Freezing to death

Several hundred Dachau prisoners were tortured during the ice water experiments. Some were left to die in the freezing water. Others were eventually pulled out; the medical personnel, led by Dr Sigmund Rascher, then experimented with different methods to revive them. Among the dozens who died were two Soviet prisoners, whose agony was witnessed by the German political prisoner Walter Neff, the senior Kapo on Rascher’s station.

075 – The former prisoner Walter Neff on the Dachau ice water experiments

The aim here is to test what can be done to save a pilot who has fallen into the sea and whose temperature has dropped to a low level. Experiments of this kind appear to have proved unsuccessful. The experimental subjects were dressed in regular pilots’ uniforms [and climbed into] a large tank with water at a temperature of 3 [Celsius]. It often takes five hours for the body temperature to drop to 28–29. At that point the rescue action has to begin […].

Farewell comrade

There was one experiment that we probably remember most vividly. It is so brutally cruel and we could do nothing to help. Two Russian officers were condemned to death, we don’t know the reason … all objections were useless. Rascher did not permit the use of an anaesthetic. The two were placed naked in cold water with a temperature of 3. In such cases the anaesthetic effects of cold are usually felt after two hours. These two, naturally tough individuals were in the water for four hours and had a temperature of 30. […] We approached [Dr] Rascher once more to persuade him to permit an anaesthetic. The two men in the water evidently noted that we were speaking up for them, for one said to the other: “Comrade, ask the officer to free us with a bullet”. The other replied: “Don’t hope for any mercy from that fascist dog”. They then shook hands and calmly said to one other: “Farewell comrade, we’re not going to get out of this”.

Source: Bundesarchiv Ludwigsburg, B 162/21846, Bl. 226–7, 235–6

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes