Secret Radiation Experiments
Every day, more and more information emerges about the secret radiation experiments United States government scientists conducted on thousands of innocent citizens, including babies and pregnant women. San Antonio Congressman Frank Tejeda recently urged President Clinton to release a long-awaited final report on the experiments, compiled over the past year by Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. The gruesome procedures-zapping men's testicles with X-rays, injecting pregnant women with radioactive substances, etc.-are only too reminiscent of the experiments conducted by Nazi doctors in the concentration camps. Now, evidence has surfaced to suggest that scientists at the United States Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at Brooks AFB in San Antonio who had actually worked in Nazi Germany during World War II were involved in "dozens" of radiation experiments, including total body irradiation and flashblindness studies, according to a draft of the Advisory Committee's final report, Air Force records, and other government documents. The scientists included the famed Dr. Hubertus Strughold, whose alleged Nazi past was under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny at the time of his death in 1986, and a dozen other German scientists brought to San Antonio after the war under "Operation Paperclip." Paperclip was a secret project run by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that brought 1,600 German scientists to America from 1945 to 1968 to work for the military and NASA. San Antonio Jewish community leaders recently expressed outrage when learning of the Nazi connection. "It is morally outrageous that the government of the United States protected and continues to protect Nazis that were brought to this country to work on special projects for our armed forces," said Maxine Cohen, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio. "In using the services of these amoral scientists, our government compromised the most basic principals of American decency and integrity." Strughold, often called the "father of space medicine," was chief scientist of the Aerospace Medical Division at Brooks when he retired in 1968. A colonel in the German air force, Strughold headed up Germany's Medical Research Institute for Aviation during World War II. He came to San Antonio in 1947 and set up a department of space medicine at Randolph Field. This award-winning scientist was internationally known for his work on low-pressure chambers which paved the way for NASA's manned space flights. But there was a dark side to the Paperclip scientists; Strughold himself was the focus of numerous controversies throughout his life, including allegations that he had been involved in experiments at the Dachau concentration camp. In 1974, he was publicly identified as one of 37 war crimes suspects under investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit was investigating him at the time of his death. Strughold always maintained he didn't know about the Dachau experiments until after the war. "I was against Hitler and his beliefs," Strughold once told a reporter. "I sometimes had to hide myself because my life was in danger from the Nazis." But evidence introduced during the trial of Nazi doctors at Nuremberg, known as the "Medical Case," indicates Strughold must have known about the experiments, through his close associates and through a conference he attended. On October 26 and 27, 1942, a scientific conference was held in Nuremberg to discuss "Medical Problems Arising from Distress at Sea and Winter Hardships." One of the main speakers, a Professor Holzloehner, openly discussed experiments he conducted on Dachau prisoners who were frozen to death in vats of ice water in the camp yard during the winter. The prisoners endured excruciating pain before they died, as parts of their bodies slowly began to freeze.Eyewitnesses later testified at Nuremberg that Holzloehner's lecture created a "sensation" at the conference. Strughold's name is listed on Nuremberg records as one of the 95 people present at the conference. A transcript of the conference shows Strughold spoke briefly about a lecture given by his subordinate, Konrad Schaefer, on making seawater potable. Schaefer also was employed at SAM, in 1950, after he was tried and acquitted at Nuremberg for participating in seawater experiments at Dachau. In addition to Strughold and Schaefer, five other scientists who worked at SAM must have known about the Dachau experiments since they reportedly also attended the 1942 conference:Walter Schreiber-a notorious Nazi general who worked at SAM in 1951, even though he was a wanted war criminal. After a public outcry over his presence here, Air Force officers facilitated his emigration to Argentina. Hans Clamann-spoke at the conference on "protection against cold"; worked at SAM on rapid decompression. Ulrich Luft-a high altitude specialist at Strughold's institute; worked at SAM on rapid decompression experiments. Konrad Buettner-spoke at the conferenced on "bioclimatology of the aviator"; conducted research at SAM on the effects of extreme heat on man. Richard Lindenberg-a pathologist with the German air command; at SAM studied the effects of oxygen deficiency on the brain. Strughold was also close to several other scientists involved in Dachau experiments. Three men who worked at Strughold's institute-Hermann Becker-Freyseng, Schaefer, and Clamann-attended a meeting at the institute to plan seawater experiments. In the experiments, 40 Gypsies were deprived of food and given only chemically processed seawater to drink. "The people were crazy from thirst and hunger, we were so hungry-but the doctor had no pity on us," testified survivor Karl Hoellenrainer. A number of victims suffered heart seizures and died. When it was over, Hoellenrainer could barely walk, but he was still assigned to a work detail in another camp. The bodies of his dead companions were burned in the crematorium. Another colleague of Strughold's, Siegfried Ruff, was involved in high altitude experiments. During the war, Ruff was head of aeromedicine at the German Experimental Institute for Aviation and co-authored several books with Strughold. Nuremberg trial evidence shows Ruff attended many experiment planning meetings, including one held at Dachau where Ruff toured the camp's experimental facilities. Nearly 80 men died in the experiments when they were locked inside an airtight chamber, brought to Dachau from Ruff's institute, and kept at altitudes up to 