Walter Schreiber

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Dr. Walter Paul Emil Schreiber (21 March 1893 – 5 September 1970) was a German medical military officer in World War I, a brigadier-general (Generalarzt) of the Medical Service of the Wehrmacht and a key witness against Hermann Goering during the Nuremburg Trials.


Walter Schreiber was born in Berlin to Paul Schreiber (a postal inspector) and his wife Gertrud Kettlitz. After completing gymnasium in Berlin, he studied medicine at the universities of Berlin, Tübingen, and Greifswald. In 1914, he enlisted voluntarily for military service and served with the 42nd Infantry Regiment in France. He was injured at the First Battle of the Marne. After his recovery, he continued with his studies and served as a provisional doctor on the Western Front until the end of the war in 1918, at which time he was decorated for valor and humanitarian service by three different countries, Finland, Switzerland and Germany. In 1920, he graduated Dr. med. from the University of Greifswald and began his field studies in epidemiology in Africa.

After WWI, the United States sought to assess the feasibility of using biological warfare agents in future military conflicts.[1] As a professor of Bacteriology and Hygiene at the University of Berlin and one of the foremost experts in epidemiology, Dr. Schreiber was invited to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then known as Walter Reed General Hospital, in a scientific exchange between Germany and the United States. During this time, he learned of U.S. past and proposed plans for both defensive and offensive biological warfare research and the possibility of an official US biological warfare program. As a member of the medical branch of the Heer, and a representative of the Army Medical Inspectorate, he was charged with preventing the spread of infectious disease and developing vaccines, in particular to guard against potential biological warfare agents. In 1942 he wrote a memorandum expressing his objections to the Third Reich's own development of such weapons, stating during his witness testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, " I personally made a report to Generaloberstabsarzt Handloser... It was an extremely serious matter for us physicians, for if there really should be a plague epidemic it was clear that it would not stop at the fronts, but would come over to us too. We had to bear a very grave responsibility."[2][3] In October 1942, Schreiber attended the conference where the results of human experiments at Dachau were presented. In May 1943, he headed the third session of the advisory specialists of the Armed Forces. This led to a confrontation in which Dr. Schreiber spoke out against human experimentation in general, but especially with biological agents such as plague and typhus, testifying later that he "pointed out that bacteria were an unreliable and dangerous weapon" but that he was "confronted with a fait accompli", the decision had already been made, "the Fuhrer had given the Reichsmarschall (Hermann Goering) full powers, and so forth, for carrying out all the preparations."[2][4][5] In September 1943, Schreiber accepted the position of the commander of the Training Division C of the Military Medical Academy under which authority he denied permission for Kurt Blome, the head of the Posen research institute, to conduct his plague research in Sachsenburg. This was later overruled by Himmler.[2] In 1944, Dr Schreiber, who had grown increasingly aware of Hermann Goering's antagonism toward him, conferred with Dr. Karl Brandt, the attorney for health care, scientific advisory board.[4] In 1944, from May 16 to 18, Dr. Schreiber learned of research into gas gangrene experiments conducted by Dr. Karl Gebhardt at Hohenlychen Sanatorium. (Nuremberg document 619)[6]

On 30 April 1945, while caring for wounded in a makeshift hospital in Berlin, he was taken prisoner of war by the Red Army and transported to the Soviet Union.[2] On 26 August 1946, Schreiber appeared as a surprise witness at the Nuremberg Trials, giving evidence in support of the Soviet Chief Prosecutor, Roman Rudenko, against, Hermann Goering and Kurt Blome, who had been in charge of German offensive biological weapons development.[7][8] A recording of his testimony at the trial can be found at the online archive of the Imperial War Museum.[9] The transcript became part of the Nuremberg proceedings against German major war criminals.[4] Dr. Schreiber, whose long-standing record against the use of offensive biological warfare and human experimentation was well established, was himself never charged or considered for prosecution on war crimes charges.

In fall 1948, Dr. Schreiber reappeared in the West with his wife, his son and one of his adult daughters. In a press conference on 2 November, he explained that he had initially been held in Lubyanka Prison in the USSR where he became ill almost to death. Only when the captured former German ambassador to Russia, Norbert von Baumbach, became ill and refused care from anyone but Generalarzt, Dr. Schreiber, was the doctor's true identity discovered by Soviet authorities. Schreiber reported he was then given medical attention and moved to a series of safe houses in the Soviet Zone of Germany. There he remained to provide medical care to former Nazi generals. Still under Soviet custody, he was later given the rank of starshina, and was ultimately offered the position of Chief Medical Officer in the newly formed East German Police Force, the Volkspolizei. Rejecting this position, Schreiber reported that he was then offered a professorship at the University of Leipzig. However, in hopes of finding his family, requested the University of Berlin instead. In response, Soviet authorities reported they were holding Schreiber's family in the USSR, thereby convincing Dr. Schreiber to relocate and join other German scientists who had already been taken there (see Russian Alsos).[10] In the meantime, his daughter, who had presented herself to Allied military authorities in the American Occupation Zone, learned that the Soviets were transporting more German scientists to the Soviet Union, her father presumably among them. Boarding multiple trains, she walked the cars until she caught her father's attention. Seeing an opportunity, Dr. Schreiber evaded his handler and on 17 October took a train from Dresden to Berlin where he presented himself to the Allied Control Authority in West Berlin.[8][11] Dr. Schreiber was subsequently hired to work with the Counter Intelligence Corps and beginning in 1949 was employed as post physician at Camp King, a large clandestine POW interrogation center in Oberursel, Germany.[12]


In 1951, Schreiber was taken to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip. He arrived in New York on September 17, 1951, on the USNS General Maurice Rose with his wife Olga Conrad Schreiber, his son Paul-Gerhard Schreiber, and his mother-in-law, Marie Schulz Conrad. The manifest of the ship does not list travel documents for them, but declares them to be "Paper Clips".[13]

On 7 October 1951 the New York Times reported that he was working at the Air Force School of Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. A notice also appeared in a medical journal and was seen by Leopold Alexander, who had been an expert consultant at the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial. He contacted the Boston Globe, and the resulting articles by Drew Pearson concerning Schreiber's Nuremberg evidence and ties between him and the abusive experiments performed by Blome and others on concentration camp inmates, such as Janina Iwańska and the other "Ravensbrück rabbits", led to a public outcry.[8][14] Schreiber, consequently did not seek contract renewal. He left Texas for the Bay Area of California, where one of his daughters now lived. Thereafter the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency arranged a visa for him through an Argentinian general and he was provided with moving funds for himself and his family. On 22 May 1952 they were flown on a military aircraft to New Orleans and from there to Buenos Aires where he joined another daughter.[15][16]

In Argentina, he worked as a physician and at an epidemiological research laboratory. He researched family history and compiled his journals. He died suddenly of a heart attack on 5 September 1970 in San Carlos de Bariloche, Río Negro, Argentina.[5][17]

Further reading

  • McCoy, Alfred. "Science in Dachau's Shadow: Hebb, Beecher, and the Development of CIA Psychological Torture and Modern Medical Ethics". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 43 (4), 2007.


  1. [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3
  3. Annie Jacobsen, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America, New York: Little, Brown, 2014. ISBN 978-0-316-22105-4, pp. 7, 164–65.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Transcripts, Trial of German Major War Criminals Nuremberg, Germany, August 26, 1946.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Family tree,
  6. "Air Force Hires Nazi Doctor" The Free Lance Star. Feb 14, 1952
  7. Jacobsen, pp. 232–39.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Linda Hunt, Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990, New York: St. Martin's, 1991, ISBN 9780312055103, p. 89.
  9. International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg: Day 211 26/8/1946 Walter Schreiber questioned. Audio Recordings, Imperial War Museum, London.
  10. %20to%20USSR&f.
  11. Jacobsen, pp. 322–30.
  12. Jacobsen, pp. 331–33.
  14. Jacobsen, pp. 348–56.
  15. Jacobsen, pp. 361–63.
  16. Hunt, p. 90.
  17. Jacobsen, p. 363.