A man named Heinz Heger was being kept in the Flossenberg concentration camp during the Holocaust. He recounted observing this strange form of torture in his book The Men with the Pink Triangle. He recalls witnesses a man being tickled with goose feathers. The man was naked and was tickled in many places of his body, including the feet, armpits and legs. The man initially stayed silent, but eventually began laughing, which eventually turned into crying.
“The first game that the SS sergeant and his men played was to tickle their victim with goose feathers, on the soles of his feet, between his legs, in the armpits, and on other parts of his naked body. At first the prisoner forced himself to keep silent, while his eyes twitched in fear and torment from one SS man to the other. Then he could not restrain himself and finally he broke out in a high-pitched laughter that very soon turned into a cry of pain, while the tears ran down his face, and his body twisted against his chains. After this tickling torture, they let the lad hang there for a little, while a flood of tears ran down his cheeks and he cried and sobbed uncontrollably.”
An article in the British Medical Journal about European tortures describes a method of tickle torture in which a goat was compelled to lick the victim’s feet because they had been dipped in salt water. Once the goat had licked the salt off, the victim’s feet would be dipped in the salt water again and the process would repeat itself. In ancient Japan, those in positions of authority could administer punishments to those convicted of crimes that were beyond the criminal code. This was called shikei, which translates as ‘private punishment.’ One such torture was kusuguri-zeme: “merciless tickling.”
In his groundbreaking book Sibling Abuse, Vernon Wiehe published his research findings regarding 150 adults who were abused by their siblings during childhood. Several reported tickling as a type of physical abuse they experienced, and based on these reports it was revealed that abusive tickling is capable of provoking extreme physiological reactions in the victim, such as vomiting and losing consciousness.
There are a small number of documented instances of tickle torture in the New York Times. They happened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in these instances restrained victims were tickled upon the bare soles of their feet, apparently against their will and for the pleasure of their tormentors.
There is currently no evidence that tickle torture was ever widespread or was practiced by governments.