Medical injustice

Jan Kwasniewski

born 25.03.1920 Julianowo/Warmia-Masuria

The Polish citizen Jan Kwasniewski 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. The experiments were carried out under the responsibility of DGIM members Wilhelm Beiglböck and Hans Eppinger. A member of a Christian denomination, Rom or Sinto, he was deported to the Natzweiler and Flossenbürg concentration camp after the human experiment.1

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 the DGIM, was also present at an important preliminary meeting.

Finally, SS chief Heinrich Himmler approved the human experiments with concentration camp prisoners.2 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 Higher numbers are probably due to the fact that some inmates, originally intended as test subjects, were withdrawn due to their poor state of health.3

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 seawater treated according to the IG Farben process. A control group was allowed to consume ordinary drinking water in any quantity.4

The Eyewitness Account of Karl Höllenreiner

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 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, 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 laugh so that the pictures would look friendlier. Shortly after the pictures were taken, numbers were tattooed onto our chests. 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."5

So far no evidence of the death of humans" during the experiments or in their aftermath" has been found.6 However, three of those maltreated during the human experiment died during the Nazi era.7


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. 173 ( 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, p. 157 ff.Archiv des Vogelsang-Instituts Wien, Nachlass Gustav Steinbauer, Fragen und Antworten Beiglböck; cf. Mitscherlich/Mielke, Medizin, p. 81.Höllenreiner on June 17, 1947, during the Nuremberg medical trial, here cited in Ernst Klee, Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer, 4th ed. Frankfurt am Main 1997, p. 247 ff. - See ibid. further statements incriminating Beiglböck, also by other witnesses. See also the account in Weindling, Weg, p. 147 ff.Weindling, Weg, p. 135; cf. ibid., p. 153.See Weindling, Weg, p. 155; Paul Weindling, Victims and Survivers of Nazi Human Experiments. Science and Suffering in the Holocaust, London et al. 2015. p. 134.

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