The "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele, who was long thought to have been the black sheep of Germany's scientists under the Nazi regime, was in fact supported by a network of elite researchers, new research has revealed.
Mengele founded a kindergarten and played the violin to children in a concentration camp, but also injected the hearts of children with chloroform, infected them with typhus and destroyed women's fallopian tubes with acid.
His catalogue of horror stories also included injecting children's eyes with ink, experimenting on people with cleft palates and poisoning 900 sets of twins.
Although his deeds are well documented, assumptions that he was one of a few who pushed back the boundaries of science for his own pleasure have been shattered. Six years of research led by a political scientist, Dr Susanne Heim, has revealed that the Angel of Death was not alone.
Archives have previously revealed that Mengele had assistants such as the Hungarian pathologist and prisoner of war Miklos Nyiszli, who said: "I would bathe the corpses of cripples and dwarves in calcium chloride and cook them in large pots so that their skeletons could be preserved in the Museum of the Third Reich."
But records have been unearthed that Mengele's work was supported by elite researchers attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute, whose scientists have been awarded more than 20 Nobel prizes.
Although their personal goal was not essentially to create a super-race for Adolf Hitler, they did not object to the scientific freedom that the dictator bestowed on them. Indeed, Mengele's supervisor for his PhD was the internationally acclaimed scientist Otmar von Verschuer, who was renowned for his research into twins.
The Max-Planck Institute - formerly the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute - decided in 1997 to fund research into its murky past. A spokesman for the institute said: "No goal in research can justify crossing ethical boundaries.
"We wanted to discover how and why the limits of science were crossed and why there was such a blur between animal and human trials. We appointed a group of independent historians to get to the bottom of a mystery that has lain dormant for a long time."
The director of research for the Berlin-based project was Dr Heim. She told The Guardian last night: "It was formerly believed that scientists in Germany were oppressed by the Nazi regime, that there were only a few guilty people. But in truth, these doctors were in paradise.
"The distinction between politics and science was hazy and doctors had the freedom to do as they liked, so long as they could prove that their goal was to breed a super-race of strong soldiers for the advancement of warfare."
She added: "We cannot deny that the work carried out at that time has helped the advancement of medicine.
"Until recently, the brains of people killed by euthanasia during the war were used for scientific research."
Dr Heim's research also revealed a possible connection between the Nazis and the deceased Adolf Butenandt, whose work on sexual hormones and protein belonged to the greatest scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century.
"I appreciate our revelations must be disturbing for the Max Plank Institute", said Dr Heim,"but the institute should be wary not to sit back and think that they have done their bit. They should use these findings as a platform to discuss science today and make sure that researchers keep within the ethical boundaries."
A warrant for Mengele's arrest, claiming he had murdered prisoners, was issued in 1959. He died in Brazil 20 years later.
No laboratory note or manuscript relating to his work has ever been found.