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[Pages 104-139]

Chapter 6

The Killing Centres

Only one idea is humane, the promotion of what is good and the elimination of what is bad. The will of Nature is God's will. Just look around…Nature sides with the strong, the good and the fit and separates the chaff from the wheat. We fulfil her commandment. No more. No less. Achim Gercke (1933)[574]

Believe me, in every case it is possible to distinguish these creatures without a soul from those who will become human. – Werner Catel[575]

It is a wise man who refrains attempting a comprehensive description of all of the killing centres associated with Nazi “euthanasia”. Apart from their sheer number, there would be an unacceptable amount of repetition, for as has already been described, the extermination process was very similar at many of the locations.[576]Instead, what follows is brief information concerning the six establishments associated with the first phase of “euthanasia” (in all of which gas chambers were installed), followed by similar details of just a few of the better-known other killing institutions where there were no gas chambers. In the latter death was as a result of lethal injection or medication, starvation, disease, neglect, or a combination of any of these factors. What follows should therefore be regarded as representative rather than exhaustive.



In 1790, a home for paupers was founded in Brandenburg, near Berlin. In 1820, the complex of buildings was extended and subsequently used as a prison, until in 1932, the prison was closed following the building of a penitentiary in Brandenburg-Görden. From 24 August 1933 until 2 February 1934 the Nazis used the city-centre buildings of the former prison at 90-C Neuendorfer Strasse as a concentration camp and police barracks. Up to 1,200 prisoners were incarcerated in the cells. In 1939 some of the buildings were converted into a euthanasia killing centre named “Brandenburg State Hospital and Nursing Home” (Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Brandenburg).

The site was probably chosen for its convenient location, since not the least of Brandenburg's advantages was its proximity to Berlin; rapid communication with the KdF posed no problem. A gas chamber (3 x 5 metres) was created in a former brick barn, although the exact location of the gas chamber within the barn is unknown, since only the foundations of the building remain. The gas chamber was disguised as a shower room, but as initially no showerheads had been installed, patients were informed that they were entering an “inhalation room” for therapeutic reasons. Later showerheads were added to enhance the illusion that patients were to be bathed prior to their admission to their new home. Only the floor of the adjacent former storage building is now visible. The prison cells no longer exist; it was not until 1996 that their foundations were uncovered.

The killings took place in similar fashion at all of the “euthanasia” centres; buses brought the victims to the site, where they were registered, undressed, examined, photographed, and gassed. At Brandenburg there were seven SS stokers and ten SS guards who were also sometimes employed as “burners” (Brenner).[577] Bodies were cremated at night in two oil-fired mobile cremation ovens attached to the chimney of the building. Flames often escaped from the chimney, which added to the unpleasant smell of burning flesh, caused the crematory ovens to be moved in July 1940 to an isolated house surrounded by a high wooden fence and located about three miles outside the town. This site was camouflaged as Chemisch-Technische Versuchsanstalt (Chemical and Technical Research Institute); the corpses were driven there in a post office van at night.[578] As already described, the first killings at Brandenburg took place in December 1939 or January 1940, although it would appear that “formal” T4 functions commenced no earlier than February 1940.[579] The final killings took place on 29 October 1940.

A large hospital complex, Brandenburg-Görden, provided the first killing ward for children, many of whom were among the recorded victims of the newly created Brandenburg killing centre. Moreover, Görden was headed by Hans Heinze, who served as one of the three Gutachter for children's euthanasia. The Görden ward and the methods introduced there by Heinze served as the template for other children's wards; Görden became a training centre for physicians assigned to direct the killing of children. In addition, unlike almost all other children's wards, Görden possessed facilities sufficient to enable Heinze and his students to perform medical research on children before and after they were killed.[580] According to the testimony of Dr Heinrich Bunke, during the three months he worked there about 100 children between approximately eight and twelve to fourteen years of age were transferred from Görden and gassed at Brandenburg. Some of the bodies were dissected by Professor Julius Hallervorden, who was specifically interested in the victim's brains.[581] However, children were not the only patients observed, tested, killed, and then dissected at Görden. During the first nine months of 1942, 97 male and female patients suffering from a variety of ailments were so treated.[582]

Concern that knowledge of events at both Brandenburg and Grafeneck was arousing disquiet among the local population probably led to the eventual closure of both killing centres, but since there was still a need for such facilities, it was decided that Bernburg and Hadamar would replace them.[583] In all, at least 9,772 individuals lost their lives in the Brandenburg “euthanasia” centre within a period of less than nine months. Among the victims were more than 400 Jews. The T4 electrician, Herbert Kalisch, witnessed the murder of a transport of Jewish patients at Brandenburg in June 1940:

