Karl Höllenreiner, a Sinto whose prisoner number Z10062 is known, was one of the total of 44 concentration camp prisoners who were used as test subjects for seawater drinking experiments at Dachau concentration camp in 1944. These were carried out under the responsibility of DGIM members Wilhelm Beiglböck and Hans Eppinger.1 He survived the human experiment, including subsequent forced labor in a concentration camp outpost at Messerschmitt GmbH.
Witness at Nuremberg Doctors' Trial
Höllenreiner appeared as a witness at the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial in 1946/47. When he recognized Wilhelm Beiglböck, he "jumped over the barrier of the dock with a mighty leap" and, according to the Viennese daily Weltpresse, gave his former tormentor "a terrible punch in the face" and shouted, "This rascal has ruined my life."2
Höllenreiner's statements about the Dachau trials are important from the perspective of those affected: "About the beginning of August 1944, I and the other 39 Gypsies of this group arrived in Dachau. [...] In the third week the actual experiments began. We were given no more food at all and only were allowed to drink seawater or chemically processed seawater. According to my recollection, our group of 40 Gypsies was divided into three roughly equal subgroups. Group 1 received only real seawater. Group 2 received only chemically processed seawater, which had a dark yellow color and was certainly much worse than pure seawater. Group 3 received only processed seawater, which looked approximately like real drinking water. I belonged to group 2. [...] The doctor of the Air Force was always present while the water was being 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 remember very well a scene in which 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, the air force doctor personally violently poured down the sea water to this 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. All liver punctures as well as spinal cord punctures were performed by the Air Force doctor himself. [...] By order of the Air Force doctor, two Czech gypsies [sic], who had procured some fresh water, were constantly kept tied onto their beds with ropes as a punishment during the further performance of the experiments. Most of the gypsies got fits of madness [...]. When such seizures took place in the presence of the air force doctor, he would only laugh ironically, and if it got too bad for him, he would give liver punctures, whereupon the affected person would calm down a bit. No one was ever released from the experiments after suffering such a terrible seizure. Approximately sometime 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 laugh so that the pictures would look friendlier. Shortly after the pictures were taken, numbers were tattooed onto our chests. This tattooing was done by the Air Force doctor himself. 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."3
Unambiguous evidence of human deaths "during the experiments or in their aftermath" has not yet been uncovered.4 However, three of those maltreated during the human experiment died during the Nazi era.5
Numerous members of the Höllenreiner family were murdered in the Nazi death camps, while others were able to report on the crimes after 1945. Most famous were Hermann "Mano" Höllenreiner and Hugo Höllenreiner.6