Leo Alexander

For the Washington D.C. broadcaster and politician, see Leo Alexander (D.C. activist).

Leo Alexander (October 11, 1905 – July 20, 1985) was an American psychiatrist, neurologist, educator, and author, of Austrian-Jewish origin. He was a key medical advisor during the Nuremberg Trials. Alexander wrote part of the Nuremberg Code, which provides legal and ethical principles for scientific experiment on humans.


Born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, Alexander was the son of a physician. He graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1929, interned in psychiatry at the University of Frankfurt, then emigrated to the United States in 1933. He taught at the medical schools of Harvard University and Duke University. During the war, he worked in Europe under United States Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson as an army medical investigator with the rank of Major. After the war, he was appointed chief medical advisor to Telford Taylor, the U.S. Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, and participated in the Nuremberg Trials in November 1946. He conceived the principles of the Nuremberg Code after observing and documenting German SS medical experiments at Dachau, and instances of sterilization and euthanasia. Alexander later wrote that "science under dictatorship becomes subordinated to the guiding philosophy of the dictatorship."[1]

Later, he served as assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University Medical School, where he stayed for almost 30 years. As a consultant for the Boston Police Department, Alexander was instrumental in solving the Boston Strangler case.[2] He directed the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Boston State Hospital, where he researched multiple sclerosis and studied neuropathology. He arranged for the treatment of 40 German Nazi concentration camp victims who had been injected by Dr. Josef Mengele with a precursor to gas gangrene, and provided them with psychiatric therapy.[3] Alexander wrote several books on psychiatry and neuropathology, and coined the terms thanatology—defined as the study of death—and ktenology—the science of killing.[4]

Alexander died of cancer in 1985 in Weston, Massachusetts, survived by three children.


  1. Alexander, Leo (1949). "Medical Science under Dictatorship". New England Journal of Medicine. 241 (2): 39–47. doi:10.1056/NEJM194907142410201. PMID 18153643.
  2. Gale, 2007.
  3. New York Times, 1985.
  4. Marrus, 1999.


External links

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