We drove in six large buses of the Reich railroads to the mental hospital Buch near Berlin, and there collected about 100 women with children and about 100 men, all members of the Jewish race.... The transport went to the city of Brandenburg on the Havel, to the old prison in the centre of the city, which, being empty, had been remodelled into a crematorium. After arrival at the prison, the persons were put in cells, separated by gender. Still on the same day, immediately after arrival, about twenty persons at a time were taken from the cells. The persons were undressed completely, as they were told that they would be taken to another building for bathing and delousing. First they took women and children for gassing. To pacify these patients, physicians gave them a cursory examination. Thereafter, they were placed in a room with wooden benches, which looked, more or less, like a shower room. But before they entered the room, they were marked with consecutive numbers. The doors were locked as soon as the prescribed number of persons had entered the “shower room.” At the ceiling were shower heads through which gas entered the room.[584] The gas was ventilated after fifteen to twenty minutes, as soon as one had discovered by looking through the peep-hole that all people inside were no longer alive. As the earlier examination had noted which persons had gold teeth, these persons could now be discovered by their marked number. The gold teeth were pulled from the dead people. Thereupon SS-men stationed at the prison carried the dead people from the “shower room” and took them to the crematorium. On that very day, the entire transport was eliminated in this fashion.[585]

In his 1940 pocket diary, Irmfried Eberl, as physician-in-charge at Brandenburg, recorded the details of transports arriving at the centre for gassing, frequently indicating the number, sex, and racial identity of the victims by using the capital letters “M” for men (Männer), “F” for women (Frauen), and “J” for Jews (Juden). It is evident from the diary that the transports carried a disproportionately large number of Jews.[586] A report produced in the same year for the Württemberg Ministry of the Interior stated that some nurses at Brandenburg had been provided with guns to prevent patients from escaping.[587]

After the cessation of the euthanasia programme the buildings served as a prison for forced labourers and a police barracks. During the war some buildings were destroyed; others were demolished after 1945. Further traces of the crimes were lost when new buildings were constructed on the site.



A mental home with a capacity of 132 beds was founded in 1875 in Bernburg, near Magdeburg. As a replacement for Brandenburg, in September 1940 a section of the complex was confiscated for use by Aktion T4. From that time onwards, Bernburg mental home was divided into both a normal institution (renamed the “Anhalt Psychiatric Clinic” under Dr Willi Enke), and a euthanasia killing site directed by Dr Irmfied Eberl[588] Within a period of four weeks during October/November 1940, two months later than originally intended, 80 square metres of the cellar in the former Männerhaus 2 (Men's House No.2) were converted into a killing facility. The Brandenburg staff, including the physician-in–chief, Eberl (pseudonym: “Schneider” or “Meyer”), moved as a group to the new killing centre. A small room measuring 14 square metres served as a gas chamber, and was disguised as a shower room. It was equipped with a peephole and the walls and floor were tiled. Another room was converted into a crematorium by installing two crematory ovens, with a third room utilised as a dissecting room, and a fourth as a mortuary.

The killing began on 21 November 1940 with 25 persons from the mental home at Neuruppin, which served as a Zwischenanstalt (Intermediate Home). As at the other killing centres, the victims were first registered, then required to undress and hand over any valuables in their possession. A superficial inspection of the victims occurred next, in order to see which plausible cause of death the Bernburg administration could pass on to the deceased's relatives. The victims were then photographed and led to the gas chamber. After gassing, the corpses were cremated and urns filled with ashes. No attempt was made to identify specific remains. Finally, if so requested, the urn containing a quantity of ashes together with a falsified death certificate was forwarded to the next-of-kin.

Victims were killed immediately. In general large grey buses were used to transport patients to Bernburg, although here and at Hartheim they sometimes arrived by train.[589]Following examination in one of several ground floor rooms, they were ushered to the basement in groups of 60-75, accompanied by nurses. Doctors marked those having distinctive physical features with a red cross on their back. After gassing, the two gas chamber doors remained closed for one hour, until the room had been ventilated. The corpses bearing the red cross were separated and were subjected to an autopsy in the adjoining dissection room. The other bodies were cremated immediately by the Brenner, T4 usually picking members of the SS to serve in this capacity. In Bernburg there were normally seven Brenner, although for a short time their number was increased to nine.[590]

A minimum of 8,601 persons were gassed in first-phase T4 operations at Bernburg, although other estimates place the number of victims somewhat higher.[591] Under the aegis of Sonderbehandlung 14f13, about 5,000 further individuals were killed there between 1941 and April 1943. In the main these were Jews from the concentration camps at Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. As an example of how the system functioned, on 19 and 20 January 1942, about 214 prisoners were selected at Gross-Rosen and their questionnaires sent to T4 headquarters in Berlin, which then transmitted the list of selected prisoners to Bernburg. On 3 March, Bernburg requested the transfer of the 214 prisoners; three days later Gross-Rosen replied that the 125 prisoners who remained would be transferred on 23 March (the other prisoners originally selected by then either having died or been deemed capable of working). As a single example of the 14f13 victims, the Jewish social scientist, Dr. Käthe Leichter, gained a distinguished academic and political reputation with her research on the life conditions of maids and home workers and through her union activities. As an activist member of the Revolutionary Socialist (that is the Communist) Party, she was arrested on 30 May 1938 by the Gestapo and transferred to Ravensbrück concentration camp in January 1940. Leichter was gassed in March 1942 at Bernburg.[592]

In October 1941, Franz Stangl arrived in Bernburg from Hartheim with orders to wind up the operation. His duties consisted of (looking) after property rights, insurance and that sort of thing. After all, some of those who died left children who had to be properly provided for. Bernburg was a mess.” Stangl claimed to have no knowledge of Sonderbehandlung 14f13, which given his position and associates seems extremely unlikely.[593] Six months later Stangl was in Lublin, en route to taking up his position as commandant of first Sobibor and then Treblinka. Less than a year after that, a report from Bernburg dated 15 January 1943 stated: “The Public Foundation for the Maintenance of Asylums, and therefore all asylums, have been idle since 24 August 1941 [the date of the `stop' order]. Since then, only a very small number of disinfections [that is, gassings] have occurred. A very limited number will continue to occur.”[594]

The Bernburg buildings not occupied by T4 continued to operate as a normal mental institution throughout the entire T4 and 14f13 periods. Following an order from the WVHA on 27 April 1943, the crematory ovens were dismantled and the resident T4 personnel transferred to Poland. In 1949, the nurse Anna Maria L. stated that it was still possible to see benches in the basement on which the victims had waited for their “shower”, as well as the sprinklers in the gas chamber and the dissecting table. During the course of works undertaken in 1988/89 in connection with the construction of a memorial to the victims, the peephole in the gas chamber wall and the gas chamber door were uncovered.

Eberl was arrested, but evaded trial by committing suicide in February 1948. He had been succeeded by Dr. Heinrich Bunke, whose locum at Bernburg was Dr. Kurt Borm. An estimated 42 personnel were directly involved in the killing process at Bernburg, with at least 20 others concerned solely with office work.[595] Some members of the Bernburg staff were tried and sentenced, but most were never brought to justice.[596]



Situated on a hill near Marbach in the Münsingen district, some 60 kilometres from Stuttgart, Grafeneck Castle was built between 1556 and 1560. Between1762-1772, Duke Karl Eugen converted the castle to a more contemporary style. In 1929 a Samaritan foundation in Stuttgart took over the building to serve as a hospice for invalids. Early in October 1939, Dr Herbert Linden of the Health Ministry visited Dr Eugen Stähle, the official in the Württemberg Ministry of Interior responsible for health care, and asked for Stähle's cooperation in finding a relatively small institution “to implement euthanasia”. Stähle offered Grafeneck, and on 14 October 1939 Grafeneck Castle was duly confiscated. 10-15 manual labourers from nearby villages began to convert the castle into a killing centre. Stähle had been a member of the Nazi party since 1927,[597] and had a boundless enthusiasm for racial hygiene and anti-Semitism, writing as he did that blood

[was] not merely symbolic, but has also a physical, material meaning…Think what it might mean, if we could identify non-Aryans in the test tube! Then neither deception, nor baptism, nor name change, nor citizenship, and not even nasal surgery could help [the Jew escape detection]. One cannot change one's blood.[598]

A short distance from the castle several barracks were built, fenced in with a hoarding up to a height of 4 metres. An additional 5 metre screen hid the gas chamber and crematorium. On the first floor of the castle the required amenities were installed; accommodation and offices for doctors, the registrar, the police, and others. Quarters for personnel were on the second floor. The main building of the killing facility was a barrack (68 metres long and 7 metres wide), which included several rooms. In one of them 100 beds were placed, covered with straw mattresses. A wooden barrack served as the reception centre for arriving patients. An adjoining old coach house contained the gas chamber, disguised in the usual fashion as a communal bath room complete with shower heads and wooden benches. Initially the gas chamber held 40-50 persons, but was later enlarged to hold 75 victims at any one time. Next door to the gas chamber was a small room containing the equipment necessary to carry out the gassing process. From this room, a window permitted the operator to view the interior of the chamber as he released the gas.[599]

Three buses for the transportation of the victims and an ambulance car stood ready in a wooden garage, whilst two mobile oil-fuelled cremation ovens were located in another wooden barrack. Because of the immense heat generated by the round-the-clock cremations, the roof of this barrack was removed; consequently after a short time the surrounding trees were blackened from the noxious smoke and fumes emitted by the ovens. A former horse stable (circular and 15 metres in diameter) probably served as a mortuary. At the bottom of the hill, at the access road, a high hoarding and a guardhouse were built. Fences with barbed wire surrounded the whole castle, whilst armed guards with dogs patrolled the perimeter, which bore notices carrying the warning “Danger of Infection.” Grafeneck was now officially designated as a “Reich Care Institute” or “State Care Facility”.

