The Nazi Doctor Who Escaped Justice

British collusion with escape to Argentina after WW2

By Peter Tatchell


Dr Carl Vaernet’s barbaric medical experiments on gay concentration camp prisoners were hidden from history for over 50 years. Unlike some other Nazi doctors, he was never put on trial at Nuremburg. Instead, with British military collusion, he escaped to Argentina, where he lived openly and continued his research into methods for the eradication of homosexuality.

Vaernet was a Copenhagen doctor who, realising the opportunities offered by the homophobic policies of the Third Reich, joined the Nazi party and enlisted in the SS to pursue his research into a “cure” for homosexuality. In Buchenwald , this research was conducted on the personal authority of Heinrich Himmler. The Gestapo chief demanded the “extermination of abnormal existence. the homosexual must be entirely eliminated”.

A book published in Denmark in 2004 exposed the truth about Vaernet’s crimes against queer humanity, his escape from justice after the end of World War Two, and the failure of Allied governments to prosecute him for war crimes.

The book, Carl Vaernet – Danish SS-Doctor in Buchenwald , is authored by Hans Davidsen-Nielsen, Niels Hoiby, Jakob Rubin and Niels-Birger Danielsen. It is the culmination of a 10-year campaign that I have been waging to expose Dr Vaernet’s wartime activities and the cover-up by successive Danish and Allied governments.

The campaign only took off in 1998, when I wrote direct to the then Danish Prime Minister, Poul Rasmussen, calling for an inquiry into the Vaernet case. This letter triggered a public outcry in Denmark , where most people had been unaware of Vaernet’s war crimes and the high-level measures taken to shield him from prosecution.

The Danish government did not reply to my letter for over a year – not until June 1999. Even then, the Prime Minister passed the buck to the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Justice passed the buck to the National Archives of Denmark.

Refusing to launch an inquiry into my allegation that Vaernet had committed crimes against humanity and that his escape from justice had been aided by prominent Danish citizens, the Ministry of Justice absolved itself of all responsibility for the investigation of war crimes. It advised me to conduct the criminal investigation myself, referring me to the Danish National Archives. But when I approached the Archives, I was told the files on Vaernet were classified. They were not open to the public and they could not be examined until 2025.

Unofficially, however, the government’s reaction was huge embarrassment. Faced with mounting public and political pressure, Danish journalists and historians were eventually given access to the previously closed files. Based on this archive material, key details of Vaernet’s “medico-nazism” were subsequently revealed in Danish newspapers in late 1999. These articles were the starting-point of the new book.

Vaernet was a member of the Danish Nazi Party from the late 1930’s. As a doctor, he specialised in hormone research and treatments.

In April 1940 Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. During the following years, fewer and fewer patients visited his clinic because of his known Nazi sympathies.

As a result of declining patients and the general business downturn during the war, by 1943 Carl Vaernet realised that he could not earn enough money in Denmark to carry on his hormone research, which included treatments to “cure” homosexuality.

This prompted him to approach the Nazis, who were well known for their hatred of homosexuals and their desire to “eliminate.the perverted world of the homosexual”. Vaernet met the chief Nazi doctor, Reichsarzt-SS Ernst Grawitz, who proposed Vaernet continue researching his treatments for homosexuality on behalf of the SS.

In November 1943, the Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler approved Vaernet’s research project. A month later a contract was signed and Vaernet was given the rank of SS-Sturmbannfuhrer.

Vaernet visited Buchenwald concentration camp at least six times between June and December 1944. To test his hormone “cures” for homosexuality, he operated on 17 male inmates. They were forced to undergo an operation that involved the insertion of an artificial gland. Two of these “patients” later died from infections caused by the insanitary conditions in Buchenwald .

Vaernet addressed his final report to Heinrich Himmler on 10 February 1945, describing his hormone research and alleged results without even mentioning his experiments in Buchenwald . This omission suggests his research was probably deemed – even by him – a failure; or at least not sufficiently credible to merit a mention.

When Denmark was liberated on 5 May 1945, Vaernet was arrested and detained at Alsgade Skole POW camp in Copenhagen , where he remained from June to November 1945. This camp was Denmark ‘s main holding centre for war criminals and Nazi collaborators.

The POW camp was run jointly by the British Military Mission in Denmark and by the Danish intelligence service under the jurisdiction of the Danish police. The leading officer at Alsgade Skole was a British Major, Ronald F. Hemingway. In September 1945, Major Hemingway is recorded as stating that Vaernet “undoubtedly will be sentenced as a war criminal”.

