Author Topic: 5 Things You Didn't Know About WWII's Creepiest Sleep Experiment  (Read 12921 times)

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When you think of World War II, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Adolf Hitler. The man who heil-handedly ruined an entire style of mustache. The early 1940s were an implausibly dark era for humankind, testing both concepts of humanity and kindness. Like a DC comic, most of us are secure in the idea that a single evil individual was stopped by a Justice League of Nations. However, like a DC movie, the truth is much more bleak and over-complicated.

After the fall of Germany, the Allies weren't just tasked with rebuilding what they had destroyed. There were rather a lot of prisoners of war to deal with. While the smarter ones (scientists, technicians, engineers, and physicists) were put to work faster than you could say "Paperclip", others weren't as lucky.

That brings us to one of the most morally questionable events in U.S. history. An experiment dubbed "Project Briar Rose" was conducted at a clandestine research lab on an undisclosed island in the north pacific. While most of the researchers conducting the experiment were from the good ol' U.S. of A., the project was conducted jointly with allied operatives.

The German government had wanted to create an army of tireless soldiers who were alert and at the ready 24/7. American officials wanted a non-lethal chemical weapon they could secretly use on enemies to disorganize and undermine them. Somewhere in the middle was Briar Rose, one of the most grisly experiments in history.

So, you knew this was coming... what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

#5 - The Lead Researcher was a Real-Life Super-Villain.

Remember how we compared this debacle to a bad comic book movie? Hang onto your bat-hat...

The lead researcher on Briar Rose was one of the aforementioned German prisoners of war. Among this peers, he was referred to by the code name "Dr.  Albtraum". I'll save you the trouble of running to Google -- that literally translates to "Doctor Nightmare". (Another example of Germany's ongoing war against the concept of subtly.)

A three-time widower with twelve children and a long line of mistresses, Dr. Albtraum wouldn't seem to have much time for science. He must've been pretty quick in the bedroom to have time for more sex and horror than a season of True Blood. (Care to guess how his wives died, by the way? That's right -- in their sleep.)

Dr. Albtraum gained a bit of fame during the war, due to his love of anesthetizing and vivisecting prisoners. After sedating his victims and removing limbs or even organs, he would then wake them up and ask questions about how they felt. If you thought getting up early for a final exam was bad, imagine taking a pop quiz while your spleen is on the desk.

While the good doctor may have unwittingly invented the board game "Operation", that was far from his only contribution to society. By mixing several nerve agents with vaporized stimulants, Dr. Albtraum created a concoction he dubbed "Schlafwach", which roughly translates to "Waking Sleep".

Luckily, he was captured before he finalized that special recipe.

Hooray for the heroes, right? Except...

#4 - We Totally Helped Finish The Sleeping Gas.

Whoops. As it turns out, Uncle Sam is the kind of uncle no one talks about. The one that gives you fun "sleepy juice" and says it'll be your little secret.

There were many initiatives after WWII that made use of German scientists, but they all get overshadowed by the previous Manhattan Project and its work on the atomic bomb. Flash over substance, as they say. Millions of dollars and tons of resources were put into the Briar Rose project, but it was all funneled through fake programs, so you can be forgiven for not knowing about it.

German prisoners of war, the less lucky ones as I mentioned, were used as test subjects. Exact numbers tend to be unreliable, but somewhere close to a hundred German soldiers were placed in a room about the size of an airplane hangar. There, they were strapped to hospital beds and monitored by a variety of machines. Before you start to feel sorry for these guys, remember -- literal Nazis.

Dr.  Albtraum insisted on administering the gasses himself. It was noted that he made U.S. Soldiers at the facility a bit uneasy, mainly with his tendency to sing old world lullabies to his struggling "patients" as they slipped into unconsciousness.

30% of test subjects never woke up after their first dose. As far as anyone was concerned, that was an acceptable loss on the path toward expanding human knowledge. Each new death brought information that helped refine the concoction.

The ones that died quickly got the best deal, because...

#3 - A Majority of Test Subjects Tore Themselves Apart.

After several months of testing, Project Briar Rose hit an unforeseen snag. As it turned out, the "Waking Sleep" was taking its toll on the Insomni-Axis. They became frantic and agitated, while simultaneously existing in a glassy-eyed stupor. Sort of like hyper-active toddlers who were also suffering from a sense-numbing stroke.