In mid-November 1939, SS-men, typists and other personnel arrived and were supplemented during early January 1940 by approximately 25 male and female nurses. In mid-January the cremation ovens were delivered, and on 18 January 1940 the first transport of 25 handicapped men arrived from Eglfing-Haar, near Munich, accompanied by the Grafeneck physician-in-chief, Dr Horst Schumann, whose stay was to be brief. In early summer 1940 Schumann was ordered to the Sonnenstein killing centre. His successor at Grafeneck was Dr Ernst Baumhard, who was succeeded in turn by Dr Günther Hennecke. The chief administrator at Grafeneck was the monstrous Christian Wirth, a detective superintendent and SS-Obersturmführer, who supervised the first gassings there and later was to become the principal organizer of Aktion Reinhard. A former nurse described a transport from her hospital to Grafeneck:

The evening before the transport was due, we received a list with the names of the patients who were to be picked up. Early in the morning, the buses drove up; the windows were painted gray up to the top. The patients received a slip of paper with a number. Then they filed by one by one, and we wrote the number on their bare back in ink. Because they thought that we were going to transfer them to another institution, they were generally quite calm. Indeed, they did not know what was going to happen to them. Then they were led into the bus... A few weeks later their clothes were sent back from Grafeneck.[600]

Another male nurse testified about the gassing procedure:

I don't know how long the physician let the gas flow and take effect. I only know that it was according to a precise rule which I am not acquainted with. The doors were opened and the ventilation turned on by one of the male nurses who had seen to locking up the interior. After half an hour or an hour perhaps, I can't say exactly, these male nurses received the order from the physician to open the doors and turn on the ventilation…. In the beginning it was the physician, wearing a gas mask, who opened the doors… The gas chamber would be left open for a certain time to allow fresh air to circulate. I don't know now if it was one or two hours. The oven crew was also responsible for transporting the corpses from the gas chamber to the oven.[601]

Yet another nurse provided a graphic description of the operational method at Grafeneck:

…On the arrival of the patients at Grafeneck, they were taken to the huts there and briefly examined by Drs. Schumann and Baumhardt on the lines of the questionnaires. These two doctors gave the final decision whether a patient was to be gassed or not. In certain cases gassing was postponed. But the majority of the patients were killed within twenty-four hours of arriving at Grafeneck. I was there nearly a year and know of only a few cases in which patients were not gassed. As a rule they were given, before gassing, an injection of 2 c.c. of morphine and scopolamine. These injections were given by the doctor. The gassing was undertaken by certain picked men. Some of the corpses were dissected by Dr. Hennecke. Some idiotic children between 6 and 13 years old were also included in the programme…[602]

Theoretically, veterans of the Great War were exempt from “euthanasia”, particularly if they had been awarded medals, been wounded, or had shown exceptional bravery while serving. In practice, status as a disabled veteran did not always exclude the possibility of being murdered. 58 year-old Karl Rueff, who had been awarded the Iron Cross First Class, was institutionalized in southern Germany as the result of a head wound he had suffered in the Great War. He was a burden neither financially nor medically, since his disability pension paid for his institutional care, and he suffered from only occasional epileptic seizures. However, none of this prevented his being sent to Grafeneck for gassing in 1940.[603]

Despite the bloodcurdling threats concerning breaches of security, when Baumhard was head of Grafeneck he invited Dr Otto Gutekunst, director of the Winnenthal hospital, to visit Grafeneck and see for himself how the patients Gutekunst had selected for transport to Grafeneck were being treated. Gutekunst later testified:

Of course I was interested in what was happening over there. I just could not imagine how the killing of so many people was accomplished. So I answered that I would be glad to come.

The doctor (Baumhard) showed me a barrack with beds which probably were never slept in, since they were all freshly made, the gas chamber with false shower heads, and the crematory oven; apart from that I saw, in a side-room, a high mountain of ashes and pieces of bones. I remember how an employee of the institution was hammering these pieces of bones into smaller bits.

After my return, I told my priest Flachsland in Winnenden that he should not use the usual formula, “I give your ashes to the ashes” at the internment of urns from Grafeneck, but rather “I give these ashes to the ashes”, because they would not be the ashes of any particular deceased.[604]

The killing continued until December 1940, when Grafeneck ceased to operate, probably because of the hostility of local residents.[605] Although situated in southern Germany, Grafeneck's operational area had actually extended beyond the Austrian border into Italy. Supposedly sick ethnic German patients from the Italian provinces of Bolzano and Trentino were brought to Grafeneck from the Pergine Institute in Italy with the cooperation of the Italian authorities, and gassed.[606] Rumours that wounded members of the Wehrmacht were killed there seem substantiated by the inordinate number of death notices relating to members of the military which arrived in Stuttgart from the special registry office at Grafeneck. Similar rumours were also circulating about Hadamar, adding to the concerns of some members of the judiciary.[607] The supposedly secrecy of the programme was thus not much in evidence.

Following the closure of Grafeneck, some of the personnel were sent on leave, whilst others were ordered to Hadamar.[608] A few remained at the castle to cover up all traces of the murders committed there. At least 10,654 victims were gassed and cremated at this facility from more than 40 so-called “Care Facilities” in Baden, Würtemberg, and Bavaria.[609] Of the 80-100 persons who carried out the “euthanasia” programme in Grafeneck, only eight were called to account for their actions; all others were untraceable. A trial was held at the Tübingen Jury Court from 8 June until 5 July 1949. At its conclusion three men were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 18 months to 5 years.[610]



Another killing centre located on a hill, the Möchsberg, in this case overlooking the town of Hadamar, near Limburg-an-der-Lahn in Hesse, was a former Korrigendenanstalt (Correctional Institution for Released Prisoners) founded in 1883.[611] As the number of mentally disturbed persons in Germany increased in the early years of the twentieth century, additional medical facilities were considered necessary. Thus in 1906 the Korrigendenanstalt in Hadamar was converted into a mental institution, and by 1930 contained 320 patients.[612] As decreed by Nazi law, from 1934 nursing costs for mental patients were reduced, so that by 1936 all mental homes had become overcrowded, and conditions significantly worsened as a result of the reduced quantity and quality of food supplies. The building at Hadamar had been designed to accommodate 250 patients, but by 1939 about 600 inmates were crowded into its cramped quarters.

During late August 1939, following Hadamar's designation as a military hospital, patients were distributed to surrounding mental homes. However, between November 1940 and January 1941 the hospital's sickrooms were converted into quarters for the medical and administrative staff of the new T4 killing centre. The staff had been transferred from Grafeneck following the closure of that facility. Rooms to receive arriving patients were located on the first floor. A gas chamber disguised as a shower room was installed in the basement of the building, together with a crematorium with two ovens which were attached to a chimney. Gas entered the chamber from an adjacent room through pipes with holes punched in them, as in the other killing centres. Large grey buses arrived daily carrying victims from nearby mental homes at Herborn, Weilmünster, Kiedrich, Idstein, Nassau, Langenfeld, Andernach, Wiesloch, and Weinsberg (the Zwischenanstalten / intermediate mental homes). From the garage the victims were conducted through the so called “sluice” (a narrow fenced-in path) to the extermination building. The Hadamar “sluice” became the model for the “sluices” or “tubes”, later used in the extermination camps of Aktion Reinhard.

Potential visitors were warned off by signs forbidding entry to Hadamar because of the danger of epidemics, but the chimney's smoke and the nauseating odour did nothing to disguise the nature of the operation from local inhabitants.[613] From the commencement of gassing operations on 13 January 1941 until August of that year, approximately 100 victims were killed every day. Walter Schmidt, physician-in-chief at the Eichberg sanatorium, testified that his superior, Friedrich Mennecke, told him that patients transferred from Eichberg to Hadamar in the morning were dead by that same night.[614] A witness testified about the killing sequence at Hadamar:

After the doors were closed, the air was sucked out of the gas chamber through a ventilator by the same doctor who carried out the earlier “examination”. Then for about ten minutes, carbon monoxide was let in [by that doctor] and its effect observed through a small window. As soon as he thought that those shut in had died, he had the gas chamber emptied. First fresh air was introduced through the ventilator, and the gas was forced out. From the beginning of the gassing until the reopening of the gas chamber took about one hour. The corpses that were to be dissected were removed to a special room. However, the great majority of corpses were immediately taken to the ovens and burned there.[615]

A further witness described observing the victims through the peephole during a gassing:

Through it I saw 40-45 men who were pressed together in the next room and were now slowly dying. Some lay on the ground, others had slumped down, many had their mouths open as if they could not get any more air. The form of death was so painful that one cannot talk of a humane killing, especially since many of the dead men may have had moments of clarity. I watched the process for about 2-3 minutes and then left because I could no longer bear to look and felt sick.[616]

A third witness, Maximilian Friedrich Lindner, stated:

