After my recent visit to the Former German Concentration Camp Auschwitz, I was really startled after viewing museum exhibits, and especially the stuff that once belonged to the prisoners, that Germans took from them at the entrance of the camp. It is known that German doctors made a selection of the prisoners while they were arriving. The young and healthy were going to the labor camps, but the old people, children and disabled people were going directly to the gas chambers.
At the entrance of the gas chambers all their personal belongings were kept. Later on they were collected, disinfected and distributed by Germans wherever they needed those items.
From all those preserved items I saw at the Auschwitz museum, I was particularly amazed on how many artificial limbs and other prosthetic items were exposed there. I couldn’t imagine that such of amazing quality artificial limbs and other prosthetic items even existed in those times. When I came back from my trip to Krakow, I searched on the web regarding artificial limbs history. And I discovered a very interesting story on how it all started in England at 1866 thanks to a man called James Gillingham.
Mr. James Gillingham lived in Chard, England, where he had a small shoe-making business called ”Golden Boot”. One day he met one fellow whose name was a Will Singleton. Mr. Singleton was very sad. He told to Mr. Gillingham how doctors could not save his arm and how his whole arm was amputated. Mr. Gillingham was very touched by this man’s sad story and he promised him that he will make one new arm without charges for him.
He went back into his workshop and he used all his talent and craftsmanship and he made his very first artificial arm for that man. The arm was strong and it fitted very nicely. Mr. Singleton was very happy, he was able to use his new artificial arm, and his life got better as well as the life of the arm maker Mr. Gillingham.
Everybody were amazed with what he did, and his fame was getting bigger and bigger from mouth to mouth. This is how Mr. Gillingham started a business making prostheses. He also exhibit his work at a lot of medical exhibitions and congresses.
He had his secret process of making those prostheses. He was actually molding the leather to the client’s limb before hardening it. By 1910, he had restored mobility and function to over 15,000 patients. A lot of disabled ex-servicemen from both World Wars received artificial limbs made by James Gillingham.
He also photographed many of his patients. Later on he was publishing those photos in medical journals and also advising surgeons on the best amputation methods.
Mr. James Gillingham died in 1924, but his family continued his business for decades before finally closing in the 1960s.
The Gillingham prostheses were so far ahead of their time. It seemed impossible to use them and that they would have worked, but apparently, they did and they made a lot of people happy while bettering the quality of their lives. Today we came to the point where scientists are working on bionic limbs and on closing the gap between man and machine. Take a look the ”Hero Arm” project by Open Bionics at the video below. It is just amazing how technology has progressed.
So, after Mr. Gillingham many others also started to make artificial limbs and prostheses, with even much better results. Today the prosthetic limbs are even able to move like the real ones, as you saw at the video above. But it all started thanks to Mr. Gillingham’s talent, craftsmanship, beautiful soul and willingness to help others.
I am wondering now after all this research if there were any Gillingham prostheses between those that I saw at the Auschwitz museum.