Wilhelm Beiglböck

born 10.10.1905 Hochneukirchen (Lower Austria)
d. 22.11.1963 Buxtehude

DGIM Honorary Member 1952 – 1963

Wilhelm Beiglböck grew up in Lower Austria and attended grammar school in Melk. He studied in Vienna and briefly in Graz. He became a fraternity member of the Moldavia ("Bundesleiter" (federal leader) 1934-38) and temporarily of the Germania in Graz (1934). Beiglböck was an assistant to Franz Chvostek at the III Medical University Clinic in Vienna in 1932-33. He joined Hans Eppinger as an assistant physician at the I Medical University Clinic on May 1, 1934. As a senior physician, he received his doctorate in 1931 and became a specialist in internal medicine in 1938. He habilitated n 1939 and was appointed private lecturer in 1940, and associate professor in 1943 at Eppinger's request. He and his wife Grete, who had married the year earlier, had resigned from the Catholic Church by 1938. He took over the "Fachreferat Interne Medizin in der Reichsdozentenführung" (department for internal medicine of the National Socialist league of lecturers) in November 1944, after it was ensured that he would not have to move from Vienna to Munich.1

Early Profession of National Socialism

Beiglböck had been a member of the NSDAP since October 1932 or no later than May 1933, which was banned in Austria in July 1934. Other sources report that he joined the National Socialist Operational Cell Organization (NSBO) of the Vienna General Hospital in December 1932. He became a member of the SA and a standard physician of SA Brigade 91 in 1934 ("Sanitätsobersturmbannführer" in 1939). He ran an emergency department for street fighters. He headed an NSBO cell at the I Medical University Hospital from 1935 to 1937. He was also a member of the "NS Ärztebund) (NS Medical Association) and a staff member of the international office of the "Dozentenbund" (league of lecturers). He became secretary of the "Gesellschaft für menschliche Erbbiologie" (Society for Human Genetics) in 1939 and advisor for nutritional issues at the Health Office of the City of Vienna in 1940.

Beiglböck already referred to himself as a member of the DGIM as early as the Nuremberg medical trial in 1946/47, while the DGIM lists him in its membership directories from 1952.2

Promoter Eppinger

Beiglböck was supported by his supervisor Hans Eppinger, the last chairman of the DGIM during the Nazi era. He spoke out in favor of Beiglböck's appointment as an associate professor in a six-page proposal. Beiglböck, who had made a name for himself as a critical vitamin researcher and became a consultant on nutritional issues at the Vienna Health Department in 1940, had been at Eppinger's clinic since October 1934 and his "first senior physician" since April 1939. 3 Since Beiglböck, who had been a professor since 1939, had already been drafted into the Wehrmacht for 21 months in February 1944 – mostly to the Eastern Front – Eppinger's recommendation for his "early appointment was quite insistant." 4 The Dozentenführer (leader of the league of lecturers) also "warmly" recommended the appointment, which was implemented in June 1944.5

Controversy over Cause of Jaundice

Beiglböck's relationship with his boss Hans Eppinger was not without tension and deteriorated during the war. Beiglböck had experienced jaundice epidemics on the Eastern Front. Based on these experiences, he considered an infectious cause of the disease to be highly probable and could (no longer) agree with his supervisor's theory of poisoning.6 Beiglböck made his views known at the Vienna DGIM congress chaired by Eppinger in October 1943, and as a result, "fell out of favor with his supervisor for a long time."7

Doctor in Charge fo Seawater Drinking Experiments at Dachau Concentration Camp

Wilhelm Beiglböck was the doctor in charge for the seawater drinking experiments at Dachau concentration camp. These had been planned by his supervisor Hans Eppinger, among others. They were intended to provide potable seawater and life-saving advice for those in distress at sea. The experience underlying these experiments was that soldiers who had been adrift at sea for days could be rescued seemingly unharmed, but died subsequently.8

The Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler himself approved the human experiments with concentration camp prisoners.9 40 Roma and Sinti with the prisoner designation ASR ("Arbeitsscheu Reich", work shirker, Reich) were subsequently taken from Buchenwald to Dachau as test subjects. 10 According to testimonies during the Nuremberg medical trial, all of the test subjects initially received "full airman rations" (3000 calories) for ten days. After that, 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 seawater treated according to the IG Farben process. A control group was allowed to consume ordinary drinking water in any quantity.11

The Witness Karl Höllenreiner

Karl Höllenreiner one of the 40 concentration camp prisoners transferred from Buchenwald to Dachau, described the experiment from a victim's perspective in 1947: "Approximately at the beginning of August 1944, I and the other 39 Gypsies of this group arrived in Dachau. [...] 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. [...] 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. [...] About between the first and second week of the experiments, all the Gypsies were carried out of the sickroom into the courtyard on stretchers covered with white cloths, where the naked bodies were photographed [...]. Shortly after the photographs were taken, numbers were tattooed onto our chests. [...] 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."12 Clear evidence of human deaths "during the experiments or in their aftermath" has not yet been found. However, three of those maltreated during the human experiment died during the Nazi era.13

Beiglböck would have preferred the experiments to be carried out in a hospital ward, but he complied "with the Dachau solution" after being ordered there by Becker-Freysing.14

Convicted at the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial

Wilhelm Beiglböck was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison at the 1947 Nuremberg Doctors' Trial.15 The sentence was later reduced to 10 years in prison.

When Karl Höllenreiner, who had been summoned as a witness at the Nuremberg medical trial, recognized his "tormentor," he "jumped over the barrier of the dock with a mighty leap" and, according to the Vienna daily "Weltpresse," gave Beiglböck "a terrible punch in the face" and shouted, "This rascal ruined my life."16

Beiglböck's lawyer, Gustav Steinbauer, played an inglorious role during the trial. He did not release the list with the names of the victims. He also accepted how Beiglböck defamed those affected by the experiments and did not prevent Beiglböck from manipulating evidence before handing it over to the court.17 He removed names of test subjects to prevent the court from locating witnesses. He also altered trial data and clinical case descriptions.18

DGIM Advocacy

Beiglböck was released early from Landsberg prison, before Christmasof  1951. Thus, the massive intercession of the DGIM and some of its prominent members had been successful. A three-member commission consisting of Curt Oehme, Rudolf Schoen, and Ludwig Heilmeyer had been formed within the DGIM to address Beiglböck's situation.19 These three commission members, in addition to other prominent DGIM members such as Franz Volhard, Paul Martini, Hans Erhard Bock, and Wolfgang Heubner, as well as the Göttingen physiologist Hermann Rein and the Kiel physiologist Hans Netter, sought to exonerate Beiglböck by means of expert opinions and statements.20

The expert opinions refer to the precepts of medical ethics for the performance of human experiments established by the Nuremberg court. Except for Heubner, all experts assumed that the test subjects were volunteers in the case of the seawater drinking experiments. All expert opinions also stated that no deaths or long-term damage occurred among the test subjects and that Beiglböck had acted with the best medical intentions. The opinions were based solely on files submitted to the experts by attorney Gustav Steinbauer. None of the experts had ever seen any of the test subjects themselves, and most of them had never met Beiglböck. This narrow source base is only reflected by the experts in passing or not at all.21

Support by Ludwig Heilmeyer

After Beiglböck's release, Ludwig Heilmeyer got him a temporary position at the Freiburg University Hospital and was able to place him at Buxtehude Hospital after a few months, where he became head physician of the internal medicine department. At that time, Dietrich Allers had been in charge of the hospital's administration. He had been managing director of the "euthanasia" headquarters at Tiergartenstraße 4 during  the "Third Reich" and was now a functionary of the neo-Nazi Socialist Reich Party and co-organizer of "Stille Hilfe" (Silent Assistance), which, amongst others, supported Nazi perpetrators.22

In 1959/60, formal reasons led to a new investigation against Beiglböck, this time by the Bückeburg public prosecutor's office; it was dropped soon after.23

Committee Member

The DGIM made it clear, both internally and externally, that it considered Beiglböck an exemplary physician. He was elected to the committee in 1956 and served on it until 1962.24 Beiglböck came under public pressure in 1962, when he wanted to give a lecture in Vienna. The resistance, among others on the part of the SPÖ and the Jewish Community, assumed such proportions that the lecture invitation was revoked. The circumstances of Beiglböck's death a year later make one think of a suicide, but rumors of murder arose – also in the face of earlier threatening letters.25 He was found dead in a stairwell. "Stille Hilfe" was the main heir. Those affected by the seawater drinking experiments received little or no "compensation."26

Posthumous Exculpations

Even after his death, the discussion about Beiglböck's behavior found no end. It was again claimed that "prisoners" had "volunteered" for the experiments and that the DGIM had "fully rehabilitated" him.27 A representative of the "Landesärztekammer" (State Chamber of Physicians) stated at the funeral service that "after the war he was caught up in a wheelwork of hatred that knew no justice." "Today his research during the Nazi period is being continued in the U.S."28The "Buxtehuder Tagblatt" on November 25, 1963, reported: "Although his innocence was clearly proven by the statements of those involved and by scientific expert opinions, most recently by that of the highest professional body in the Federal Republic, the Deutschen Gesellschaft für innere Medizin, and Professor Beiglböck was fully rehabilitated, these matters were taken up again last year by trying to prevent a lecture before the Vienna Medical Chamber. Professor Beiglböck suffered greatly from this defamation, since he saw Vienna as his home, not only as a human being but also as a scientist, to which he was thus denied access."29 The statements, according to which Beiglböck had to bear responsibility for deaths resulting from the human experiments, remained unmentioned.30

The fact that Ludwig Heilmeyer presided over the Wiesbaden Congress in 1964 gave him the opportunity for another attempt to publicly exonerate Beiglböck. During the traditional honoring of the dead at the beginning of the DGIM congress, he declared: "Wilhelm Beiglböck [...] was a true student of Eppinger. Rich in fruitful thoughts [...]. His brilliant rise at the Vienna Clinic was abruptly and undeservedly interrupted by the misfortune of his detachment to carry out the so-called seawater experiments. It must be said again at this point that the review of these experiments by a commission of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für innere Medizin, chaired by Mr. Oehme, absolved him of any guilt. Beiglböck deserves our full recognition and veneration as a human being, physician, and researcher."31

Compared to other human experiments, in which many people lost their lives and yet met with little attention from a wider public, Beiglböck's experiments are still known today and continue to be addressed.32


For biography, see University Archives Vienna, MED PA 33; see also Ralf Forsbach/Hans-Georg Hofer, Internisten in Diktatur und junger Demokratie. Die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin 1933-1970, Berlin 2018, pp. 154 ff; Ulrich-Dieter Oppitz (ed.), Medizinverbrechen vor Gericht. Das Urteil im Nürnberger Ärzteprozeß gegen Karl Brandt und andere sowie aus dem Prozeß gegen den Generalfeldmarschall Milch, Erlangen/Jena 1999, pp. 52 ff; 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), pp. 133-177, p. 141 f.Vogelsang-Institut Wien, Nachlass Gustav Steinbauer, Fragen und Antworten Beiglböck, o.D.Universitätsarchiv Wien, MED PA 33, Eppinger an Professorenkollegium MF Wien, 1.2.1943; ibid. Wilhelm Beiglböck, Curriculum vitae, o.D.ibid, Eppinger an Professorenkollegium MF Vienna, Feb. 1, 1943.ibid, Dozentenführer Marchet an Dekanat MF Wien, 11.2.1943; ibid, Rust/REM an Rektor/Wien, 23.6.1944.See Heribert Thaler, Der blaue Papagei. Erlebte Medizin, erlebte Welt, Leipzig 1993, p. 48.ibid - see Wihelm Beiglböck, Hepatitis epidemica, in: Verhandlungen 53 (1943), pp. 339-351, pp. 347 f.See Thaler, Parrot, p. 51; Mitscherlich/Mielke, Medicine, p. 74.See Mitscherlich/Mielke, Medicine, p. 80.See Weindling, Weg, p. 147 f.See on experimental design in detail Forsbach/Hofer, Internisten, p. 61 ff.Höllenreiner on June 17, 1947, during the Nuremberg medical trial, cited here in Ernst Klee, Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer, 4th ed. Frankfurt am Main 1997, p. 246 ff.See Weindling, Weg, pp. 135, 153, 155; Paul Weindling, Victims and Survivers of Nazi Human Experiments. Science and Suffering in the Holocaust, London et al. 2015, p. 134.Alexander Mitscherlich/Fred Mielke (eds.), Medicine Without Humanity. Dokumente des Nürnberger Ärzteprozesses, 18th ed. Frankfurt am Main 2012, p. 81.For details on arrest, transfer, trial, verdict, and execution of sentence, see Weindling, Weg, pp. 136 ff. and p. 159.Anonymus, Accused Viennese Doctor Slapped in Nuremberg Court. Trial victim recognizes his tormentor. 90 days in prison for violation of the dignity of the court, in: Weltpresse, 28.6.1947. See Weindling, Weg, p. 158.On Steinbauer, see Weindling, Weg, pp. 142 f. and p. 156 f.See Trials of War Criminals before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals under Conrol Council Law No. 10, Vol. I, Nuremberg 1946-1949, pp. 474 f.; Mitscherlich/Mielke, Medicine without Humanity, p. 86.DGIM-Geschäftsstelle Wiesbaden, Akte Bickenbach [sic], Kauffmann an Berg, 30. 3.1954.Vogelsang Institute Vienna, NL Gustav Steinbauer; see Mitscherlich/Mielke, Medizin, p. 72 ff.See Anna Bartel, Die Verteidigung Wilhelm Beiglböck durch Gustav Steinbauer im Umfeld des Nürnberger Ärzteprozesses 1946/47, Master thesis Bonn 2018.Malte Holler, Dietrich Allers, Managing Director of the "T4" Central Office, in:, ins. 9/20/2017. See Weindling, Weg, p. 160.See Bartel, defense.Geschäftsstelle DGIM, Wiesbaden, DGIM board minutes, 10/21/1961, attachment.See Bartel, Defense.See Weindling, Weg, p. 162.Anonymously, Prof. Dr. me.d Wilhelm Beiglböck, verstorben. Schwerer Verlust für das Buxtehuder Krankenhaus und die deutsche innere Medizn, in: Buxtehuder Tageblatt, 25.11.1963.Anonymus, In memoriam Professor Dr. Beiglböck. Funeral service for a gifted scientist and venerable human being, in: Buxtehuder Tageblatt, 6.12.1963.Anonymus, Beiglböck.See Weindling, Victims, p. 134.L.[udwig] Heilmeyer, Opening Address of the Chairman, in Verhandlungen 70 (1964), pp. 1-12, p. 3 f.See for many Edzard Ernst, Nazis, Needles, and Intrigue. Memoirs of a Skeptic, 2nd ed. Hannover 2015, p. 79.

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