Decades before he would introduce the world to the Heimlich Maneuver, the lifesaving technique responsible for saving countless lives, Dr. Henry Heimlich arrived at Camp Four in Inner Mongolia, China on June 4th, 1945, in the midst of World War II. A doctor in the U.S. Navy, he had volunteered to be part of a clandestine mission that was part of SACO, a private treaty between the United States and forces in China resistant to the Japanese occupation. He spent the next several months in the camp, tending to patients and training soldiers in basic medical practice. The mission was a tenuous and dangerous one, in close proximity to the Japanese occupation and adverse Chinese forces. Dr. Heimlich oversaw the treatment of numerous soldiers, villagers and outsiders at the camp, which is likely when he received many of these items from patients and dignitaries.
The late Dr. Heimlich’s autobiography, Heimlich’s Maneuvers, provides a riveting account of his work in Inner Mongolia. Camp Four was one of the more remote stations where the Americans were operating, and Dr. Heimlich was at a distinct medical disadvantage: “I saw illnesses that were far more advanced than they ever would have progressed and an array of ailments that had been virtually eliminated back home,” he recalls.
Many of the remarkable works in this sale were gifted during or acquired by Dr. Heimlich during this appointment and station near the Gobi Desert. The collection of SIno-Tibetan bronzes is emblematic of that regional iconography, as is the dragon robe. “I remember when I was little, carefully lifting the glass off of our coffee table that held these small treasures, and imagining the people who had given these things to my father as gifts,” says his daughter, Janet. “My understanding is that they were tokens of appreciation given by people whom he had medically treated. When I think about my father The Humanitarian, I don’t only think about his medical innovations, I also think about how he felt personally connected to so many individuals who owed their lives to his work.”
“Dad saw those with a medical problem as a thrilling challenge, but he also never forgot that they were people. He was always greatly moved when someone who had just been saved with the Heimlich Maneuver sent him a note of gratitude.” — Janet Heimlich, daughter