Experiments in Dachau

Wilhelm Beiglböck

In the summer of 1944, the SS doctor, Dr. Wilhelm Beiglböck, conducted experiments on Sinti and Roma in Dachau concentration camp for making seawater drinkable. He had a dedicated research station set up for this purpose. The contractor was the Luftwaffe: they were looking for a method which could be used to supply drinking water to pilots who had been shot down over the sea. The prisoners were forced to drink only salt water or chemically prepared water for days on end. According to witness accounts, seriously ill and dying people were taken from the experimental station to the sick-bay, in order to conceal the number of deaths in the experiments.

"After this examination, we were all taken to a room, and a Luftwaffe doctor, whose name escapes me but whose face I still have clearly before my eyes, made a speech. I remember the following words from this speech: 'You have now been selected for seawater tests, first of all you will get good food, such as you have never seen before, then you will starve and drink seawater.' He also said: 'Do you even know what thirst is? You will go mad, you will think that you are in the desert and will try to lick the sand from the ground.' At no point did this Luftwaffe doctor give an indication that he thought we were a group of volunteers, and he also never asked anybody whether they had volunteered for tests of this kind. [...]

The actual experiments began the following week. We stopped getting any food at all and were given only seawater or chemically prepared seawater to drink. According to my recollection, our group of 40 gypsies was divided into three subgroups of approximately the same size. Group 1 only received real seawater. Group 2 only received chemically prepared seawater, which had a dark yellow colour and was certainly much worse than pure seawater. Group 3 only received prepared seawater, which looked something like real drinking water. I belonged to Group 2. [...] During these experiments, I would have terrible attacks of thirst, I felt very ill, lost a lot of weight and finally got a fever and felt so weak that I couldn't stand up. [...]

I clearly remember a scene where a Czechoslovakian gypsy told the Luftwaffe doctor that he could not possibly drink any more water. This Czechoslovakian gypsy was then tied to a bed at the order of the Luftwaffe doctor, the Luftwaffe doctor brutally poured seawater down the throat of this gipsy in person by means of a stomach pump. Most gypsies received liver and spinal cord punctures during the experiments. I myself received a liver puncture and know from experience that these punctures were terribly painful. Even today, when the weather changes, I feel intense pain at the spot where the liver puncture was carried out. All the liver and spinal cord punctures were carried out by the Luftwaffe doctor in person ... [...] As already mentioned, one of the originally 40 men only survived the experiments for a few days. Three were so close to death that they were taken away on stretchers the same evening, covered with white sheets. I never heard of these three again." (Statement of Karl Höllenreiner (on the right of the family photo) before the Nuremberg Tribunal on 17th June 1947)