened after WWII has no bearing on what happened after WWI. Wilson threw his vaunted 14 points into the trash can when the Brits and French told him that they didn’t have the money to pay America back. German reparations were for American, not Europe.

    I repeat, if the Allies had maintained their military preparedness, Germany would not have triggered WWII. You don’t pick a fight with someone who can beat you.

  4. Gamecock, I don’t agree. The “allies” wanted a fight in the first war just as much as the Germans did. What happened after the SECOND war – friendship with the Germans and the Japs – turned out to be a much better (and more Christian) solution.

  5. Okay, plain English for everyone who does not understand what is being said here: Let’s say I don’t like an award given to some dude researching using fetal stem cells. Instead of actually attacking the research on its own merits, I do an ancestor search and find his grandfather was probably associated with the Nazis. Now I go after him as a Nazi and say he learned his science from his grandfather so it’s Nazi research reborn. It cannot be proven in the researcher’s lifetime, so I wait until he is dead and start again. Now there’s no one to defend the researcher and I can strip him of any honors he got. Not because what he is doing is wrong now, not because the science is bad, but because he may have had a connection I cannot prove to a bad person. Do you understand how dangerous and stupid this is? Not to mention 100% not scientific. It’s a witch hunt by scientists. (For trolls: It doesn’t matter if he learned from his grandfather or not, he COULD have and that makes him party to the atrocities. Substitute any research you like–I chose one that is easy to relate to. Type of research makes no difference whatsoever. All that matters is someone is accused of something that was never proven during their lifetime and has no real proof now.)

  6. Not exactly. If they Allies had maintained military preparedness after WWI, they could have gotten away with sticking it to the Germans.

  7. Well, the fact is – Hitler had such a hold on the German people that every German HAD TO BE a Nazi – or you were a dead DEAD German or in a Concentration Camp – take your choice. If the allies had not crucified the Germans after the First War – none of this would have happened – FACT.

  8. To Kozlovch.
    Hubertus Strughold was not responsible for the experiments of Sigmund Rascher in Dachau. Rather Raschers bosses for the underpressure experiments were Siegfried (not Sigmund) Ruff and Georg Weltz, for the undercooling experiments Ernst Holzlöhner. However, Strughold met Rascher at the symposium “Seenot und Winterkälte” which took place 26. 27.th October 1942 in Nürnberg.
    By the way; Raschers undercooling experiments were inspired by the work of the American doctor Temple Fay, a highly honoured scientist …

  9. Reality check, all I can say is Amen. Even if the allegations were even partially true, why not get more upset with the present rampant anti-semitism?

  10. It seems the best way to deal with a person one does not like is to wait until they are dead, then declare the person was evil. Ignore the lack of evidence when the person was breathing and just smear away. Now it’s innocent until you die, guilty as hell thereafter. This is very, very disturbing. Actively advocating the smearing of dead people’s reputations for whatever goal one wants to achieve.
    While we are on the subject of evil people being rewarded, the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to persons guilty of terrorism and treason. Does anyone have problem with that? Should we shut down the whole thing since evil people are winning “peace” prizes? Or wait until they are dead and take back the prize?

  11. Coach Springer,

    am afraid that not enough information has been delivered during this conversation. Before we get into Strughold’s history I would like to address the point that you make claiming to “shudder at the prospect of science that must first pass a subjective test of moral purity, because that, by definition, cannot be science”. Why? I made it clear during my comments that this involved inappropriate human experimentation, not animal testing. Nor do I think that using informed test subjects with the right to withdraw is immoral. Why then should we believe that morality prevents ‘science’? Unless we are to assume that science is a Golden Calf and is above the morality of the herd! It is fortunate that it is the herd that will make that decision.

    However, back to Strughold and his history! After the war there were hundreds of medical people involved in all of these experiments in horror (I haven’t the space to include descriptions of what occurred), including Strughold, yet in spite of the vastness of these “medical” programs involving hundreds of “researchers” there were only 23 charged with criminal activity during the Nuremburg Trials.

    These Nazi leaders who allowed these experiments in horror were the same people who in 1933 passed a law for the protection of animals. The law cited the prevention of cruelty and indifference to animals as one of the highest moral values of a people, animal experimentation was unthinkable, yet these victims in human experimentation, which numbered in the thousands were acceptable.

    There were 200 German medical doctors conducting these medical experiments.Most of these doctors were friends of the United States [medical establishment] before the war. Under “Operation Paperclip” these scientists were protected from their previous actions for the Nazi’s. Strughold was in charge of the Dachau experiments, with full knowledge that the experiments were conducted on captive humans. His subordinates were Dr Sigmund Ruff and Dr Sigmund Rascher, who were directly involved in “aviation medicine” experiments at Dachau. Given the Nazi mentality about the chain of command it seems impossible that Strughold was ignorant of what was going on, or only an observer, or merely casually informed, rather than a participant. As the war began to wind down many of these people attempted to keep their names off official records for fear of criminal charges after the war ended, including those in the aviation testing programs.

    It is amazing that so many millions suffered so much, perpetrated by so many, and no one knew anything. And that is all I will say on this subject.

  12. I cannot see how “calling something illegal” and then doing little or nothing to stop it makes one morally superior to someone who will not call it wrong. We obviously have no real concern about the rightness or wrongness of the actions or we would punish those who engage in those actions. Germany was under a dictator at the time of the atrocities–we are not. People are free to speak out, as has been done by this blog. Yet action against the perpetrators has not been forthcoming–it looks like they are trying to bury the whole thing. That does not really count for much that some Americans call this immoral while others try to cover it up. We are not so much “better” as one would think.

  13. I’m feeling circumspect about this. Maybe they wouldn’t name the award the same now with current day rumors that project the present’s high regard for itself on the past, but the purpose in naming was to recognize his space-medicine contributions without making a moral purity test out of it. Should we cast out scientists because they work for big oil – or “deny” the holocaust of climate change? They were definitely trying to be broadminded seeing that he was innocent until proven guilty and felt that his contribtons far outweighed the fact that he tried to be a scentist while living in Nazi Germany. Were the experimets along the lines of prorgrssive eugenics celebrated throughout the wordl? Is there such a thing as redemption?

    So, what were these experiments, what was his role, and what were the ethics of the time and place that he operated in? It’s imporant. I also shudder at the prospect of science that must first pass a subjective test of moral purity, because that, by befinition, cannot be science,

  14. Point noted. Maybe they can co-name the award after Strughold and Lisa Jackson? (Similar to Penn State exonerating someone to hide embarrassment and calling it the Manndusky Award.)

  15. Bestruger1022 makes a good argument here regarding the casting of stones. Scientists, with the blessing of the federal government, have conducted experiments on human beings that places a huge burden of shame on both government and science, and it has gone on for decades, including radiation experiments on human beings.

    However, in America this is illegal and will be found so in the courts, while in Nazi Germany it was policy and no court in Germany would find against their government, nor would such a case ever appear before them. That is why it is even more important to take a stand on this issue. If it isn’t made clear that a moral society will not tolerate these kinds of actions then it is clear that scientists and government will act immorally. The only problem I have is I have yet to see American scientists, and the bureaucrats who hired and funded them, sentenced to prison for work that must be considered immoral by the most casual observer.

    The current action against the EPA is a step in the right direction. We also need to continue to condemn old transgressors. It is all part and parcel of the same package if we wish to end immoral experimentation on human beings.

    Consistency counts!

  16. The EPA is experimenting on live human subjects using carcinogenic gases that are ‘swiftly fatal’. Do we really have the right to cast stones when we’re still doing the same kind of crap today?

  17. It depends on his actual involvement. If he was a medical student filling out charts or arranging medical supplies back in Berlin, that’s one thing. If he was there performing autopsies on the victims, that’s another thing entirely.

    This is similar to the Pope. Yes he was in Hitler Youth (which was mandatory), but he was not in any way involved in the atrocities of the war.

    The only thing that I can say in the end is that I trust the Nazi-hangers in their decision to let him go a HECK of a lot more than I trust these vague accusations brought up 70 years after the fact.

  18. I agree with Gamecock–the man was investigated over and over. Only after he died did the “new” allegations come up, just in time for no one to speak up about the truth or falseness of the claim. It seems indeed that the seriousness of the charge is now the standard for guilt in what used to be innocent until proven guilty. We should be more afraid of this reality than of a possible mistake we may have made in judging a now dead doctor who may or may not have helped the Nazis. We risk becoming just as bad as the dictator we condemned.

  19. Moral foundation for the federal government regarding some Nazi’s was interesting since they found all sorts of reasons to protect and not prosecute those who were part of the Nazi spy apparatus; but that is government. What do you expect?

    It is the world of science that I think has interesting moral foundations. I can remember that for years it was argued that no data accumulated by Nazi scientists should ever be used if they accumulated it via human experiments, which amounted to nothing more than sadism it seems to me.

    Interestingly…. I disagreed with that view. Data is data. How the data is acquired can be disgusting, but data is still data and utilizing it doesn’t change condemnation of those who gathered it deserve, nor does it encourage scientists in a moral society to mimic them. Those in other immoral socialist societies will do whatever they want irrespective of what the Nazi’s did.

    Now we have a man that has a prestigious award named after him who has been shown to be much worse that originally believed. At the end of the war it was quite common for the federal government to clear important Nazi scientists and engineers who were involved in crimes against humanity, just as they did with the spies. In for a dime, in for a dollar.

    It also my belief from my reading over the years the intelligence services knew of these crimes and deliberately swept them under the carpet, just as they did for the spies. Werner Von Braun was such an example as more information came out by the 70’s. Here is a video worth watching….make sure to get past the first part that kind of praises him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqAT470a6xE&feature=related

    Defending a man that an award has been named after (where there is no evidence of wrong doing) is a moral stand that is understandable, even laudable. However, once the truth is exposed to the light of day it becomes an immoral stand. And attempting to link him with Washington and Jefferson is a logical fallacy and doesn’t change the immorality of such a stand.

    It appears that the scientific community has as loose a moral foundation as the federal government, which so many of them have condemned for its lack of morality. In short…..there is no moral foundation they all agree on. Is it any wonder that there are so many fraudulent studies appearing every year?

  20. The Allies looked at the doctor’s record in 1946. Here, 66 years later, we think we know better?

    I know. It’s not the evidence, it’s the seriousness of the charge.

  21. I have a real problem with him putting Dr. Strughold in the same circles as Jefferson and Washington. Jefferson had his issues and Washington didnt free his slaves until his death, but neither were ascribed the type of behavior that Dr. Strughold. I agree, celebrate his accomplishments but you dont have to five out an award in his name.

    Read the full article btw, really balanced and thourough which is a rarity with Pravda these days.

  22. I understand honoring a Nazi Dr. like this man it makes perfect sense. I can’t wait until we all come to our senses and honor Charles Mason and his contributions to Rock N Roll and Psychodelic reseach. Or why not honor Sirhan Sirhan and his ballistic reseach and impact studies on high velocity objects and the human skull? I’m sure we can find something we can honor OJ for too? Maybe some sort of honor for demonstrating how to keep your fingers bent while trying on gloves.

    I am sorry murder kind of disqualifies a person from future honors, no matter how much good they do later. How about they just do the good they can do because they didn’t get what they really deserved and be happy with that.

  23. Bringing Strughold to the USA and employing him in the space program (much as we did with Von Braun) can be seen as necessary for our own national interests – so we hold our noses and act pragmatically. But that certainly should not mean that an award should be named for him. He might well be called the father of space medicine but it should be made clear at the same time that he acted contrary to our strongly held ethical principles (if not international legal norms) in using and promoting the use of live humans in his experiments.

    At some point even the most pragmatic of us must realize how disturbingly unseemly and apparently immoral having an award named for such a person is.

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