Medical injustice

Jacob (Jakob) „Johnny” Bamberger

born 11.12.1913 Königsberg
d. 1989

The Sinto Jacob Bamberger got to know half of Germany as a child. His parents were horse traders and had a traveling cinema that enabled rural populations located far from cities to see feature films. When Sinti and Roma were banned from traveling in 1935, Jacob's parents rented out the traveling cinema to their previous projectionist. Jacob went on to work for the Reichsbahn in the Frankfurt am Main area until 1939. The parents had already owned their own house since 1933.

Exclusion from the Olympic Team

As one of Germany's best amateur flyweight boxers, Bamberger had been part of the core German team for the 1936 Olympics since 1934. He was also called up to the actual Olympic squad, but was then excluded as part of the Nazis' racist "purge." Nevertheless, he was allowed to participate in championship fights and became German runner-up in the flyweight division on April 15, 1938, after losing to Nikolaus Obermauer. He defended this rank in 1939, and finished third in the German championships in 1940.1

Jacob Bamberger and his family were arrested as part of the "May deportations" the same year. He himself reported: "One day the Gestapo was there, then we knew what was going on. If you were summoned, you were taken away. That's what happened to my father, that's what happened to my cousin and to everyone we knew. I sacrificed one of my father's gold watches to get false identity papers in Berlin."2 Elsewhere, Bamberger recounts, "When I tried to escape to Czechoslovakia in 1941, I was caught at the border and sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp near Weiden. There I received 25 strokes of the cane for the first time in the punishment batallion. During my imprisonment in several camps I received a total of 75 strokes of the cane or whip. [...] Many blows also went to my back and spine. As a consequence of the injuries inflicted on my spine at the time, I suffer from severe pain more often now in old age."3

Seawater Drinking Experiment at Dachau Concentration Camp

Bamberger arrived at Flossenbürg concentration camp marked as a "gypsy" in January 1942. He  was forced to work in a quarry. He was sent to a subcamp in Dachau in December 1942, and to the Dachau main camp in February 1943. Here he was conscripted to the seawater drinking experiments in 1944. According to Paul Weindling's research, Jakob Bamberger had to subsist on nothing other than half a liter of seawater and an emergency ration (2400 calories), once for ten days and once for four days. Decades later, he himself described his experience as follows: "I was brought to Dachau concentration camp from Flossenbürg with a transport in the spring of 1943. [...]. I had to participate in medical experiments with Black Sea water during that summer of 1944 [sic]. I can still remember, that was in Block 37. We were 43 men who were locked together in one room, we were given nothing to eat and only seawater to drink. [...] During my boxing matches, I used to weigh 95 pounds. You can imagine what I looked like during the detention. And I had to participate in the trials. But my condition and my athlete's heart were so good that I held out for 18 days until I also collapsed. [...] Shortly after these seawater experiments, I had severe kidney pain, although all my organs used to be in perfect health. [...] After the experiment, I was fed properly for several days, before returning to the camp. A short time later I was taken to Hauenstätten near Augsburg, where I had to build Messerschmitt airplanes for Germany. I had to install fuel tanks. It was towards the end of the war, when I was sent along with a transport to Buchenwald. There I met my father, who was still alive in Buchenwald. My father had been at the concentration camp for six years, even though he had served as a soldier in the First World War. [...] He died in 1967 at the age of 81 [....]. We grew up in a house with four boys and four girls. Only I and two of my sisters returned from the camps. My mother perished in Auschwitz in 1943."4

In an interview Bamberger also said about the seawater drinking experiments that "[o]nly people in good health were used for these experiments, preferably young and strong. [...] I took part for 18 days, then I collapsed and was pulled out of the experiment. [...] These experiments were carried out with us in August 1943 [sic; correct: 1944]; we were 43 people in one room. So you can imagine what we went through ... and so on. Just imagine what I looked like: for example, when I was a boxer and preparing for a boxing championship, I weighed 95 pounds. During the time I was in the concentration camp, I was as skinny as a beanpole. I could wrap my coat around myself three times. But my heart was healthy and I had been well-trained beforehand, so I was able to survive this pit of murderers."5

Poverty in the Postwar Era

Jacob Bamberger was liberated by U.S. soldiers during a transport from Buchenwald to Flossenbürg. He appeared as a witness at the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial in 1947, which also debated the saltwater drinking experiments.6 He married that same year, but his wife died two years later as a result of injuries sustained at the concentration camp. Bamberger was forced to live modestly: "I worked for the Americans from 1951 until the beginning of 1954. I was the first one at work in the morning and the last one out in the evening, and I only received pennies. [...] I had no special schooling, but I knew how to behave toward non-Sinti [...]. At that time, I also took up boxing again and received the golden badge of honor from the South German federation for a total of 408 fights. I gave up boxing in 1954 at the age of 41. I fought against all Olympic flyweight winners."7

Political Involvement

Bamberger soon began seeking "compensation," but it was not until 1969 that he was awarded a 25 percent disability under the Federal Compensation Act. His kidney condition was considered a sports injury. Bamberger commented on this, "In 1967, a doctor removed the kidney, and after that I didn't have such excruciating pain. Before that, I had been in hospital every year, and was operated three or four times. I had already had the pain in Dachau, but I didn't say anything, I always reported for work. We saw what they did with the people who were no longer fit for work, that they were gassed, they never returned."7

From then on, Bamberger became politically involved, including in the "Verband deutscher Sinti" (Association of German Sinti). He participated in protests, including a hunger strike, against data collection of all Sinti and Roma living in the Federal Republic of Germany by the authorities in the 1980s.8 He now lived near Heidelberg.9 He was honorary chairman of the "Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma" (Central Council of German Sinti and Roma).10

The Human Experiment

The seawater drinking experiments at Dachau concentration camp were carried out under the direct responsibility of DGIM chairman Hans Eppinger and his assistant Wilhelm Beiglböck, later also a member of the DGIM. The Berlin pharmacologist Wolfgang Heubner, likewise a member of DGIM, was also present at an important preliminary meeting.

Finally, SS chief Heinrich Himmler approved the human experiments with concentration camp prisoners.11 Forty Roma and Sinti designated as "ASR" prisoners ("Arbeitsscheu Reich", work shirker, Reich) were subsequently taken from Buchenwald to Dachau as test subjects. In addition, there was a second group consisting of four Sinti who already had been inmates at Dachau. Higher figures are probably due to the fact that some originally intended test subjects were withdrawn due to their state of health.12

During the doctors’ trial in Nuremberg, Beiglböck reported that all of the test subjects had initially received "full airman's rations" (3000 calories) for ten days. Subsequently, one group had to go hungry and thirsty, while the other groups had been allowed to eat the Luftwaffe's emergency rations. One group had to drink half a liter of seawater with the additive berkatite every day, another a whole liter. Another group had to drink sea water treated according to the IG Farben process. A control group was allowed to consume ordinary drinking water in any quantity.13

Karl Höllenreiner's Eyewitness Account 

Karl Höllenreiner, one of the 40 concentration camp prisoners transferred from Buchenwald to Dachau, described the experiment from the victim's perspective in 1947: "Group 2 received only chemically prepared seawater, which had a dark yellow color and was certainly much worse than pure seawater. [...] I belonged to group 2. [...] The doctor of the Air Force was always present while the water was drunk. [...] During these experiments I had terrible thirst attacks, felt very ill, lost a lot of weight and in the end, I got a fever and felt so weak that I could no longer stand on my feet. [...] I clearly remember a scene where a Czechoslovak gypsy told the doctor of the Air Force that he could not possibly drink any more water. This Czechoslovak gypsy was then tied to a bed by order of the air force doctor, who personally and violently administered the seawater to the gypsy by means of a stomach pump. During the experiments, most of the Gypsies received liver and spinal cord punctures. I myself received a liver puncture and know from my own experience that these punctures were terribly painful. Even today, when the weather changes, I feel severe pain where the liver puncture was performed. The Air Force doctor personally performed all liver and spinal cord punctures. [...] By order of the Air Force doctor, two Czech gypsies [sic], who had procured some fresh water, were constantly kept tied down to their beds with ropes as a punishment during the further carrying out of the experiments. Most of the gypsies got fits of madness [...]. When such seizures happened in the presence of the doctor of the Air Force, he would only laugh ironically and if it got too bad for him, there would be liver punctures, after which the person concerned would calm down a bit. No one was ever released from the experiments after having gone through such a terrible seizure. Approximately between the first and second week of the experiments, all the Gypsies were carried out of the sick room into the courtyard on stretchers covered with white cloths. Here the naked bodies were photographed in the presence of the Air Force doctor, who made the ironic remark that people should smile so that the pictures would look friendlier. Numbers were tattooed onto our chests shortly after the pictures were taken. The Air Force doctor himself did our tattoos. He used a chemical liquid for it, which burned horribly. [...] Of the original 40, one, as already mentioned, endured the experiments for only a few days. Three were so close to death that they were carried out the same evening on stretchers covered with white cloths. I never heard from these three again."14 So far no evidence of the death of humans" during the experiments or in their aftermath" has been found.15 However, three of those maltreated during the human experiment died during the Nazi era.16


See Jakob Bamberger, ... und mir wollen sie den Hungerstreik verbieten, in: Pogrom. Journal for Threatened Peoples. III. Welt-Roma-Kongreß, special edition Göttingen 1981, pp. 144-146; Donald Kenrick, The A to Z of the Gypsies (Romanies). Lanham/Toronto/Plymouth 2010, p. 16.Cited in Jörg Boström (ed.)/Uschi Dresing (ed.)/Jürgen Escher/Axel Grünewald, Das Buch der Sinti. "... nicht länger stillschweigend das Unrecht hinnehmen!", Berlin 1981, p. 157.Bamberger, Hungerstreik, p. 144.Bamberger, Hungerstreik, p. 144 f.- See Paul Weindling, "Unser eigener 'österreichischer Weg'": Die Meerwasser-Trinkversuche in Dachau 1944, in Herwig Czech/Paul Weindling, Österreichische Ärzte und Ärztinnen im Nationalsozialismus, Vienna 2017 (= Jahrbuch des Dokumentationsarchivs des österreichischen Widerstandes 2017), pp. 133-177, p. 168 (; International Tracing Service (ITS), Medizinische Menschenversuche: Versuche zur Trinkbarkeit von Meerwasser, 82232081 - 82232087, 1 Dec. 1969; ITS 5470836, Jakob Bamberger; The Nuremberg Medical Trial 1946/47. Transcripts, Material of the Prosecution and Defense. Related Documents. Microfiche Edition. English Edition, edited by Klaus Dörner/Angelika Ebbinghaus/Karsten Linne on behalf of the Foundation for Social History of the 20th Century in cooperation with Karlheinz Roth and Paul Weindling, Munich 1999, 2/9128-9129; 4/7247-7256; Rainer Rother (ed.), Geschichtsort Olympiagelände, Berlin 2006.Cited in Herbert Spaich, Fremde in Deutschland. Unbequeme Kapitel unserer Geschichte, Weinheim/Basel 1981, p. 47; Michail Krausnick, Wo sind sie hingekommen? Der unterschlagene Völkermord an den Sinti und Roma, Gerlingen 1995, pp. 81.Bamberger, Hungerstreik, p. 145.Cited in Boström et al, Book, p. 157.zentralrat. -  see Spaich, Fremde, pp. 88.See Spaich, Fremde, p. 45.See Krausnick, Wo sind sie hingekommen? p. 81.See Alexander Mitscherlich/Fred Mielke, Medizin ohne Menschlichkeit. Dokumente des Nürnberger Ärzteprozesses, 18th ed. Frankfurt am Main 2012, p. 80.See in detail Weindling, Weg, p. 147 f.; Ralf Forsbach/Hans-Georg Hofer, Internisten in Diktatur und junger Demokratie. Die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin 1933-1970, Berlin 2018, pp. 157 Archiv des Vogelsang-Instituts Wien, Nachlass Gustav Steinbauer, Fragen und Antworten Beiglböck; see Mitscherlich/Mielke, Medizin, p. 81.Höllenreiner on June 17, 1947, during the Nuremberg doctors' trial, here cited in Ernst Klee, Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer, 4th ed. Frankfurt am Main 1997, pp. 247 ff. - See ibid. further statements incriminating Beiglböck, also by other witnesses. See also the account in Weindling, Weg, pp. 147.Weindling, Weg, p. 135; see ibid., p. 153.See Weindling, Weg, p. 155; Paul Weindling, Victims and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments. Science and Suffering in the Holocaust, London et al. 2015. p. 134.

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