Wash. U professor studied doctors’ role in Holocaust, other genocides

Dr. Frederick Sweet

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

How could physicians, of all people who take the Hippocratic Oath that begins “First, do no harm,” be involved in the systematic and sadistic mass murder of  the Holocaust and other genocides? This question haunted Frederick Sweet, a professor and researcher at Washington University, who found, to his dismay, that physicians indeed have played major roles in the Holocaust and mass murders in places like Rwanda and Bosnia.

Professor Sweet, who was a member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University, died Thursday, March 7 at Barnes-Jewish Hospital following a stroke, his family said.  He and his wife, Rita Marika Csapo-Sweet, who was working with him on his research, were longtime residents of the Dogtown neighborhood in St. Louis.

Csapo-Sweet said that she would finish the research into the role physicians played in the Holocaust and other genocides and the book  they were writing based on its findings.

Professor Frederick Sweet first did research into breast and ovarian cancer while at the Sloan-Kettering Insitute for Cancer Research in Rye, N.Y. He earned his doctorate at the University of Alberta in 1971 and in 1971 joined the Washington University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

A chemist by training, he found that funding for research in his field of molecular endocrinology was scarce.  He was editing an article for a medical journal that referred to Dr. Carl Clauberg, who discovered the rabbit test for determining early pregnancy.  After joining the Nazi Party, Clauberg was put in charge of finding rapid and inexpensive sterilization methods through cruel experiments on pregnant women during World War II. 

Professor Sweet received a Fulbright grant to study the same issue in Bosnia-Herzegovina on the role of medical doctors and genocide.  Three physicians, including Dr. Radovan Karadzic, were put on trial  at The Hague for  crimes of  genocide.

At the Nuremberg International War Crimes Tribunal in 1946, several prominent Nazi physicians were put on trial for their crimes against humanity.  Hedy Wachenheimer Epstein of St. Louis, whose parents had been killed at Auschwitz, served on the prosecution staff at the Nuremberg trial of the doctors.

Professor Sweet concluded that physicians who took part in such heinous crimes were easily adaptable to any social group to which they belonged and lacked basic human empathy.

Frederick Sweet was born in New York City, where his parents had come from Hungary. His father had been a pianist before he lost his hearing to the Spanish flu.  He ran a deli and was a traveling champagne salesman.  His mother was an accomplished seamstress who made the samples worn by Bill Blass runway models.

Funeral services were held last Tuesday at the Berger Memorial Chapel, 4715 McPherson Avenue.  Burial was at United Hebrew Temple Cemetery.

Survivors, in addition to his wife, include two daughters, Sarah Sweet and Cassandra Sweet, both of the San Francisco area; two  sons, Brennan Sweet of Cranford, N.J. and Joshua Sweet of the San Francisco area; a brother, Bob Sweet of New York and four grandchildren.