As was true with other prisoner categories, some homosexuals were also victims of cruel medical experiments, including castration. At Buchenwald concentration camp, SS physician Dr. Carl Værnet performed operations designed to convert men to heterosexuals: the surgical insertion of a capsule which released the male hormone testosterone. Such procedures reflected the desire by Himmler and others to find a medical solution to homosexuality.
Carl Værnet was born in the village of Astrup (by Aarhus) on the 28th of April 1893 and grew up in a fairly well-off farmer family in Jutland, Denmark. He was educated as a physician at the University of Copenhagen where he obtained his degree of medicine in 1923.
Værnet established himself as a general practitioner near Copenhagen in 1927 and quickly built up a successful practice. He was especially engaged in developing hormone therapies for various diseases, and he also researched shortwave and microshortwave therapy.
According to Værnet's own post-war accounts, he took various postgraduate courses with prominent professors in Germany, Holland and France, and achieved a reputation as a society doctor and became prosperous.
In those years hormone therapy was regarded as a possible cure for a much wider range of diseases than today, and great hopes were also directed towards shortwave therapy. Carl Værnet claimed that he could cure cancer with his methods, and around 1940 he claimed that he had developed a hormone therapy which could convert the sexual orientation of homosexual persons.
The method was to insert an artificial gland containing the male hormone testosterone into the groin of the patient. The functional novelty of the "gland" was that it could release constant doses of hormone into the patient thereby enabling a therapy over a long period.
Værnet was a member of the Danish National Socialist (Nazi) Party from the late 1930's. In April 1940 Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during the following years fewer and fewer patients visited his clinic because his positive attitude towards the Germans was well known. As a result of declining patients and the general business downturn during the war, by 1943 Carl Værnet realised that he could not get enough money in Denmark to carry on his hormone research.
In December 1943 Værnet was named SS-turmbannführer (Major), and he was placed under an SS medical company in Prague, Deutsche Heilmittel GmbH. On the 26th of February 1944 Værnet and his family moved on to Prague where they were installed in a big flat originally belonging to a deported Jewish family.
Værnet visited Buchenwald at least six times between June and December 1944 from his base in Prague. His closest partners were the SS garrison doctor in Buchenwald Gerhard Schiedlausky, who after the war was hanged for participation in medical experiments (the Ravensbrück Process in Hamburg 1946-47), and Erwin Ding, who was in charge of typhoid experiments in Buchenwald which cost at least 150 inmates their lives.
In a letter from Vaernet in Prague to his SS-employers at Deutsche Heilmittel, the 31st of August 1944 he reports that his operations are resceduled to 2-3 weeks later due to an airraid. The first run of operations took place the 13th of Semptember 1944, the second on the 8th of December 1944. Studenternes efterretningstjeneste claimed that a total of 30-40 kz-inmates were operated on.
Carl Værnet operated on a total of 17 male KZ-inmates who were forced to undergo an operation with the artificial gland. Værnet used various types of persons for his experiments - homosexuals, non-homosexuals, criminals, non-criminals.
He performed gruesome medical experiments on gay concentration camp prisoners in Buchenwald and Neuengamme, in a bid to "cure" their homosexuality. Værnet's research was on the authority of Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, who had called for the "extermination of abnormal existence". There is a document showing that Carl Værnet castrated KZ homosexual inmates.
A SS-letter to Carl Værnet, the 3rd of January 1945 mentions 13 operated inmates and the names of the 7 operated (out of a group of 10) on the 8th of December 1944: Reinhold, Schmith, Ledetzky, Boeck, Henze (who died), Köster and Parth. Before that, the 13.9.1944 3 patients out of 5 were operated on. 2 were catrated, 1 was sterilized at the Buchenwald camp. 2 of the patients died immediately , (1 of these as a direct result of the operation, a big phlegmose/tissue-inflamation, the other (Henze) from infectious bowels catarr and severe emaciation the 21st of December 1944.) leaving 11 to die shortly thereafter.
Once, Værnet's experiment was disrupted by an air-raid alarm, but the 30th of October 1944 Carl Værnet informed SS Reichs Doctor, Obergruppenfüehrer Grawitz*:
"The operations in Weimar-Buchenwald were performed the 13th September 1944 on five homosexual camp inmates. Of them 2 were castrated, 1 sterilized and 2 not operated. All 5 had the "artificial male sexual gland" implanted in different sizes..."
