Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

My Husband, A Medical Spy

After the United States declared war on Japan and Germany my husband and I felt that one had to take an active part in the defeat of Germany and thus agreed that he would join the armed forces. As a physician he would have been inducted into the army in any case, but it was surprising how many of my so--called liberal medical friends suddenly developed backaches, knee aches and other debilitating diseases which kept them out of the army. Even after fifty years I have not forgiven them or trusted them.

My husband was inducted and received an order to join a Denver tuberculosis hospital, since he had worked in the tuberculosis department of the City of New York. One day before he was to leave, he received a telegram ordering him instead to Washington to join the  Army medical corps in a  secret department. It consisted of six to eight officers, who had one thing in common, the knowledge of foreign languages. The colonel, the head of this section, had been a dean of public health at a Midwestern university to which he returned after the war. One member had been a medical librarian at the library of Congress. Another was a well-known New York internist who, as a “hobby,” was a specialist in several Middle Eastern languages. There was a chemist who had worked at an international pharmaceutical company, a famous Dutch--born epidemiologist who had lived in China for many years and spoke Chinese and other related languages, and my husband, an expert in public health who spoke German fluently and knew other European languages. From time to time other officers joined the group and were dispatched all over the world.  

This small very secret group (I did not know about it until the war ended) was used by the army as consultants before they planned to invade a country or island. The group would inform the military about diseases, health facilities, climate in advance of the invasion so that soldiers would receive appropriate inoculations, clothing and physical knowledge of the dangers involved in fighting in a particular enemy territory. The knowledge was collected from relevant foreign newspapers, journals, books, an so on. In 1944, when the war tide turned and the enemy was on the run, these officers were dispatched with the advancing American troops. The chemist was sent to Germany to be present when the American troops re-took the chemical factories in the Rhineland; they were found to be in surprisingly good condition and were rarely destroyed by bombardments. There was a reason for this state of affairs but I do not wish to discuss it at this time. [The subject was not resumed in later essays.] But they also found that most of the workers had been starving slave laborers from concentration camps or prisoners of conquered countries who were worked to death. These front troops were also the first to encounter and  liberate the concentration camps.

My husband was sent to London, where he became a liaison officer between the central medical units of the Americans and the French. The French headquarters were at Versailles; therefore, he had to cross the English Channel frequently, which was a dangerous undertaking since the water was heavily mined. Also, during this period, London was severely damaged by the German V 2 bombs. Years later when we visited London, George showed me the house he had lived in on; his residence was on the top floor. Even then, long after the war was over, the surrounding houses were still flattened by the bombs and had not been rebuilt. I almost fainted when I saw how close my husband had been to being killed.         

His assignment in London was to interrogate German medical generals and physicians who had been taken prisoner and had been involved in the medical experiments conducted on concentration camp inmates. This was highly secret information and some of it has never been published. I read a few of these reports secretly, after my husband returned from Europe, and before he delivered them to Washington. The reports described unspeakable atrocities. Some of the professors at the medical school I studied at in Berlin had been involved. When I was a student I had regarded them as honorable devoted scientists. The shock of learning about what they had done changed my views forever. No wonder I do not trust any German even after fifty years.

My husband returned on a troop ship to the United. States, giving medical care to the soldiers who were seasick or had acquired diseases in Europe. Since the war was not over, he was assigned to a base hospital in Boston where he returned to his medical work again. After being debriefed in Washington, he never returned to his medical unit.


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