Shocking revelations of how in 1941, Australian prisoners of war on Crete were subjected to non-consensual medical experiments were first aired by the ABC in 2016, but after gaining exclusive access to a new evidence, Neos Kosmos can reveal further details of this horrific story.
…one of the soldiers escaped from his POW camp shortly after the experiment and was on the run in Crete for more than four months. Suffering with fever and pains, he was protected by the Cretan resistance…
While it is well-known that some of the most infamous Nazi atrocities in WWII involved enforced experiments by the SS in concentration camps, the evidence presented shows for the first time how similar actions were inflicted on Australian POWs by the German military.
Originally published in the Journal of Law and Medicine, an updated article detailing the evidence, written by Professor Konrad Kwiet, Resident Historian at the Sydney Jewish Museum, and Sydney surgeon Mr George Weisz, is about to be published by the Australian journal Genocide Perspectives.
The article, which is the culmination of years of research into German scientific records, and Australian military archives by Professor Kwiet and Mr Weisz, presents a stack of evidence that shows within days of the Allied surrender of Crete in June 1941, Nazi physician Dr Friedrich Meythaler selected five Australian POWs and injected them with the blood of hepatitis-infected German soldiers. The tests were carried out in Rethymno hospital, where Meythaler, a bacteriologist, was attempting to establish how jaundice and hepatitis were transmitted.
“He was engaged in experiments that the Nazi regime offered him . . . moving into an area of research that he normally would not have achieved in a more civilised society,” Professor Kwiet told Neos Kosmos. “He examined the prisoners, injected the infected blood, and then examined them again. What he found is that they responded with an enlargement of the liver, then an increase of temperature and other symptoms.”
Respecting the sensitivity of the research to the soldiers’ descendants, the Kwiet/Weisz article keeps the names of the individuals who underwent the tests unpublished, but it does describe the men as being mostly in their twenties, and being from Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney. All were ‘Thirty-Niners’ – original volunteers of the second AIF who enlisted in 1939 and who saw action in the Middle East and Greece. Four of the five victims experimented upon were later incarcerated in Poland. One was murdered by the Germans in captivity. All are now deceased.
The article also reveals that one of the soldiers escaped from his POW camp shortly after the experiment and was on the run in Crete for more than four months. Suffering with fever and pains, he was protected by the Cretan resistance and evacuated in a secret Royal Navy operation in late 1941.
On his return to Australia in 1942, the soldier informed the military authorities of his treatment and underwent tests. Though it was concluded there were grounds to protest his treatment and the matter handed on to British military authorities, no action was taken.
The soldier’s experience was detailed in an internal Australian military medical publication. At war’s end, the three other POWs known to have been experimented upon were discharged on compassionate grounds, but are not believed to have informed the authorities about their experiences. Of their tormentor – Dr Friedrich Meythaler, the article sheds light on a German doctor who used his posting to Crete as consulting physician of the 12th Army to further his career as a specialist consultant. During the Nuremberg ‘Doctors’ Trial’ in 1946/47, he was not called to give evidence, but as part of the post-war de-Nazification program undertaken by the Allies to identify the key exponents of Nazi terror, a tribunal did hear Meythaler’s case. It decided his wartime actions did not constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity.
Appointed as Professor for Internal Medicine at the University of Erlangen, in the 1950s, Meythaler distinguished himself as a physician, teacher, and researcher. In 1967 he died at the age of 69, with obituaries at the time paying homage to his life and achievements without mentioning his experiments on Crete.
Professor Kwiet says further research is needed to uncover whether the experiments had effects later in life on the health of the four individuals who survived the war.
“Privacy laws restrict access to patient records that may be held at hospitals, insurance companies, and clinics,” says Professor Kwiet, who believes that Meythaler’s experiments represent only the tip of an iceberg.
“Many more POWs from Australia and other Allied countries, held by the Wehrmacht, might have been selected for experiments.”