A week before Carl Vaernet wrote of the trialperson no. 1, inmate no. 21.686 Bernhard Steinhoff, a 55 year old gay man, after the castration:
"The operation wound has healed, and there is no rejection of the implantated sexual gland. The person feels better and had dreams of ladies..."
Carl Værnet addressed a final report to Heinrich Himmler on the 10th of February 1945 where he described his hormone projects and his alleged results without even mentioning his experiments in Buchenwald. This omission suggests that his research in Prague and Buchenwald was probably deemed - even by him - a failure; or at least not sufficiently credible to merit a mention.
We do not precisely know how many underwent an operation; 13, 15 or more has been mentioned, but the letters makes certain that an Endlösung of the homosexual problem had as high a priotity as the Jew question only did the program start in the last months of the third reich where everything disintegrated. As time went by the reports of successes dried up and Værnet was not accesible of his employers.
In February and March 1945 Carl Værnet returned to Denmark. When Denmark was liberated on the 5th of May 1945, Carl Værnet was arrested and detained at Alsgade Skole camp in Copenhagen. Various Danish police officers who had been inmates in Buchenwald could confirm that Værnet had visited the camp wearing an SS uniform, so there was no way for him to deny that.
The leader of the British Military Mission at Alsgades Skole in September 1945, Major Hemingway, stated that Værnet "undoubtedly will be sentenced as a war criminal".
But dring his detention Carl Værnet succeeded in awakening the interest of the British and Danish authorities in his hormone treatment ideas. He was allowed to keep contact with the outside world from his cell for the purpose of promoting his hormone therapies. Værnet seems to have gained promising contacts with the British-American pharmaceutical company "Parke, Davis & Comp. Ltd., London & Detroit" and maybe also with the American chemical giant Du Pont.
In November 1945 Værnet was hospitalised in Copenhagen, and the authorities at Alsgades Skole agreed to release him. But the charges against Carl Værnet were not dropped. He allegedly suffered from a critical heart condition, and in February 1946 he was discharged from hospital and allowed to go to his brother's farm in the countryside as a convalescent. The consultant doctor of the hospital, Tage Bjering, had declared that Carl Værnet suffered from a critical, chronic heart condition for which there was no cure at the time. Bjering estimated that Værnet could probably only live one or two more years "and maybe not even that long".
From research material, however, it is clear that Carl Værnet's electro-cardiogramme was normal, and that he received no treatment during his three months in hospital; he merely stayed there. During his stay he typed long letters to his business partners about his hormone therapies, and promoted his ideas to various corporations abroad.
Danish and British authorities were implicated in aiding Værnet's escape to Argentina avoiding justice after the end of World War Two; successive Danish governments covered up his crimes against humanity for over 50 years. Værnet settled in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. From around 1950 Carl Værnet had his own clinic as a general practitioner in Buenos Aires.
After a few years in the health ministry in Buenos Aires he opened a private pratice at Calle Uriarte 2251, but his clinic was not as successful as in Copenhagen. He never really learned the language or to know the people. He changed name again to the spanish Carlos Peter Varnet and lived in constant terror of being found out.
In 1959 and again in 1965 Carl Værnet tried to sound out through his son Kjeld Værnet whether the Danish authorities would refrain from pressing charges against him if he went back to Denmark. On both occasions the answer was that the authorities could give no such guarantee. Therefore Værnet stayed in Argentina till he died in November 1965, living openly there with the full knowledge of the Danish and Allied authorities.
A letter by Peter Tatchell of "OutRage!" to the Danish government on the 16th of March 1998 triggered the reopening of the Værnet case in the Danish media. This case had previously been only sporadically mentioned in Danish newspapers - in the late 1940's and the 1980's.
Refusing to launch an inquiry into Tatchell's allegation that Værnet had committed crimes against humanity and that his escape from justice had been aided by prominent Danish citizens, the government of Denmark advised Tatchell to do the criminal investigation himself. It referred him to the Danish National Archives. When Tatchell approached the National Archives, he was told that the files on Værnet were not open to the public and that they could not be examined for 80 years from 1945.
The Danish government did not answer OutRage! for over a year - until June 1999. The Danish Prime Minister passed the buck to the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Justice passed the buck to Tatchell and the National Archives of Denmark.
Unofficially, however, the government's reaction was to eventually give Danish journalists and historians access to the hitherto closed files. The most important details of Værnet's story were subsequently finally revealed in Danish newspaper stories in the summer and autumn of 1999.
Carl Værnet was a prisoner in the Alsgades Skole (school) POW detention centre in Copenhagen from June to November 1945. Here Danish war criminals and other people who were suspected of cooperation with the Germans were detained.
The detention centre 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, who gave his permission for the transfer of Carl Værnet to a hospital in Copenhagen in November 1945. Værnet claimed he was suffering from a serious heart condition.
During his detention, Carl Værnet - unlike the other prisoners - was allowed to communicate with the outside world, including with business people who were working to market his hormone therapies world wide. These included therapies to "cure" homosexuality (!). The evidence clearly indicates that Værnet 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 therefore received special, privileged treatment in the POW camp.
SS Doctor Carl Peter Vaernet's Medical Experiments on Male Homosexuals at Buchenwald (1944)
Excerpt from the "Main Report" by Eugen Kogon, an Austrian who had been interned in Buchenwald as an anti-fascist political prisoner and who had worked as first medical secretary in the Block 50 medical ward at the camp.
The report was written in 1944 under the auspices of the Psychological Warfare Division of the U.S. Army, immediately after the liberation of Buchenwald. It remained unpublished until 1995.
"In fall 1944, the Danish SS major Dr. Vaernet, who had his headquarters in Prague, arrived in Buchenwald. He started a series of experiments to cure homosexuality, with the approval of Himmler and Reich medical chief of the SS Brigadier General Dr. [Ernst-Robert] Grawitz, and SS Brigadier General [Helmut] Poppendick, Berlin (via Experimental Department V, Leipzig, of the Reichsführer SS).
Implanting a synthetically produced hormone in the right side of the groin was supposed to effect a change in the sex drive. The SS doctors made terrible jokes about it; the prisoners spoke of "flintstones" that were supposed to help those implanted with them along the proper path. Vaernet also experimented with castration. It was tried on a total of about fifteen men, of whom two died. Doubtless that was a result of the operation, since one of them
developed a major infection and the other died a few weeks later as a result of general weakness.
Otherwise the human guinea pigs of this special series of experiments were not treated badly. But no positive findings were ever obtained."
David A. Hackett (ed.). The Buchenwald Report, Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995, page 79.
Dr. Værnet's role in the medical abuse of gay prisoners is documented in the archives at the International Tracing Service at Arolsen (example: ITS Arolsen, book 36, folder 405). It is also cited in the books The Pink Triangle by Richard Plant (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh 1987) and Hidden Holocaust? by Dr. Gunter Grau (Cassell, London 1995). Historical records show that Værnet castrated and implanted hormones in homosexuals in attempts to alter their sexual orientation at the Buchenwald and Neuengamme camps.
"At Buchenwald there was a doctor who tried to change them by instituting a particular gland. The operations were crude. Many died as a result of botched surgery. Others were beaten to death, drowned headfirst in water, hung by their arms till they were dead. Some were castrated ...really, the worst you can imagine."
Excerpt from: Tim Teeman, Forgotten victims of the Holocaust,
Værnet's attempted cures for homosexuality paralleled similar research and therapies officially authorised in Britain. The British mathematical genius, Alan Turing, who broke the Nazi Enigma-code during the Second World War and initiated the modern computer revolution, suffered tragically as a result of similar British attempts to "cure" homosexuality.
Turing's gayness became an issue in 1952. Declared a security risk by the British authorities, he was forced to undergo a humiliating hormone treatment that was supposed to eradicate his homosexuality. Two years later, he committed suicide.
The death of Alan Turing was a result of a treatment not dissimilar to the one developed by Carl Værnet: both were premised on the idea that homosexuality was the result of a hormonal imbalance and could be "cured" by hormone therapy. This view was widespread in the medical profession until the 1950's and persisted in some medical circles until the 1970s.
From: Niels Birger Danielsen & al., Værnet, den danske SS-læge i Buchenwald, JP Bøger, Denmark, 2002.
Now the fate of one of the most notorious KZ doctor experimenting on gays is known, the question remains about who helped him flee to Argentine in 1947 and what has been undertaken by the government in the last 50 years to get the Danish Mengele home for a war-criminal trial?