68,000 feet without oxygen for up to 30 minutes. Ruff reported at the time that one victim, a former Jewish delicatessen clerk, "yells loudly" and "gives the impression of someone who is completely out of his mind." As the poor man huddled in the corner of the chamber, doubled over with convulsions and gasping for air, his tormentors cold-bloodedly filmed the experiment to make a faithful record of his agony. After the war, the U.S. Army Air Force was curious to learn what the Germans knew about aeromedicine. As a result, dozens of German scientists were employed in late 1945-46 at the AAF Aero Medical Center in Heidelberg to translate their wartime research and conduct laboratory experiments. Strughold was put in charge of that group, which included Ruff, Becker-Freyseng, and Schaefer. Their work at the AAF center involved writing reports or conducting laboratory tests for the U.S. military that were based on wartime experiments that the Nuremberg prosecutors later charged had been conducted on concentration camp inmates. On September 16, 1946, Ruff, Becker-Freyseng, and Schaefer were arrested by Army CIC agents and taken to Nuremberg to stand trial. Eight days after Becker-Freyseng's arrest, Nuremberg investigator Herbert Meyer questioned him at length about Strughold's role in the Dachau experiments. Strughold had been directly subordinate to Erich Hippke, chief of the German air force's medical service, and then to Oskar Schroeder later in the war. Both men had signed orders that authorized experiments in the camps. Becker-Freyseng was familiar with their activities, since he had worked in Schroeder's office and also at Strughold's institute. He told Meyer that Strughold had advised Hippke and Schroeder on research matters, especially regarding high-altitude testing; that Strughold had known about the experiments, and that he had received copies of Becker-Freyseng's reports and those submitted by Ruff and Schaefer. Meyer then repeatedly asked Becker-Freyseng whether Strughold had had the authority to stop the experiments: "If Dr. Strughold did not agree with a specific experiment, could he interrupt it?" Meyer asked Becker-Freyseng. "I would assume, yes," Becker-Freyseng replied. "Did he have the power at his disposal?" "Of course, he was director of the Institute." "If he had not agreed with the work of the doctors, could he have sent for them and said: 'You must stop that or go to another Institute?'" "Yes. That is, he would have had to report to his superiors, because it was a military institution." "As director of the Institute he could distribute and stop work?" "Yes." Strughold, despite the derogatory information against him, was not arrested, interrogated, or even called as a witness at the trial. Instead, the Air Force brought Strughold, Hans Clamann, and a dozen other Germans to Randolph Field. The Germans had no sooner arrived in San Antonio when several Air Force officers complained angrily about Strughold's employment at Randolph. Air Force General Harry Armstrong told an historian once that he protected Strughold by appointing himself director of the new space medicine laboratory. "If it came down to a fight, I wanted to take the brunt of it," said Armstrong. "I thought if there was any adverse reaction it should fall on me and not Dr. Strughold." When the Nuremberg tribunal announced its verdict, Strughold's wartime superior, Oskar Schroedar, and Becker-Freyseng were found guilty and sentenced to life and 20 years' imprisonment, respectively. Although Konrad Schaefer had attended meetings where the seawater experiments were planned, the tribunal acquitted him. In 1950-knowing that he had been a Nuremberg defendant-the Air Force brought Schaefer to Randolph Field to work under Paperclip, touting him as "the leading German authority on thirst and desalinization of seawater." Nevertheless, it was not long before the Air Force repatriated Schaefer to Germany. After choosing to ignore his Nazi past, Air Force officers than raised questions about his competency. They said Schaefer had been assigned to three different departments at Randolph Field in a little more than a year and had produced no finished work at any of them. Air Force Captain Seymour Schwartz told the director of intelligence that Schaefer had "displayed very little real scientific acumen" and recommended he be returned to Germany. The Nuremberg court's verdict concerning Ruff was a closer call since Ruff admitted being involved in high-altitude experiments. "At one time I went to Dachau while these experiments were carried on and I observed them," Ruff testified. But he maintained that experiments he carried out at Dachau used "exhibition subjects" and no one died. In the end Ruff was acquitted, but the court conceded that the question of his guilt or innocence was "close" and found "much in the record to create at least a grave suspicion" that Ruff was "implicated in criminal experiments at Dachau." Throughout the 1950s, Strughold spent considerable time in Germany recruiting other German scientists to work at SAM under Paperclip. His friend Ruff was once again recruited and the Air Force planned to bring him to San Antonio. The plan was squelched, however, after nationally syndicated columnist Drew Pearson uncovered it and threatened to tell President Truman. In the years following the war, scientists at SAM worked on a wide number of projects including radiation studies to analyze radiation hazards to air crews. While most details of this radiation work are still classified, it is known that one scientist, Herbert Gerstner, who arrived at SAM in 1950 under Paperclip, worked on a project funded by the Air Force involving total body irradiation of 263 cancer patients at the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston. As more details become available about the radiation work done at SAM, the legacy of Nuremberg is ever present. As the chief of counsel for war crimes, Brigadier General Telford Taylor said in his opening statement at Nuremberg in 1946, it is important that the whole world know about the Nazi experiments in the camps so that the United States, "as the voice of humanity, stamp these acts, and the ideas which engendered them, as barbarous and criminal." Now it's up to the President's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments to judge whether that moral standard has been followed not only by German scientists involved in radiation experiments in the United States, but also by those who chose to ignore their wartime activities and gave credibility to their methods.