10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US

Khalid Elhassan - April 16, 2018

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
A Dachau inmate being subjected to high altitude conditions. Wall Street Journal

Hubertus Strughold Used Dachau Concentration Camp Inmates as Human Guinea Pigs, and Experimented on Children From a Mental Asylum

Doctor Hubertus Strughold (1898 – 1986) was a prominent German medical researcher, who served as the Luftwaffe’s chief aeromedical researcher from 1935 until the end of WW2. During the war, he conducted some horrific human experiments on prisoners, that got many of his test subjects killed. Those activities were swept under the rug, however, and he was brought to the US under the aegis of Operation Paperclip.

After earning a medical degree in the 1920s, Strughold got into the emerging field of aviation medicine. He won a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, and travelled to the US in 1928, where he conducted aviation medicine research at the University of Chicago and Case Western University. Upon his return to Germany, he became a university professor.

In 1935, he was hired by the Nazis as director of the Research Institution For Aviation Medicine, a think tank sponsored by Herman Goering’s Ministry of Aviation. Strughold’s institution conducted pioneering research on the physical effects of supersonic flight, and high altitudes. When war broke out in 1939, the Institution was absorbed into the Luftwaffe, and Strughold was commissioned as an officer, eventually becoming a Colonel.

During the war, Strughold was part of medical studies that used inmates from the Dachau concentration camp as guinea pigs for human experiments. Test subjects were subjected to surgeries without anesthetics, immersed in frozen water to examine the effects of hypothermia, and placed in air pressure chambers. After the war, investigators at the Nuremberg War Trials listed Strughold as one of thirteen “persons, firms, or individuals implicated” in the Dachau medical atrocities.

The US government figured he possessed valuable information and experience, however, so he was never charged with war crimes. Instead, he was brought to America, where Strughold held high ranking medical positions in the Air Force, as head of its School of Aviation Medicine in Texas. He then went to work for NASA as head of the Department of Space Medicine. Strughold conducted pioneering work in the physical and psychological effects of manned space flight, and his efforts helped get American astronauts to successfully walk on the Moon. Because of his contributions to the field, he became known as “the Father of Space Medicine”.

Since 1963, the Space Medicine Association has given out an annual Hubertus Strughold Award to top physicians or scientists for outstanding work in space medicine. Strughold denied participation or even knowledge of the Dachau human experimentation, and for years, most physicians and scientists in his field took him at his word, and he remained a revered figure. However, in recent years, more evidence emerged of his involvement in medical atrocities, including experiments conducted by his Institute on young children from a psychiatric asylum. That made the award bearing his name an increasingly controversial honor.

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Kurt Blome. Wikimedia

Kurt Blome Gave Concentration Camp Inmates Cancer, Infected Them With Typhus, and Poisoned Them With Nerve Gasses

Kurt Blome (1894 – 1969) was a high ranking scientist during the Nazi era, who became a Deputy Reich Health Leader, and a Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research in the Reich Research Council. His expertise was virology, and his titles masked his actual nefarious work during WW2: he was in charge of all biological warfare sponsored by the SS and the Wehrmacht. Despite conducting deadly experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz and elsewhere, the US intervened in his subsequent prosecution for wartime atrocities to get him off the hook, then hired him for secret work.

Although Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research, the title was deceptive: Blome’s interest was not in curing cancer, but in causing it via viruses, and in the military use of carcinogenic substances. He also headed an institute that aimed to develop biological warfare agents, whose experts advocated attacking the US with human and animal epidemic pathogens, as well as plant pests. Blome’s biological warfare organization conducted lethal experiments on 1700 inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp. His organization also collaborated with Japan’s infamous Unit 731, which was carrying out even worse biological warfare experiments on the other side of the world.

Blome also experimented on concentration camp prisoners at Dachau and Buchenwald, infesting them with typhus-carrying lice in order to study how to best cause an epidemic. In 1943, he also proposed spreading malaria amongst targeted populations artificially, by dropping infected mosquitoes from airplanes. He also researched spreading animal diseases amongst British, American, and Soviet livestock from the air. In addition, he tested nerve gasses such as sarin and tabun on Auschwitz inmates.

He was captured after the war by US Army intelligence, and admitted during subsequent interrogations to numerous medical atrocities. There was ample evidence of crimes against Blome, and he had also admitted to crimes that would have been more than enough to send him to the gallows. Nonetheless, US officials intervened in a subsequent war crimes trial to get him acquitted. Soon thereafter, he was interviewed about germ warfare by representatives from Camp Detrick, Maryland, center of America’s biological warfare program. He was then hired by the US Army Chemical Corps to work on top secret chemical and biological warfare projects that remain classified to this day.

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Walter Dornberger. Wikimedia

Walter Dornberger Worked Tens of Thousands of Slave Laborers to Death

Walter Robert Dornberger (1895 – 1980) was a German artillery officer and WW2 Major General, who was in charge of the manufacture and deployment of the Nazis’ V-2 rockets. He also played a prominent role in other projects at the German rocket research center in Peenemunde. He used slave labor in his projects, and tens of thousands of his slaves were worked to death, perished of maltreatment, or were executed in Dornberger’s hellish factories and worksites.

Dornberger had enlisted in the German army at the outbreak of WWI, was captured late in the war, and spent two years in French POW camps. Upon his release, he remained in the army, which sent him to study ballistics and engineering, and he became one of Germany’s leading ballistics experts. He was put in charge of developing rockets, and in the 1930s he teamed up with the brilliant Wernher Von Braun, and began perfecting the rocket engine.

In 1937, the rocket program was relocated to Peenemunde, where the first V-2 was successfully tested in 1942. Dornberger was in charge of deploying the V-2s, and he directed the firing of roughly 3000 rockets at London, Amsterdam, and other urban areas during the war. About 2800 people were killed by the V-2s, most of them civilians. In a sad irony, more people died manufacturing the V-2s than were killed by the missiles. Dornberger, who was put in charge of V-2 production, had made ruthless use of slave labor, and tens of thousands of his workforce had died in atrocious working conditions.

After the war, Dornberger was arrested by the British and held for two years while being interrogated for war crimes. He got away with it, however, when Wernher Von Braun, the brilliant rocket expert who was one of the first Germans secretly sent to the US in Operation Paperclip personally requested Dornberger’s assistance. So the British released him into American custody, and Dornberger was secretly brought to the US. He became chief of the US Army’s Weapons Department, and was put in charge of America’s V-2 missile development program.

Afterwards, Dornberger spent 15 years as director of R&D at Bell Aircraft Corporation, helped develop the world’s first air-to-surface nuclear missile, and played a role in creating the Space Shuttle. Upon retirement, he lived in Mexico, then returned to Germany, where he died in 1980. All in all, he had a highly fulfilling postwar career, despite his war crimes – for which he had at least been detained for a couple years while being interrogated. As will be seen in the next entry, Wernher Von Braun, who sprung Dornberger from British custody and got him into the US, got away scot free with his war crimes.

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Wernher Von Braun enjoying a Coke. Historical Media

Wernher Von Braun Was a Space Visionary, and a War Criminal Who Got Slave Workers Killed by the Tens of Thousands

On the one hand, Von Braun (1912 – 1977) was a genius, visionary, and a brilliant engineering manager who is rightly credited as the father of America’s space program. We went to the Moon, in large part, thanks to him, and if the day ever comes when humans set foot on Mars and colonize the Red Planet, it will also be thanks to him in large part. Mankind owes Von Braun a huge debt for his contributions to the space sciences. On the other hand, the man was a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of thousands of slave laborers who perished while toiling on his rockets in atrocious conditions, of which he was fully aware.

During WW2, Von Braun was an SS Sturmbanfuhrer – equivalent to an army Major – who developed and oversaw the manufacture of the V-2 rockets, the world’s first ballistic missiles. His rockets, carrying a one ton explosive warhead, rained down terror and claimed the lives of thousands, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, in London, Antwerp, and other cities. After the war, he pretended to have been an oblivious scientist, too engrossed in his blueprints, calculations, and other pointy head work, to fully comprehend the horrors of the regime he served.

In reality, he had been quite comfortable with the Third Reich, the Nazi party, and the SS, until late in the war. Far from being oblivious to Nazi horrors, Von Braun was personally involved in Nazi atrocities, and was a direct, hands-on participant in war crimes. Among other things, he personally supervised the manufacturing of rockets, using tens of thousands of slave laborers. An estimated 20,000 slave workers toiling to build Von Braun’s rockets died of starvation, maltreatment, or were murdered by their guards while building his rockets. He was often at the slave labor facilities, and had firsthand knowledge of the horrific workplace conditions.

After the war, he was one of the first Germans secretly moved to the US in Operation Paperclip. He was put to work by the US Army to develop its intermediate range ballistic missile program, and he developed the rocket that launched America’s first space satellite. When NASA was created, he joined it as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, and was put in charge of the Saturn V rockets that sent the Apollo Program’s spacecraft to the Moon. In recognition of his services, he was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1975.

Wernher Von Braun thus presents a conundrum and a moral dilemma. He is a pioneer who undoubtedly contributed much to the advancement of mankind in the space sciences. If our species ever becomes a multiplanetary one – something many scientists see as the only safeguard against our extinction in the next millennium – it will be thanks in large part to Von Braun. It is no exaggeration to say that he was history’s most important and influential rocket engineer and space advocate. So there is no question that the man did a lot of good in his life.

However, does that absolve him of his personal responsibility for having gone along with the Nazis’ aggressive war plans? Does it wash away the stain of having been a loyal Nazi and member of the SS? Does it cleanse him of the sin of having been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of slave laborers, who perished while building his precious rockets? Was Wernher Von a Braun a Nazi villain, space hero, or both?

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Reinhard Gehlen. Warfare History Network

Reinhard Gehlen Was Involved in the Torture, Murder, and Starving to Death of Millions

Not all Nazi war criminals sprung by the US and other WWII victors were scientists, physician, or technological experts. Some, such as Reinhard Gehlen (1902 – 1969), were saved and given a fresh starts because of their expertise in the field of intelligence. Gehlen, head of the Foreign Armies East (FHO) intelligence unit during WW2, had been Hitler’s chief intelligence officer for the Eastern Front. His agents brutally interrogated prisoners, and participated in torturing, murdering, and starving to death millions of Soviets POWs.

Gehlen also organized collaborationist right wing paramilitaries from Ukrainian and other Slavic groups, which fought alongside the Nazi and committed sundry atrocities, often against Jews, under Nazi supervision or on their own hook. After the war, he offered his services to the US, and his considerable knowledge of and expertise about the Soviet Union was deemed too valuable let go to waste on the gallows.

Gehlen had joined the German army in 1920, was appointed to run the German army’s military intelligence on the Eastern Front in 1942, and eventually rose to the rank of Major General. His intelligence gathering produced reports that were accurate most of the time – although he was wrong footed more than once by the Soviets. However, things had already started to go bad for Germany on the Eastern Front when Gehlen was appointed to run intelligence, so his accurate reports were gloomy. Hitler viewed Gehlen and his reports as too pessimistic, and ended up firing him as a result.

Gehlen turned himself in to US Army counterintelligence in May of 1945, and offered to hand over a treasure trove of intelligence about the Soviet Union, stored on microfilm, in exchange for his liberty. He and three assistants were secretly flown to Washington DC, where they were interrogated by military intelligence and the OSS – the forerunner of the CIA. He also met OSS chief Bill Donovan, and Allen Dulles, who headed OSS operations in Europe at the time, and who would eventually get appointed CIA Director by Eisenhower.

Gehlen worked out a deal that shielded him from prosecution for war crimes. He was then hired to resurrect and oversee his vast network of intelligence to spy on the Soviets for the CIA, with whom he signed a contract for $5 million a year in 1949. So long as Gehlen’s organization produced, the CIA gave it carte blanche in its side gig of helping other Nazi war criminals flee Europe to avoid prosecution. He set up an underground escape network that included transit camps, and used fake ports supplied by the CIA, to help over 5000 Nazis flee Europe to South and Central America.

In 1955, the Gehlen Organization was turned over to the West German government, and the following year, it became the nucleus of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND – Federal Intelligence Service), headed by Gehlen. He ran the BND until 1968, when he was forced out due to a combination of ineptness, estrangement from his political patrons, and internal BND scandals. He died the following year.

Gehlen and Wernher Von Braun were probably the two most successfully rehabilitated Nazi war criminals. Not only were their sins whitewashed, but they went on to become heroic figures – at least in the West – after the war. An argument could be made that Gehlen did even better in that regard than Von Braun. He did not become as great a celebrity as Von Braun, or get whitewashed as brightly. However, he had far more blood on his hands to whitewash, and far more atrocities under his rug than the rocket visionary ever did.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Sources & Further Reading

Air & Space Magazine, January 1st, 2008 – What Did Wernher Von Braun Know, & When Did He Know It?

Alliance for Human Research Protection – Operation Paperclip Nazi Rogues

Central Intelligence Agency Docs – Who’s Who in Nazi Germany, Fourth Edition, May 1944

Encyclopedia Britannica – Walter Robert Dornberger, German Engineer

Independent, January 6th, 1996 – Obituary: Faith & Reason: Arthur Rudolph

Jacobsen, Annie – Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (2014)

New York Times, January 3rd, 1996 – Arthur Rudolph, 89, Developer of Rocket in First Apollo Flight

Operation Paperclip – Kurt Blome

Space Medicine Association – The Controversy of Hubertus Strughold During World War II

Voltaire Network – Operation Paperclip: CIA’s Denial of Protecting Nazis is Blatant Lie

Wall Street Journal, December 1st, 2012 – A Scientist’s Nazi Era Past Haunts Prestigious Space Price

Washington Post, June 10th, 1979 – Reinhard Gehlen Dies, Spy For Hitler, US, Bonn

Washington Post, July 2nd, 1980 – W. R. Dornberger Dies, German Rocket Expert

Wikipedia – Reinhard Gehlen

Wikipedia – Wernher Von Braun

World War II Database – Friedrich Hoffman