15. The Controversy Surrounding a Prestigious Award Named After an Evil Doctor
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. That led to controversy when Strughold’s evil wartime activities became more widely known. His reputation took a serious hit when US Army intelligence reports from 1945 listing him as wanted for war crimes were declassified. A 1958 Justice Department investigation had exonerated him, while a second inquiry launched by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was abandoned in 1974. A third investigation was opened in 1983, but was abandoned when Strughold died in 1986.
During his lifetime, Strughold denied having ever participated in or even known of the Dachau concentration camp’s human experiments. For years, most doctors and scientists in Strughold’s field took him at his word, and he remained a revered figure. However, things grew increasingly awkward as more and more evidence kept emerging after Strughold’s death of his wartime medical atrocities. Not least of them were experiments conducted by his Institute on young children from a psychiatric asylum. That made the award bearing his name an increasingly controversial honor.
14. The Visionary Who Took Humanity to Space and Killed Thousands of Slave Workers
It is hard to tell whether, on balance, Wernher von Braun (1912 – 1977) was good or evil. On the one hand, he was a visionary genius 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. If the day ever comes when humans set foot on Mars and colonize the Red Planet, it will also be thanks to von Braun in large part. Humanity owes him a huge debt for his contributions to the space sciences.
On the other hand, the man was a war criminal. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of slave workers who perished while toiling on his rockets in atrocious conditions, of which he was fully aware. During World War II, von Braun was an SS Sturmbanfuhrer – equivalent to an American 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 killed thousands, most of them civilians, in London, Antwerp, and other cities.
13. After World War II, This Space Pioneer Went to Great Length to Whitewash His Nazi Past
Wernher von Braun 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 evil regime he served. In reality, he had been quite comfortable with the Third Reich, the Nazis, and the SS, until late in the war. Far from being oblivious to Hitler’s 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 workers.
An estimated 20,000 slaves toiling for 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. The US Army put him to work to develop its intermediate-range ballistic missile program, and he developed the rocket that launched America’s first space satellite. When NASA was created, von Braun joined it as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center.
12. Did Wernher von Braun’s Good Outweigh His Evil?
Wernher von Braun 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. 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 become a multi-planetary 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 von Braun 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? Does it wash away the stain of having been a loyal Nazi and member of the SS? Does it cleanse him of the evil of having been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of slave workers who perished while building his precious rockets? Was Wernher von Braun a Nazi villain, space hero, or both?
German Doctor Walter Schreiber (1893 – 1970) was a prominent epidemiologist and highly regarded biology professor in the peaceful interlude between World War I and the even bloodier Second World War. He had been a medical student when WWI erupted in 1914, at which point he voluntarily enlisted in the German army. He was wounded early in the conflict, and after recovering from his injuries he resumed his studies, then served as a military doctor until WWI ended. After the war, he became a professor of biology and hygiene.
In the interwar years, Dr. Schreiber became one of the world’s foremost experts on epidemics. During the Nazi era, he introduced the use of lethal phenol injections “as a quick and convenient means of executing troublemakers“. During World War II, he rose to the rank of major general in the Wehrmacht Medical Service. He was also a member of the Reich Research Council, in which capacity he conducted cruel and sadistic medical experiments upon prisoners. Unfortunately, except for a brief period of imprisonment, Schreiber was never held accountable for his evil medical practices.
10. This Doctor Froze Live Human Subjects, and Deliberately Infected Others With Gangrene
During World War II, Dr. Walter Schreiber conducted a series of cruel experiments on prisoners in the infamous Auschwitz concentration and death camp. His evil practices included freezing his victims in order to examine the effects of extreme cold. He conducted other sadistic medical experiments on female prisoners in Ravensbruck concentration camp. They included cutting open the victims’ legs and deliberately infecting them with gangrene, then giving them bone transplants. The subjects of his experiments usually died – but only after suffering prolonged agonies.
At war’s end, Dr. Schreiber was captured by the Red Army and was taken to the Soviet Union. There, he was held in the infamous Lubyanka prison in poor conditions. His conditions improved when his captors discovered his true identity and put him to work providing medical care to high-ranking German prisoners. He was produced as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials to testify against Hitler’s second in command, Herman Goering, who had been in charge of Germany’s biological weapons development.