Despite this official view, during his imprisonment Vaernet succeeded in convincing the British military authorities, as well as Danish police officers, that his hormone therapies were morally justifiable and could be an international success. He subsequently received special, privileged treatment in the POW camp.

Unlike the other prisoners, he was allowed to communicate with the outside world, and he used this privilege to correspond with business people who were working to market his hormone treatments – including his therapies to “cure” homosexuality.

During his detention, Vaernet filed three Danish patents, one American patent, and possibly a British patent as well. He also appears to have gained promising contacts with the British-American pharmaceutical company Parke, Davis & Comp. Ltd., based in London and Detroit, and with the American chemical giant Du Pont.

In November 1945, in response to Vaernet’s claim that he was suffering from a serious heart condition that required urgent treatment, Major Hemingway authorised his transfer to a Copenhagen hospital.

Even more bizarrely, in February 1946 this wanted war criminal was discharged from hospital and allowed to go to his brother’s farm in the countryside to convalesce. The consultant doctor of the hospital, Tage Bjering, had written to the authorities that Vaernet suffered from a critical, chronic heart condition for which there was no cure. Bjering estimated that Vaernet would probably only live one or two more years “and maybe not even that long”.

New evidence recently unearthed reveals a different story. Vaernet’s heart tests were entirely normal. He received no treatment at all during his three months in hospital. He merely stayed there, effectively as a guest of his colleague, Dr Bjering. This suggests that his alleged heart condition was faked as a way of getting himself out of the POW camp.

After Vaernet was discharged from hospital in February 1946, prominent Danes made further attempts to convince the authorities of the seriousness of Vaernet’s illness, apparently in bid to get the threat of war crime charges dropped. In August 1946 one of them wrote to the Danish Public Prosecutor that Vaernet’s health had deteriorated so badly that he was almost crippled. A vitamin E treatment by a respected professor at a Swedish hospital in Stockholm, Anders V. Kristensson, was allegedly the only hope for him. On the basis of a medical certificate supplied by one of Vaernet’s high-placed friends, the Public Prosecutor gave Vaernet a travel permit to go to Sweden for treatment, and Vaernet was even paid a small state stipend to support himself during his stay there.

But letters written by Vaernet in this period, between February and August 1946, make no mention of his declining health. Instead, they refer to the fact “everything is ready in Argentina” and “the money is ready in Sweden”. They also cite an agreement with “pont” (probably the American chemical corporation Du Pont).

During his brief stay In Sweden, Vaernet is thought to have changed his name and assumed a new identity. He probably got his costs paid by the extensive Nazi escape network that operated in Denmark and Sweden during the post-war years, often with the connivance of the Catholic Church.

During November 1946 Danish police contacted the Swedish professor Kristensson who was supposed to be treating Vaernet with his vitamin E cure, but Kristensson told them he had never heard of Vaernet.

The last trace of Vaernet in Europe is in December 1946, when he visited a Dutch doctor in Amsterdam. Soon afterwards he probably boarded an trans-Atlantic passenger ship headed for South America.

In January 1947 the police chief in Frederiksberg (a district of Copenhagen) was informed that “Vaernet has arrived in Brazil”. The police chief did nothing. Vaernet was identified later that year as having settled in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. He was living there under his own name, and he subsequently resumed his hormone research with funding from the Argentine Ministry of Health.

During the spring of 1947 US Brigadier Telford Taylor, who was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg doctors’ trial, wrote to the Danish Medical Association with new information about Vaernet’s wartime activities. A little later, in the summer of that year, Danish newspapers began reporting details about the Copenhagen doctor’s medical experiments at Buchenwald.

This put considerable pressure on the Danish authorities to seek Vaernet’s extradition from Argentina. But in February 1949 the Danish Minister of Justice, Niels Busch-Jensen, concluded that it would be futile and decided against extradition proceedings.

Vaernet’s son Kjeld, later twice inquired on his father’s behalf whether the Danish government would refrain from pressing charges if he went back to Denmark. On both occasions, in 1959 and 1965, the Justice Minister declined to give any guarantees. Vaernet therefore stayed in Argentina until he died in November 1965. He lived there openly, with the full knowledge of the Danish and Allied authorities. They made no attempt to prosecute him for war crimes, possibly because his research to “cure” homosexuality was, in those days, regarded by the western medical and political establishment as legitimate, even commendable.

* For more information on the Vaernet case: