The Story of the New Jersey Doctor Who Helped Kill Prisoners at Buchenwald in the Name of Eugenics
Mr. Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust and the just released War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race.
The "Little Camp"-the isolation and quarantine section of Buchenwald. Block 57. One morning in late May 1944.
Three-tiered geometric wooden boxes lined the barrack. Each shelf housed as many as sixteen emaciated humans. A thirsty and exhausted Frenchman named Oliv struggled to climb down from the top for his day's work. But he was too weak. As Oliv lay limp, a fat, well-fed inmate doctor walked in.
The other French prisoners pleaded with the doctor that Oliv was too ill to work and suffered from severe rheumatism. He needed medical attention. A small infirmary, stocked with medicines and called "the hospital," had been established in the Little Camp. The doctor controlled access to the facility and the drugs. Those admitted to the hospital could be excused from work until nursed back to working strength-and thereby live another day.
But the doctor, himself a prisoner yet reviled as a barbaric stooge of the SS, was known for refusing admission to the hospital except to those he favored--or those who could bribe their way in with relief packets. Most of all, the doctor hated the French communists. They--and their diseases--were everywhere in the Little Camp. The doctor believed that each inferior national group was a carrier of its own specific set of diseases. Frenchmen, he thought, brought in diphtheria and related throat diseases as well as scarlet fever. Simply put, the Little Camp doctor was unwilling to use his limited hospital to lessen the prisoners' loads, extend their lives or relieve their suffering. The prisoners' job was to work. His job was to ensure they kept working--until they could work no more.
Furious and impatient, the Little Camp doctor pushed the others out of the way, stepped onto the lowest of the three tiers, reached up and grabbed Oliv's foot as it dangled over the edge. He then yanked Oliv over the short sideboard and down the eight feet to the floor. Oliv tumbled to the floor like a doll, cracking his skull. Blood soaked down the back of his shirt. As the life seeped out of Oliv, his comrades hauled him onto the lowest bunk, and then hurried out to their backbreaking labors at the quarry. When they came back to Block 57 that night, Oliv was dead. Next to the bathroom was a makeshift morgue; they moved his body there. Later, Oliv's body waited its turn at the crematorium.
The French inmates of the Little Camp never forgot the brutality the doctor showed them, while exhibiting seemingly incongruous medical compassion to others. They never forgot that while most of them were worked and starved into skeletons, the doctor ate well. Many prisoners lost 40 percent of their weight shortly after arriving in the Little Camp. But the doctor arrived at Buchenwald fat and stayed fat. No one could understand how a talented physician could render his skills so effectively to some, while allowing others to die horrible deaths. After Buchenwald was liberated in April of 1945, the stories about Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen emerged. He was accused of murdering a thousand prisoners by injection.
The United States military conducted war crimes trials at Dachau for a variety of lesser-known concentration camp Nazis and their inmate collaborators, especially the medical killers. Katzen-Ellenbogen was among them, and was found guilty of war crimes, right along with the other so-called "butchers of Buchenwald." He was sentenced to a long term in prison. The court finding, however, was not an easy one. It was complicated by conflicting stories of Katzen-Ellenbogen's outstanding academic background and prewar record.
Many found Dr. Katzen-Ellenbogen and the many lives he led incomprehensible. How could he alternately function as a gifted psychiatrist and as a murderous man of medicine? At the time, none understood that Katzen-Ellenbogen viewed humanity with multiple standards. He was an American eugenicist. Nor was he just any eugenicist. Katzen-Ellenbogen was a founding member of the prestigious but pro-Nazi Eugenics Research Association headquartered at the Carnegie Institution and the chief eugenicist of New Jersey under then-Governor Woodrow Wilson.
A Superior Species
In the first years of the twentieth century, American eugenics crusaded to create a superior species. The superior species the eugenics movement sought was not just tall, strong, talented people. In a throwback to the pre-Civil War era, eugenicists craved the blond, blue-eyed Nordic types who had settled America in the previous century. This group alone was fit to inherit the earth. In the process, the movement intended to subtract Negroes, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark-haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists. After racist eugenics became entrenched in American law and national health policy, including the forced sterilization of thousands of Americans, the idea was transplanted to Germany by the Rockefeller Foundation and other American philanthropies intent on ethnic cleansing. Hitler discovered American race politics and made it the scientific and juridical basis of genocidal Nazi eugenics.
Katzen-Ellenbogen was a classic eugenicist. Viewing humanity through a eugenic prism, he was capable of exhibiting great compassion toward those he saw as superior, and great cruelty toward those he considered genetically unfit. In Buchenwald, the French, with their Mediterranean and African mixtures, were eugenically among the lowest, not really worthy of life. At the same time, in Katzen-Ellenbogen's view, those of Nordic or Aryan descent were treasured--to be helped and even saved.
How did one of America's pioneer eugenicists wend his way from New Jersey to Buchenwald's notorious Little Camp? The story begins in late nineteenth-century Poland. Katzen-Ellenbogen was the name of a famous line of Polish and Czech rabbis going back centuries. However, he--or perhaps his immediate branch of the family--obscured any connection with a Jewish heritage. Like many European Jews who had drifted from tradition, he spelled his last name numerous ways, hyphenated and unhyphenated, and sometimes even signed his name "Edwin K. Ellenbogen." He was probably born as Edwin Wladyslaw Katzen-Ellenbogen in approximately 1882, in Stanislawow, in Austrian-occupied Poland.
Katzen-Ellenbogen first studied at a Jesuit high school in Poland. Then he attended the University of Leipzig, where he secured his medical degree in 1905. While in medical school, he became engaged to a girl from Massachusetts, Marie A. Pierce, daughter of a judge and scion of a prominent family of Americans dating back to the Minutemen.
In 1905, Katzen-Ellenbogen sailed for America, settling briefly in Massachusetts, where he married Marie. He added "Marie" to his various middle names, and utilized her family's connections to further his academic pursuits. Various letters of introduction were provided, as was the money Katzen-Ellenbogen needed to continue his university work in Europe. There he studied psychiatry with some of the best names in the field, during the formative years of the profession, and he also learned the mystifying medical art of hypnosis.
In 1907, Katzen-Ellenbogen returned to the United States, where he was naturalized as a citizen and started work in state institutions, such as the Danvers State Hospital of Massachusetts. One of the early exponents of Freud in America, Katzen-Ellenbogen became a Harvard lecturer in abnormal psychology. He developed expertise on fake symptoms, authoring an article on the topic in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
His expert testimony was pivotal in convicting a murderer who claimed diminished capacity due to an epileptic attack; the convicted man was electrocuted in 1912. Epilepsy became one of his specialties, and he was appointed co-editor the international quarterly, Epilepsia.
In 1911, Woodrow Wilson became governor of New Jersey. Katzen-Ellenbogen was asked to become scientific director of the State Village for Epileptics at Skillman, New Jersey. It was there that he would develop his eugenic interests. "While there," recalled Katzen-Ellenbogen, "I particularly studied…the hereditary background of epilepsy." As the state's leading expert, Katzen-Ellenbogen was then asked by Wilson to draft New Jersey's law to forcibly sterilize epileptics and defectives. In the process, Katzen-Ellenbogen became an expert on legal and legislative safeguards and jurisprudence.
In 1913, Katzen-Ellenbogen became charter member #14 of the Eugenics Research Association at the Carnegie Institution's Cold Spring Harbor lab complex. The eugenics movement, spearheaded by the Eugenics Research Association, campaigned around the world to create a master Nordic race and sterilize or segregate all other humans out of existence. The doctor continued his active membership in the ERA even after he sailed for Russia in 1915, never to return to the United States.
Katzen-Ellenbogen bounced around the capitals of Europe for the next few years. He was about to board a ship in Holland when he received a telegram informing him that his only son had died in America after falling from a roof. Katzen-Ellenbogen was never the same. He became morose and introspective, questioning the value of human life, at least his own. "I contemplated to offer myself as physician to the leprosy colony in the upper State of New York," he recounted. He also considered suicide.
In 1925, Katzen-Ellenbogen developed a relationship with a woman named Olga. She described him as "the companion of my life." He described her as "my old housekeeper." By any measure, Katzen-Ellenbogen developed deep parental feelings for Olga's two orphaned grandsons, and raised them as though they were his own.
They were living in Germany when Hitler rose to power. Despite his Catholic observances, after the 1935 Nuremberg Laws Katzen-Ellenbogen found himself defined as Jewish. Like many practicing Christians of Jewish ancestry, he followed a typical route of flight evading fascist persecution. First, he crossed into Czechoslovakia, then Italy, then France. After war broke out in September of 1939, he escaped to France. But when the Nazis bifurcated France in 1940, Katzen-Ellenbogen was caught in the occupied zone in Paris. Like many foreigners living in Nazi-occupied Paris, Katzen-Ellenbogen was ultimately arrested several times for questioning. The final knock on the door came at six in the morning, in the late summer of 1943, when Nazi security agents came for him.
Many eugenicists considered Nazi racial policies a biological ideal. Katzen-Ellenbogen discounted his Jewish ancestry, considering himself a eugenicist first and foremost. This made him different, and almost appealing to the Gestapo. The war-stretched Nazis needed doctors, especially in occupied lands. As a distinguished physician and psychiatrist who spoke German and also enjoyed American citizenship, Katzen-Ellenbogen became very useful to both the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht. Though a prisoner, he was twice brought to the Reich military prison in France to examine a German soldier suffering from mental problems. Katzen-Ellenbogen even testified as an expert at the soldier's court martial.
Katzen-Ellenbogen found himself in a somewhat unique position. "I was the only doctor in France, a psychiatrist," he recalled, "who was [also] qualified in Germany as a doctor, and they didn't have anybody [with those skills] in the army." Eventually, the overworked regular German army doctor visiting the military prison asked Katzen-Ellenbogen, "As you speak French anyway and other languages, relieve me here. And when something very important happens, they can telephone for me." Thus, Katzen-Ellenbogen became a general practitioner for the German military in Paris even as he remained in custody. Eventually, Katzen-Ellenbogen's services were requested for German military men outside the prison. But in September of 1943, when orders came from Berlin to transfer prisoners in France to slave labor camps in the Reich, Katzen-Ellenbogen was put on a train and shipped to the dreaded Buchenwald.
Buchenwald functioned for two purposes: to inflict cruelty on the Nazis' enemies and to systematically work its inmates to death in service of the Reich--in that order. In the hierarchy of Hell, Buchenwald was considered among the worst of Nazi labor camps. Hundreds, often thousands, of people died within its confines each week from beatings, disease, starvation, exhaustion or execution.
Cruel and painful medical experiments were conducted at Buchenwald, especially in Block 46, known for its frosted windows and restricted access. Nazi physicians deliberately infected prisoners with typhus, converting their bodies into so many living test tubes, kept alive only as convenient hosts for the virus. Doctors then carefully observed the progress of the disease in order to help evaluate potential vaccines. Some six hundred men died from such infections. In addition, Russian POWs were deliberately burned with phosphorus to observe their reactions to drugs. Those who survived these heinous tests, or otherwise outlived their usefulness, were often murdered with injections of phenol.
Large electric lifts continuously shuttled corpses to waiting crematoria, which operated ten hours a day and produced prodigious heaps of white ash. Death was an hourly event at Buchenwald--ultimately more than 50,000 perished. But before the victims were burned, they performed additional service to the Reich. Pathologists in Block 2 dissected some 35,000 corpses so their body parts could be studied and then stored in various jars on shelves.
Nuremberg Trial judges denounced "conditions so ghastly that they defy description. The proof…would shame the most primitive race of savage barbarians. All the instincts of human decency, which distinguished men from beasts were forgotten, and the law of the jungle took command. If there is such a thing as a crime against humanity, here we have it repeated a million times over."
Most new arrivals at Buchenwald were instantly shocked by the camp's brutality and the physical cruelty heaped upon them by the guards. But Katzen-Ellenbogen seemed fascinated. Recalling his first moments in the camp, he said, "I was really amazed about the efficiency and quickness about everything that happened there." He added, "We were treated not badly there." Katzen-Ellenbogen was in fact privileged from the moment he entered the camp. While other prisoners at that time were forced into tattered zebra-stripe uniforms, the doctor was permitted to wear civilian attire, including a three-piece suit and tie. Yet he complained that the shirt with its button-down collar was too small, and the trousers too long. His warm furry hat and medical armband gave him a distinctive look as he toured the barracks.
Early on, Buchenwald administrators learned through the prisoner grapevine about Katzen-Ellenbogen's helpfulness to the Gestapo in France. He quickly became a trusted prisoner to the camp's medical staff, as well as its SS officers, especially chief camp doctor Gerhard Schiedlausky. Katzen-Ellenbogen announced to everyone that he was an American doctor from New Jersey, and a skilled hypnotist to boot. None of this failed to impress the camp administrators, who often referred to him by the name Dr. K. Ellenbogen. One senior Nazi medic dared Katzen-Ellenbogen to demonstrate his skill as a hypnotist. A test subject was brought over, and within five minutes Katzen-Ellenbogen successfully placed him in a trance.
Thereafter, Katzen-Ellenbogen was assigned to the hospital at the Little Camp, which functioned as the segregated new prisoner intake unit. Unlike the other inmates who slept sixteen-deep on stark wooden shelves and were fed starvation rations, Katzen-Ellenbogen enjoyed a private room with a real bed shared with only one other block trustee. He ate plenty of vegetables and even meat purchased through black market sources in Weimar. From time to time, he even cooked his own meals, an almost unimaginable prisoner luxury. The doctor was able to count SS and Gestapo officers among his friends even as fellow prisoners detested him and despised their Nazi taskmasters. He was widely believed to be a Gestapo spy.
One day in mid-1944, the camp doctor, Schiedlausky, summoned Katzen-Ellenbogen to the SS hospital. "You're a hypnotizer," said Schiedlausky with distress, "You're a psychotherapist. Save me." In the midst of the human depravity he oversaw, Schiedlausky had become unable to sleep. Self-administered drugs were no help. Katzen-Ellenbogen replied, "I can help you only, Doctor, if you will forget that I am a prisoner and you are the SS doctor." Schiedlausky collegially replied, "Naturally."
As Katzen-Ellenbogen analyzed Schiedlausky's dreams, he concluded that the SS doctor's mind was troubled by a great burden. "Unless you are willing to tell me what it is," Katzen-Ellenbogen told him, "no further treatment would be of value." Schiedlausky answered, "You're right, but I can't tell you." At one point Katzen-Ellenbogen came upon Schiedlausky weeping uncontrollably and consoled the man. Katzen-Ellenbogen continued to treat Schiedlausky, whose mental state deteriorated. Soon Katzen-Ellenbogen was exercising great influence over the camp doctor.
Schiedlausky was so impressed with Katzen-Ellenbogen that he asked him to treat other SS men unable to sleep because of their murderous deeds. Even though Katzen-Ellenbogen was a prisoner, the Nazis opened up to him. For example, a bloodthirsty Austrian-born SS lieutenant name Dumböck admitted to Katzen-Ellenbogen that he was haunted day and night by the ghosts of at least forty men he had personally beaten to death. As though confessing to a priest, Dumböck admitted that sometimes when he caught someone stealing vegetables from the garden, he just "[couldn't] control himself." It would typically begin as an urge to only slap the prisoner, but then Dumböck would begin jumping on the man's body until his ribs caved in. Katzen-Ellenbogen helped Dumböck realize why he could not sleep: the killings. "That's it exactly," Dumböck agreed. Dumböck was so grateful that he granted Katzen-Ellenbogen special privileges--ironically, to the vegetables in the garden.
Back at the Little Camp, Katzen-Ellenbogen administered cruel medicine. He forced Frenchmen to exercise in the frigid outdoors without their scarves and often without their shirts--this to "cure" infected throats. He smuggled in needed medicines through the SS medics but then sold them for money or favors. Such extortions allowed him to deposit some 50,000 francs into a camp bank account. He also cached large quantities of Danish food, medicines and cigarettes in his bedroom, mainly pilfered from the Danish Red Cross packets turned over by the sick and injured.
Denying medical treatment was an entrenched eugenic practice at the state institutions Katzen-Ellenbogen was familiar with in Massachusetts and New Jersey. In those institutions, eugenic psychiatrists felt that medical care only kept alive those whom nature intended to die off. Katzen-Ellenbogen applied the same principles in Buchenwald.
Katzen-Ellenbogen capriciously decided who entered the hospital. Another camp doctor confirmed in court, "It depended on Katzen-Ellenbogen whether a certain person would be admitted into the little hospital…or in the main hospital." A Czech doctor added, "If he [Katzen-Ellenbogen] found a man with appendicitis or pneumonia and said, 'I will not send you to the hospital,' then the man would not get through because he, Dr. Katzen-Ellenbogen, was the only medical liaison [in the Little Camp]."
Katzen-Ellenbogen himself casually admitted at his trial, "We selected…. Let's say there were 35 [needing hospitalization, and I was told] there are only 17 free [beds]. Which 17 should have preference for immediate hospitalization?" He held the power of life and death over those who desperately needed his help, and Katzen-Ellenbogen sadistically exercised this power every day.
When French prisoners approached, Katzen-Ellenbogen often chased them away, slapped and punched them, or simply "beat them with any instrument handy." Other inmates who were physicians would sometimes complain that Katzen-Ellenbogen stocked the necessary medicines, but that the Little Camp doctor would snarl that they were in Buchenwald to "die like dogs--not to be cured."
Failure to be hospitalized also bestowed a death sentence because it often facilitated assignment to the fatal work details at the nearby V-2 missile works at Dora. Dora's death rate was among the highest of any of the thousands of labor camps and subcamps in all of Nazi-occupied Europe. Transports from Buchenwald regularly delivered thousands of prisoners at a time, and some twenty thousand died in backbreaking labor.
At his trial Katzen-Ellenbogen was asked by prosecutors, "The personnel in the Medical Department…certainly knew that Dora was a death commando, isn't that so?" Katzen-Ellenbogen replied, "I should guess so."
Prisoners reported that Katzen-Ellenbogen actually encouraged unsuspecting French inmates to volunteer for "death details." In one instance, a Frenchman discovered the ruse and warned comrades to remove their names from the volunteer roster. Katzen-Ellenbogen reported the Frenchman who spread the warning and the prisoner was brutally punished.
Camp medical men did more than just withhold treatment. Many actively participated in the murder process itself. Katzen-Ellenbogen was publicly accused of finishing off a thousand men with injections. The fact that thousands were killed by a 20cc injection of phenol was amply proved. But there were no witnesses to corroborate that Katzen-Ellenbogen was among the medics who wielded the hypodermics. When the subject of injections was brought up in court, Katzen-Ellenbogen nonchalantly testified that the allegation against him was just that--an allegation in the newspapers that could not be proved.
However, Katzen-Ellenbogen's guilt-ridden colleague, camp doctor Schiedlausky, did admit his involvement in the injections as well as the other medical atrocities that took place in Block 61. Katzen-Ellenbogen denied claims that because of the hypnotic trances, he exercised a "sinister influence" over Schiedlausky that could have made a difference. Prosecutors charged, "You could have stopped it, is that correct?"
With typical insouciance, Katzen-Ellenbogen replied, "Not that I could stop it, but that I would do my best, and I think that I would have succeeded to persuade Schiedlausky not to 'burn his fingers.'" Prosecutors shot back, "Well, isn't it a fact, doctor, that you [previously] testified that you would have had enough influence that his extermination of prisoners in Block 61 would never have happened?" Katzen-Ellenbogen admitted, "Yes, I said it before. It is the same thing I just said."
Q: Well, then, you certainly were able to exercise a considerable power over Schiedlausky, is that not correct?
A: I wouldn't use the word "power." Influence, yes.
Q: Well, was there any other man in Buchenwald that could exercise that same influence over Schiedlausky?
A: Probably not, because Schiedlausky was a very secretive man, who, for instance, didn't say anything to anybody, even his colleagues…Due to the fact that he was a patient of mine-I have a certain influence of psycho-analysis which is exercised over a patient."
But ghastly science continued in Block 61. Heinous surgical procedures involving eye color and corneas were among the experiments performed by Nazi eugenicists operating in concentration camps.
Katzen-Ellenbogen claimed that he did not participate in the painful experiments and euthanasia at Buchenwald--only pure research. One Nazi doctor, Werner Greunuss, received life imprisonment for his activities at Buchenwald. While admitting that he assisted Greunuss, Katzen-Ellenbogen explained, "I conducted with him scientific research about vision." Nothing further was proved about Katzen-Ellenbogen's involvement with eye research. The eyewitnesses did not exist.
Katzen-Ellenbogen did engage in other experimental medical activity, however. He regularly applied his skills as an accomplished hypnotist, including posthypnotic suggestions. For example, there were the bedwetters. In a hell where Katzen-Ellenbogen regularly ignored the severest diseases, injuries and afflictions, the doctor took an inexplicably keen interest in enuresis, or bedwetting. Many young boys, gripped by fright and mistreatment, urinated uncontrollably at night. These boys were brought to the doctor, who placed them under hypnotic suggestion to cure their problem. But prisoners openly accused Katzen-Ellenbogen of using his hypnotic skills to extract information and confessions for the SS and Gestapo. In one case, a boy in his late teens was brought in at 4 P.M. on a Sunday afternoon; he was placed under a trance in the presence of other SS doctors. Katzen-Ellenbogen in open court denied that he "was hypnotizing people in order to extort confession of political prisoners and deliver them to the Gestapo." Yet he was never able to explain why he rendered service for bedwetters when he denied medical attention to so many others who were dying.
Eugenics was always an undercurrent at Buchenwald. One block was known as the Ahnenforschung barrack, or ancestral research barrack. It was worked by a small detachment known as Kommando 22a, mainly Czech prisoners, researching and assembling family trees of SS officers. SS officers were required to document pure Aryan heredity. In addition, the SS Race and Settlement Office was systematically sweeping through Poland looking for Volksdeutsche, that is, persons of any German ancestry. When this agency discovered Polish children eugenically certified to have Aryan blood, the youngsters were kidnapped and raised in "Germanized" Nazi environments. As a skilled and doctrinaire eugenicist, Katzen-Ellenbogen was assigned to perform eugenic examinations of Polish prisoners, seeking those fit for Germanization. Eugenic certification saved them from extermination.
To protect those fit for Germanization, Katzen-Ellenbogen engaged in all manner of medical charades. "So I manufactured all kinds of new forms of insanity and made false reports about their condition," he recalled. "As the invalids were not sent out at that time, they were probably saved from being gassed at one of the extermination camps." Katzen-Ellenbogen did not save others in a similar fashion, just the fifty or so Polish prisoners he eugenically certified as possessing Aryan qualities.
Katzen-Ellenbogen was an expert at faking symptoms. While on the witness stand at his trial, he was asked if someone could be trained to feign symptoms. He bragged, "To throw a fit? With training, he could do it. I myself, for instance, could give a wonderful performance in that respect." Asked if a specialist could be fooled, Katzen-Ellenbogen rejoined, "Yes. But not a real specialist." Asked again, Katzen-Ellenbogen repeated, "Not a real specialist."
Katzen-Ellenbogen was very sure of himself. When called to testify against others in the so-called "Doctors Trial" at Nuremberg, his usual brashness was more than evident. When a prosecutor asked when he had joined the Nazi Party, Katzen-Ellenbogen snapped back, "When I was in America, I never asked a nigger whether he had syphilis, only when he got syphilis." Later he quipped, "That's about the same [as the] question he put to me."
By any measure, the forgotten story of Katzen-Ellenbogen, an expert American eugenicist in Buchenwald, is one that stands alone. Kogon recalled it this way for prosecutors: "Katzen-Ellenbogen's power in the Little Camp was…extraordinarily large one…He was the man who was feared by the prisoners in the little camp as 'the man in the background.' He had under his command the block doctors…and his influence upon them was considerable."
Prosecutors found Katzen-Ellenbogen's record filled with contradictions. He saved Polish men with German blood, he let Frenchmen die before his eyes, and he sent thousands to their deaths by not exempting them from death kommandos. He was a Nazi collaborator; he was an eminent New Jersey doctor with Harvard credentials. The haze around Katzen-Ellenbogen's record grew thicker in the postwar chaos. Witnesses were unavailable--either returned home or incinerated, the evidence was burned, and Nazi medical cohorts were quick to support each other with glowing affidavits.
Moreover, Katzen-Ellenbogen was an expert on the fine points of American jurisprudence--the standard applied to war crime trials. His court record is riddled with procedural jousting as he corrected prosecutors on what questions they were allowed to ask, and how questions should be phrased. At one point the prosecutor asked, "So that everything else, other than what you have qualified, has been of your own personal knowledge?" The defendant replied, "Most of the things I testified to was of my own personal knowledge. Still, I did not say that everything I said is correct, because I know too well the psychology of testimony."
In a typical exchange, the prosecutor attempted to poke holes in Katzen-Ellenbogen's stories.
Q: Is it not a fact, doctor, that they were beaten two to three hours later at Schebert's order?
A: I couldn't say yes or no to that. I refer once more to the well known psychology of the testimony that if a man, month after month, tells the same story, then he is lying.
Q: That is the reason you are not telling the same story?
A: Maybe so…I heard here so many testimonies, I am influenced. I made in Harvard experiments of students [who] wanted to kill somebody and they made a statement immediately and four weeks later. You would see the discrepancy between the first and second statement. I am not above that myself.
When it finally came time to sum up, Katzen-Ellenbogen virtually commanded the judges to take the contradictions and inconsistencies into account. From the witness box, he reminded the judges: "It is a legal principle of all courts of all nations, the Romans as well in that time, in dubio pre vero, which in the English says: 'give them the benefit of the doubt.' That means if you are in doubt about my guilt, you have to acquit me."
Then Katzen-Ellenbogen actually invited the judges to commit a reversible error. "[But] I reverse that case," he continued. "If you are in any doubt that I am not guilty, convict me because I would have a chance then in higher court or any other place to defend myself in a way that I perhaps didn't do here."
On August 14, 1947, in a Dachau barrack set up for war crimes trials, Katzen-Ellenbogen stood, somewhat disheveled, before the military tribunal. Flanked by three shiny-helmeted MPs, his shoelaces removed to prevent suicide, bright lights above to aid the photographers, Edwin Marie Katzen-Ellenbogen awaited his judgment.
Without evidence of specific murders, he could not be hanged, as were other medical war criminals at Buchenwald.
Judgment: Guilty. Sentence: Life imprisonment.
Katzen-Ellenbogen appealed, issuing a pro se cascade of letters, petitions and motions, stressing his American citizenship and desire to help mankind. Upon review, his sentence was commuted to fifteen years. Katzen-Ellenbogen then appealed for special clemency on the grounds of "poor health." In July of 1950, a clemency board comprised of three civilian attorneys reduced his sentence to just twelve years, concluding, "Katzen-Ellenbogen's health is poor. He is suffering from a coronary insufficiency causing severe myocardic damage, and a chronic congestive heart failure."
Katzen-Ellenbogen had all the symptoms. After all, symptoms was his specialty.
Copyright Edwin Black. This article is based on his new book, War Against the Weak and is reprinted with permission of the author.