After testifying against Herman Goering in the Nuremberg Trials, Dr. Walter Schreiber was shielded from accountability for his medical atrocities because the victors found him useful. He ended up getting hired by the CIA and the US military, who saw to it that he escaped punishment. In 1948, he evaded his Soviet handlers and made it to the West, where he was hired by the US military and the CIA to work as chief medical doctor in Camp King, a clandestine POW interrogation site in Germany.
Dr. Schreiber was sent to the US in 1951 as part of Operation Paperclip, and was put to work at the Air Force School of Medicine in Texas. However, the publication of newspaper articles soon thereafter about his medical atrocities on behalf of the Nazis led to a public outcry. So his intelligence handlers relocated him and his family to Argentina in 1952. There, Dr. Schreiber worked as an epidemiologist in a research laboratory, until his death from a heart attack in 1970.
Unlike others in this list who committed evil on behalf of their governments, French doctor Marcel Andre Henri Felix Petiot (1897 – 1946) turned to evil on his own hook for his own gratification. It is unclear just what exactly caused Petiot to turn into an evil homicidal psychopath, but the signs were there from early on – if somebody had bothered to look. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to look. Petiot was an out-and-out delinquent at an early age. When he was eleven years old, he propositioned a girl for sex in school, and took his father’s firearm to class and discharged it.
In his teens, Petiot robbed a postbox, and was arrested and charged with theft and destruction of public property. The charges were dismissed when a psychiatric evaluation revealed mental instability, and a judge deemed him mentally unfit to stand trial. Despite such an unpromising background, Petiot actually managed to finish medical school and become a doctor. However, instead of ending his days as a respected retired MD, Petiot ended his days face down on the guillotine, after he was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering dozens of people.
7. From Delinquent Child to Mentally Troubled Soldier
Growing up, Marcel Petiot was a problem child. Various incidents of violent behavior and numerous brushes with the law got him expelled from multiple schools. As a result, the young delinquent was forced to complete his education in a special academy for troubled youth who could not be handled by regular schools. When WWI broke out, Petiot joined the French Army. However, between the horrors of trench warfare, in which he was wounded and gassed, and his already troubled psyche, Petiot suffered a nervous breakdown.
He was sent to a series of rest homes, where he got arrested multiple times for stealing morphine, wallets, blankets, photos, and letters. He ended up in military jail for a while, before he was sent to a psychiatric hospital. There, Petiot was diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses. The signs of evil were there: some examiners thought that Petiot was a menace and wanted him institutionalized, but they were overruled. In hindsight, their recommendations should have been heeded. Eventually, Petiot was discharged from the military with a disability pension.
6. Despite a Track Record of Violent Psychosis That Hinted at the Evil to Come, Marcel Petiot Managed to Become a Doctor
It is remarkable that Marcel Petiot managed to become a doctor in the first place, considering that he was certifiably crazy. Indeed, there were multiple psychiatric diagnoses that declared him to be a violent psychopath. However, beneath the nuttiness, the man was actually pretty intelligent. Especially when it came to book smarts. After WWI ended, he joined an accelerated educational program intended to benefit veterans who had spent a significant chunk of their youth in the trenches instead of in university lecture halls.
Petiot ended up completing medical school in eight months, did an internship and residency in a psychiatric hospital of all places, and in 1921, received his medical degree and license. He moved to and opened up a practice in the small town of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, in Burgundy. From the start, Petiot was a sketchy MD. He gained a reputation for supplying illegal drugs – he was himself an addict – and performing illegal abortions. When he was not keeping office hours, Dr. Petiot kept himself occupied with things like petty thefts.
5. This Evil Doctor Got Elected to Office the Same Year He Murdered His First Victim
As with many evil pyschopaths, Dr. Marcel Petiot could be quite charming when he wanted to be. It is unclear just when he got started on his career as a serial killer. Many believe that his first victim was probably Louise Delaveau, the daughter of one of his patients, with whom he had an affair. She vanished in 1926, and witnesses recalled seeing the town’s doctor loading a big trunk into his car at the time of her disappearance. The authorities investigated but eventually concluded that Petiot’s former lover had simply run away.
Although there was a whole lot of shadiness surrounding him, Dr. Petiot was a popular figure in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, and he capitalized on that. The same year as his ex-mistress’ disappearance, Petiot turned to local politics, ran for mayor, and won the election. While in office, he embezzled town funds, engaged in sketchy financial dealings, and continued on with his petty thefts. Eventually, an investigation was opened that ended with his conviction for fraud and suspension from office in 1930. He was forced to resign soon thereafter.
4. Marcel Petiot Worked Out His Stress by Murdering People
Shortly after Dr. Marcel Petiot was forced to resign as mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, he got rid of some of the stress and worked out some of his frustrations by murdering one of his patients. Not long thereafter, another patient – who had accused the former mayor of crimes – died in suspicious circumstances. Despite the evidence – including a conviction – of corruption, plus mounting indicia of criminality, Dr. Petitot retained his popularity. Indeed, upon his suspension from office as mayor, the entire town council resigned in protest.
In the autumn of 1931, Dr. Petiot was elected as a councilor of the Yonne Department. However, scandal and the whiff of scandal followed him wherever he went. Within just a few months of winning the election, Dr. and Councilman Petiot was convicted of stealing electricity from his town. Once again, he was forced to resign from public office. So he decided to start a new life in Paris, moving to and opening a medical practice in the French capital.
3. During World War II, This Doctor Had a Good Dr. Jekyll Side, That Was Eclipsed by His Evil Mr. Hyde Persona
Paris agreed with Dr. Petiot. He used fake credentials to attract patients, and before long, he had established a thriving practice in the 9th Arrondissement. It helped that his office gained a reputation as a pill mill, handing out controlled drug prescriptions to all and sundry. Nor did it hurt that the doctor was more than willing to perform illegal abortions for the right price. However, despite his thriving and highly lucrative practice – made even more lucrative by his tax evasion – Petiot persisted with the thefts, petty and grand, of anything that was not nailed down.
In 1936, he was institutionalized for kleptomania, but was released the following year. After France was defeated and conquered by the Nazis in 1940, French citizens were drafted to toil in Germany as forced laborers. Dr. Petiot helped labor draft evaders by furnishing them with fake medical disability documents. He also treated returning workers who had been sent back from Germany, broken down and in poor health. That was his good side – the Dr. Jekyll part. Unfortunately, it was eclipsed by the doctor’s evil Mr. Hyde side.
2. Dr. Petiot Exploited the French Resistance to Indulge in Serial Killing
Dr. Petiot claimed to have been a member of the French Resistance. According to him, he developed secret weapons that killed Nazis without leaving a trace, planted booby traps, met Allied commanders, and worked with an anti-fascist cell. It was all bunk. What was not bunk was his evil scheme to profit from the Holocaust by murdering dozens of Jews in order to steal from them. Using the alias “Dr. Eugene”, Petiot claimed to have an escape route to get those wanted by the Nazis or the collaborationist Vichy French government to safety outside of France.
Charging 25,000 francs per person, “Dr. Eugene” promised to get fugitives to Argentina or other South American countries, via an escape route that went through Portugal. There was no escape route. Accomplices led victims desperate to escape the Germans – particularly Jews, but also Resistance members and ordinary criminals – to Petiot’s house. There, he told them that Argentina required that immigrants be vaccinated against diseases. Petiot then injected them, not with a vaccine, but with cyanide. In addition to the payment already received, the ghoulish ring seized whatever other valuables the victims had. They then destroyed their corpses in Petiot’s basement, buried them on his property, or disposed of them elsewhere.
1. This Evil Doctor Met His End Beneath the Guillotine’s Blade
Things began to unravel for the evil Dr. Marcel Petiot in March of 1944, when his neighbors complained of foul stenches coming from his house, and of copious smoke coming out of his chimney. Upon entering the house, authorities discovered a roaring coal stove fire in the basement, and human remains. More human remains were found in a canvass bag, and in a quicklime pit in the backyard. Police also found clothing, goods, and suitcases belonging to numerous victims. Petiot was not at home, however, and he went on the lam.
Adopting an alias, he joined the Resistance – for real this time – during the liberation of Paris later that year. He rose to captain in charge of counterintelligence and prisoner interrogations. However, his real identity was eventually uncovered, and he was arrested. Marcel Petiot was eventually charged with 27 murders for profit, although he might have killed over 60 people. Prosecutors estimated that he made over 200 million francs from his scheme. Tried in 1946, he was found guilty, sentenced to death, and guillotined.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading