Drinking seawater can be deadly for humans. We are reliant on freshwater to deal with the extra salt in our systems and flush it out, and the sheer salt content of seawater is too much for our bodies to process. According to Science Daily, the average salinity of seawater is about 35 parts per thousand, or 3.5%, which would quickly overwhelm this process.
Now, humankind has devised all kinds of horrific ways to torment each other over the centuries, from rat torture to the infamous rack. The Nazi Party’s self-proclaimed scientists, however, devised uniquely horrifying experiments to inflict on their captives, and the utterly ghastly seawater torture experiment is just one example.
The infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele and his horrific experiments are well known. Per History, he had a disturbing fascination with twins, who he sliced, tortured, and mutilated in the name of discovering more about how much a body could endure. The lesser-known seawater experiments comprise another facet of his shocking repertoire.
Pseudoscience at its most inhumane
As History of Yesterday reports, the Nazi Party had an interest in trying to find ways to make seawater drinkable. But this scientific goal was nothing more than a smokescreen — an excuse for their inhumane treatment of their captives.
In 1944, a group of around 90 Romani captives at the Dachau concentration camp was selected for this sickening study. Led by Dr. Hans Eppinger, those chosen were given neither food nor drink and provided only saltwater. Horribly dehydrated, they were driven to desperation. One was said to have been seen with their tongue to a floor that had been recently washed, in the hope of taking in some precious water.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, this went on from July to September of that year (via the Jewish Virtual Library). Tragically, the subjects suffered terrible organ damage, and many surely died. The National Ocean Service summarizes exactly why: Drinking saltwater causes the body to become desperately thirsty and to urinate to excess in an attempt to rebalance itself. The effects of being forced to do so regularly, with no other sustenance, are too ghastly to dwell on.
In December of 1946, the Doctors Trial — part of the wider Nuremberg Trials — tried 23 physicians who were involved in the seawater experiments and other similar atrocities. As reported by the United States Holocaust Memorial, 16 were found guilty, and seven were executed two years later.