Several patients slipped their bonds by using the straps like sandpaper. This wore the skin from their wrists and lubricated their hands with blood. Guards and nurses suffered random attacks because of this, causing even more patients to die from beatings, and even  gunfire.

If nobody else was nearby, however, the patients who freed themselves began working on self-harm. They ripped their skin, wore their fingers to bone, and gouged their own eyes. Documents leaked decades later mentioned it was as if they could no longer identify with their own physical bodies and saw themselves as a stranger to attack.

Making matters worse, Dr. Albtraum had been up to his old tricks. Multiple patients had been surgically tampered with. They managed to open their own sutures and would un-spool their innards onto the floor. They would then die from blood loss or organ failure... you know, because said organs were thrown against a wall. Think about that next time you see kids gathering around a pinata.

So who's ready to dial the crazy up to eleven?

#2 - The Patients Who Survived Believed They Were Gods.

If you managed to live through all of that, you could be forgiven for thinking you were somehow special. Believing you're an angel, or demon, or metaphysical being, however, is a bit of a stretch.  The remaining patients, now down from one hundred to about ten, took that leap in logic.

Dazed, crazed, and yearning for the glory days of goose-stepping in parades, test subjects began speaking in language described as "flowery" and "ominous". Journals of their statements were recorded, though having so few German-speaking staff members left a majority of their statements lost to history.

One patient who had removed much of his face described himself as the archangel Gabriel and proclaimed that all around him would suffer when judgement day came. Another whose limbs were amputated due to infection began speaking of Mjolnir and Odin and the destruction of Ragnarok.

The spookiest of all was a man who had suffered no injuries. He had been a zeppelin pilot and had surrendered to allied forces at the very end of the war. This patient had done nothing but smile pleasantly since he was first dosed with the chemical agent, and for all intents and purposes he was thought to be brain-dead.

The pilot began speaking only after the island facility had descended into chaos, finally breaking a vow of silence no one knew he had taken. Unlike the others, he didn't identify himself as a spirit or a mythological figure. He said, plainly, that he wasn't even real. He declared himself to be the waking sleep, a figment of everyone's imagination. Everyone around him, everyone in the world, was dreaming, and this young pilot only existed in their subconscious.

Is that enough to keep you up  tonight? No? Well, how about this? As soon as he started talking, everyone else shut their mouths. Even the other patients. Even the ones who had plunged out their own ear drums and couldn't hear him. After what seemed like an eternity of ceaseless madness, the massive room fell silent except for the slow, calm monologue of a single grinning patient.

#1 - And Then Everyone Killed Themselves.

An unnamed soldier did what most of us would probably want to do in that situation. He put a gun to the pilot's head and, to absolutely no one's surprise at that point, put a bullet in him. Seeing that the dead man was still smiling, the soldier took a nurse hostage, turned his gun on everyone else, and demanded they drop their weapons.

Then, he shot the remaining patients, three fellow staff members, Dr. Albtraum, and himself.

At this point, there's no way to know where the prisoners were buried. There's no record of their interment, so it's very likely they were either thrown into a mass grave or the surrounding ocean. The facility was left to decay, and the island is still off-limits to anyone without proper security clearance.

In the years following project Briar Rose, twenty thee soldiers thought to be associated with the experiments have committed suicide. Six researchers did the same. The difference in numbers probably says something about which field has more difficulty with their conscience and moral code. I'm just sayin'.

While Dr. Albtraum survived the initial shooting, he was found dead several years later. He had tried to dose himself with the same chemical used on his test subjects, and it's still unclear if he intended to take his own life -- or if he had always been working toward something else entirely. Maybe he was really trying to build a bridge between the physical and metaphysical realms. If so, that "bridge" dropped him like a third grader made it out of Popsicle sticks.

I guess he hadn't heard the motto; "never die on your own supply".

T.P. Wong is a staff writer for and enjoys home-brewing his own "Schlafwach" solution by mixing energy drinks and horse tranquilizers. You can buy his new book, "Everything You Know is Wong", online or in stores this November. Would you like to write for Submit your list now.

« Last Edit: 01:23:19 PM 01/09/19 by Slimebeast »
If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.