My cousin says he read in a The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War 2 Soldier that the Nazi soldiers cut off their own eyelids. The reason was allegedly to improve their ability to see. Unfortunately I don't have access to the book to get the exact quote, but a ChaCha question refers to this as well.

This sounds really far fetched, but I am struggling with the "but it was in a book so it must be true" syndrome.

Is there anything to this?

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    This sounds like a terribly stupid idea since without eyelids, you can't blink -- and therefore lose the ability to quickly remoisturize your eyeballs, or the reflexive last-ditch protection your eyelids offer from getting damaged by dust particles or bigger things. – Shadur Jul 11 '15 at 14:41
up vote 10 down vote accepted

I don't have access to the book to get the exact quote

Google Books is your friend:

Extract from book

Is there anything to this?

Your cousin got the anecdote slightly wrong. Collins did not report that the soldiers were Nazis (a technicality perhaps) nor that they cut off their own eyelids.

Collins didn't actually claim to have seen this himself. In this extract, he doesn't explain what evidence for motivation was found by the two guys (or perhaps the men from the 101st and/or 82nd who told the two guys) nor does he explain how they distinguished other causes of the injury from the cause they suggest.

I can't find any other sources that mention German soldiers being deliberately mutilated in this way.

There is the history of Johannes Steinhoff a German pilot who was burned in a crash and had to have his eyelids reconstructed after the war. It is difficult to see how this could be the origin of Collins' anecdote.

The idea of cutting eyelids off as a punishment (not as a means of preventing sleep) goes back a long way (e.g. Roman stories of the torture of Regulus in Carthage).


A possible origin for stories of this sort could be reports about the effects of severe cold on German soldiers at the russian front:

The Italian journalist Curzio Malaparte recalled in his novel Kaputt how he had watched the German troops returning from the Eastern Front, and was in the Europeiski Café in Warsaw when "suddenly I was struck with horror and realised that they had no eyelids. I had already seen soldiers with lidless eyes, on the platform of the Minsk station a few days previously on my way from Smolensk.

"The ghastly cold of that winter had the strangest consequences. Thousands and thousands of soldiers had lost their limbs; thousands and thousands had their ears, their noses, their fingers and their sexual organs ripped off by the frost. Many had lost their hair… Many had lost their eyelids. Singed by the cold, the eyelid drops off like a piece of dead skin… Their future was only lunacy."

- Andrew Roberts, Daily Telegraph, 25 July 2009.

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    That quote suggests to me that the men were still alive (since they were referred to as prisoners and their death was never mentioned), so I don't think post-mortem mutilation is necessarily relevant. That said, the quote makes it clear that the author is reporting an anecdote he heard from a source (or sources), and that it seems that source had heard it from somewhere else (I'm assuming the two guys themselves were not from the 101st or 82nd). Combine that with this taking place in the middle of a war, and it's easy to imagine this story getting exaggerated (possibly from trophy hunting). – Ben Hocking Jul 13 '15 at 20:28
  • I remember I've seen a documentary stating that nazis used to cut or saw open the prisoners' eyelids to prevent them from sleeping. – algiogia Jul 17 '15 at 8:36

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