Did I ever watch a gassing? Dear God, unfortunately, yes. And it was all due to my curiosity.... Downstairs on the left was a short pathway, and there I looked through the window.... In the chamber there were patients, naked people, some semi-collapsed, others with their mouths terribly wide open, their chests heaving. I saw that, I have never seen anything more gruesome. I turned away, went up the steps, upstairs was a toilet. I vomited everything I had eaten. This pursued me days on end.... Looking into the chamber, I could not imagine that this was completely without pain. Of course, I am a layman and this is just my opinion. A few were lying on the ground. The spines of all the naked people protruded. Some sat on the bench with their mouth wide open, their eyes wide open, and breathing with difficulty.[617]

Some time in August 1941, a bizarre party was held in Hadamar to celebrate the gassing and cremation of the ten thousandth patient:

… Dr Berner declared that the ten thousandth corpse would be burnt today and that all personnel should attend. Toward evening we gathered in the hall of the right wing, where everyone was given a bottle of beer, and from there we went down into the cellar. The naked body of a dead man with hydrocephalus lay on a stretcher. In answer to a question raised, I declare with certainty that it was a real corpse and not a paper one. The “cremators” put the body in a sort of trough and pushed it into the oven. Mr. Märkle, who was dressed as a sort of clergyman, pronounced a “funeral oration”[618]

Another witness reported that the celebration, which included music, continued with a drunken procession through the grounds of the institution. [619]

Despite the half-hearted attempts the warning signs represented, in reality there appears to have been little effort to maintain secrecy at Hadamar. A contemporary account of activities there written by a member of the Frankfurt court was, by and large, remarkably accurate:

There is constant discussion of the question of the destruction of socially unfit life - in the places where there are mental institutions, in neighbouring towns, sometimes over a large area, throughout the Rhineland, for example. The people have come to recognize the vehicles in which the patients are taken from their original institution to the intermediate institution and from there to the liquidation institution. I am told that when they see these buses even the children call out: “They're taking some more people to be gassed.” From Limburg it is reported that every day from one to three buses which shades drawn pass through on the way from Weilmünster to Hadamar, delivering inmates to the liquidation institution there. According to the stories the arrivals are immediately stripped to the skin, dressed in paper shirts, and forthwith taken to a gas chamber, where they are liquidated with hydro-cyanic acid gas and an added anaesthetic. The bodies are reported to be moved to a combustion chamber by means of a conveyor belt, six bodies to a furnace. The resulting ashes are then distributed into six urns which are shipped to the families. The heavy smoke from the crematory building is said to be visible over Hadamar every day. There is talk, furthermore, that in some cases heads and other portions of the body are removed for anatomical examination. The people working at this liquidation job in the institutions are said to be assigned from other areas and are shunned completely by the populace. These personnel are described as frequenting the bars at night and drinking heavily. Quite apart from these overt incidents that exercise the imagination of the people, they are disquieted by the question of whether old folk who have worked hard all their lives and may merely have come into their dotage are also being liquidated. There is talk that the homes for the aged are to be cleaned out too. The people are said to be waiting for legislative regulation providing some orderly method that will insure especially that the aged feeble-minded are not included in the programme.[620]

On 24 August 1941, the killing at Hadamar was suspended on Hitler's orders. By that time the bishop of Limburg was also well aware of what was happening at this particular killing centre. On 13 August 1941, he had written to the Reich Minister of Justice:

About 8 kilometres from Limburg in the little town of Hadamar, on a hill overlooking the town, there is an institution which had formerly served various purposes and of late had been used as a nursing home. This institution was renovated and furnished as a place in which, by consensus of opinion, the above-mentioned euthanasia has been systematically practiced for months - approximately since February 1941.This fact is, of course, known beyond the administrative district of Wiesbaden because death certificates from the Hadamar-Moenchberg Registry are sent to the home communities.[621]

The bishop protested that pupils of schools in Hadamar called the Gekrat buses “killing crates” and threatened each other with the words: You'll end up in the Hadamar ovens!”[622]Older people were saying, “Don't send me to a state hospital! When the feeble-minded have been finished off, the next useless eaters whose turn will come are the old people.” The bishop continued:

And if anybody says that Germany cannot win the war, if there is yet a just God, these expressions are not the result of a lack of love for the Fatherland but of a deep concern for our people. The population cannot grasp the fact that systematic actions are carried out which in accordance with paragraph 211 of the German Penal Code are punishable with death!”[623]

In the summer of 1942 the installations in the cellar were dismantled and other rooms converted back to sickrooms.[624] By then, many of the staff had been ordered eastward to use the experience they had acquired as members of T4 in the newly established extermination camps of Aktion Reinhard. It is strongly suspected, although never conclusively proven, that in winter 1941/1942, a group of 20-30 doctors, nurses, and other personnel, drawn mainly from Hadamar and Sonnenstein, had conducted “euthanasia” on severely wounded German soldiers on the Russian front as part of the so-called Organisation Todt mission. If that had indeed been the case, some were now to use their murderous expertise on an even greater scale at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.[625]

Killing at Hadamar recommenced later in 1942 as part of the second phase of the “euthanasia” programme, the so-called “wild euthanasia.” Now the victims were murdered by administering lethal doses of barbiturates or morphine-scopolamine injections. While initially there had been some pretence of medical deliberation before deciding on a patient's fate, with the arrival of Polish and Russian workers in 1944, mostly diagnosed as “tubercular” despite a complete lack of medical examination until after their death, the killing became automatic. When pressed at a post-war trial, the chief female nurse finally admitted that what had occurred could only be described as murder.[626]

On 15 April 1943, a ward for Jewish children of mixed marriages, so-called Mischlingskinder,[627] was created, camouflaged as an “educational home.” This ward would eventually receive children from all parts of the Reich, but started by receiving children from the immediate region. The precise number of Jewish children transferred to Hadamar during 1943 and 1944 is not known. What is known is that most of these children were not unhealthy, and that they were sent to Hadamar solely because they were partly Jewish. As the regulations exempted these children from deportation, the Ministry of the Interior, not the SS or police agencies, decided to destroy those children within its control as wards of the state who were defined by the regime as Jewish. These healthy children were thereafter killed at Hadamar with lethal injections.[628]

Until late August 1942, bodies had been buried at the town's cemetery, but from September of that year mass graves located behind the building were used. During October 1944, more than 700 inmates were crowded together at the home. On 26 March 1945, US Forces captured the town of Hadamar. In the institute's pharmacy 10 kilograms of the barbiturates “Veronal” and “Luminal”, used to sedate or kill the victims, were found.

Some members of Hadamar's personnel were put on trial in 1945 in Wiesbaden, others in 1947 in Frankfurt.[629] They were found to be responsible for killing approximately 10,000 persons. At the Hadamar trial of October 1945, one of the first American war crimes trials, Colonel Leon Jaworski described the murder of patients by their physicians in the following terms:

…They [the patients] were brought into the death halls. They were given the promise that medication would be administered to them in their ailment. Oh, what a vicious falsehood, what a terrible lie, what an evil and wicked thing to do to a person who is already suffering and already carrying burdens, to build up false hope that a ray of sunshine was to enter their hearts. Yes, they were given medications, of poison that gripped their heart and closed their eyelids still…[630]

At least 10,072 victims were gassed at Hadamar. To this must be added a minimum of 4,000[631] further individuals killed as a result of “wild euthanasia.” To this day the building is still in use as a mental home.[632][633][634][635]



Hartheim castle, situated in the village of Alkoven near Linz in Austria, and close to the Mauthausen concentration camp, originally dated from the ninth century.[636] The present castle, built at the end of the sixteenth century, and by 1793 the property of the princes of Starhemberg, was donated to the Landes wohltätigkeitsverein in Oberösterreich (Provincial Charity Club of Upper Austria) in 1898 for the establishment of a home for physically and mentally handicapped children.

After the Anschluss, the building was confiscated, and between late 1939 and early 1940 the castle was converted into an Aktion T4 killing centre with a gas chamber 5.8metres long, 3.8metres wide, and a maximum height of 2.7metres.[637] There were also at least two crematoria, one located in a room beside of the interior courtyard and one in the courtyard itself. Offices and staff quarters were located on the upper floors of the castle, while the killing installation occupied the ground floor premises surrounding the inner courtyard. As in the other killing centres, the gas chamber was disguised as a shower room and had a maximum capacity of 150 persons.[638] Senior stoker (Oberbrenner) Josef Vallasta often administered the gas and oversaw the gassing in place of a physician.[639]

At the western side of the castle a wooden annex was built for the reception of the victims, constructed so that their arrival remained unseen by others. During May 1940 the first 633 patients were gassed.[640] Four drivers operated the large grey buses of the Gekrat organisation which carried the victims to the castle. These same buses were also used for staff excursions; every two months they would transport the personnel to the cinema in Linz.[641]

Any gold teeth were extracted from the corpses prior to cremation, following which bones still visible among the ashes were pulverized into dust with a bone mill.[642] If relatives had not requested the victim's ashes, a lorry left the castle and drove to either the River Donau (Danube) or the River Traun at least once a week to scatter the remains on the water. The Austrian Vinzenz Nohel was assigned work as a Brenner at Hartheim, receiving wages of 170 Reichsmarks (RM) per month, plus a 50 RM family separation allowance, a 35 RM Brenner allowance, and a 35 RM bonus for keeping his mouth shut. Moreover, “because the work [as a Brenner] was very strenuous and nerve-shattering, we also received ¼ litre schnapps every day.”[643]Nohel's evidence at his post-war trial provides perhaps the most comprehensive available description of the entire killing process:

The mentally ill were, as far as I know, brought to Hartheim from the various asylums by rail and by car. The transports arrived at Hartheim at irregular intervals and at no specific hours....The number of arrivals varied from between forty and one hundred and fifty. First of all, they were sent to the changing room. There the men and women were made to undress or were undressed in two separate areas. Their clothes and any luggage which they had brought with them was placed in a pile, labelled, recorded and numbered. The unclothed patients then went across a corridor to the so-called registry office. There was a large table in this room and a doctor with a staff of three or four helpers. The doctor on duty there was either Dr. Lonauer or Dr. Renno. As far as I can judge as a layperson, the doctors did not examine the patients; instead they only looked at the files of those who were brought past them. Someone stamped the patients. A nurse had to stamp the individual patients on the shoulder or chest with a consecutive number…Those who had gold teeth or a gold dental bridge were marked with a cross on the back. Following this procedure the people were taken to an adjacent room where they were photographed. From the photography room they were taken through a second exit back to the registry office and from there through a steel door into the gas chamber. Initially, the gas chamber was very simply furnished ...so that one could assume it was a bathroom. There were three shower heads mounted on the ceiling...Once the entire transport had been processed, i.e. the admissions recorded, the stamping carried out and those persons marked who had gold teeth, everyone was taken to the gas chamber that was disguised as a shower room. The steel doors were closed and the doctor on duty released the gas into the chamber. Within a short time, the people in the gas chamber were dead...

Taking the dead from the gas chamber to the mortuary was a very difficult and nerve-racking process. It was not easy to separate the corpses, which were stiff and tangled up in one another, and to drag them into the mortuary...In the mortuary the corpses were stacked up. The crematorium was located next to the mortuary. The ovens were fitted with a corpse caddy which could be taken out of the oven. The bodies of the dead were placed on these caddies and then pushed into the crematorium as if into a bakery oven. Depending on the number of dead we incinerated two to eight corpses at a time. The ovens were fuelled with coke. Work continued night and day as necessary. Before the dead were incinerated the stokers extracted the gold teeth of those who had previously been marked with a cross...Once the corpses had been incinerated, the remains of the bones which had fallen through the oven grid were placed in a bone crusher and ground to powder. The bone powder obtained in this fashion was then sent to the bereaved relatives as the mortal remains. Approximately 3 kilograms of such ash was calculated for each deceased person.”[644]

There was an unusual association between Hartheim and the state hospital of Niedernhart, near Linz. In 1938, Rudolf Lonauer was appointed director at Niedernhart, a position he retained when he became physician-in-charge at Hartheim. Niedernhart in effect became an annexe of Hartheim, with Lonauer and his assistant Georg Renno deciding which of the arriving patients were to be gassed immediately at Hartheim and which were to be temporarily accommodated at Niedernhart[645] A note discovered after the war graphically illustrates Niedernhart's principal function:

The mother of the patient Maria Mader, born 16.9.1917, Mrs Anna Mader, born Rein Munich, Amalienstr 95/I, appeared today before the director of the Institution and declared:

“I request immediate release of my child Maria Mader to my care. In spite of all difficulties I want to take her home. My reason is that I have learned that people who are transferred from institutions die soon and that their bodies are then cremated. Only the ashes are sent to the relatives. Since I find it unbearable to have my child cremated, which is against my principles, I want to take my daughter home with me. At any rate I would like to take possession of the corpse of my daughter if anything should happen so that the child could be buried in a decent ritual manner in a cemetery. According to your advice I shall submit a petition so that I can take my daughter away with me.”

Since the patient had already been scheduled for the transport of 25 April 1941, the director declined to return the patient immediately to her mother. I put it at the discretion of the direction of the Cure and Care Institution in Niedernhart-Linz, as transition institution, to possibly return the patient to the mother upon request. The mother threatened immediate suicide if she learned that her child, Maria, was cremated.

Eglfing 23 April 1941.

Signed: Direktion her Heil- und Pflegeanstalt des Bezirksverbandes Oberbayern Eglfing-Haar. [Hermann Pfannmüller]

As a consequence of her mother's intervention, Maria Mader was held back from the transport scheduled for 25 April 1941, but she was not saved for long. Her name was added in handwriting to the bottom of a list of victims sent to Hartheim four days later, on 29 April 1941.[646]

Although it is impossible to calculate a definitive figure for the number of victims in respect of any of the euthanasia centres, it has been estimated that by August 1941 the death toll at Hartheim had risen to at least 18,269; later, during the Sonderbehandlung 14f13 operation, a minimum of 12,000 further victims were murdered,[647] among them more than 8,000 inmates of the concentration camps Dachau and Mauthausen / Gusen .These included Russian prisoners-of-war, Hungarian Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and other Muselmänner.[648]

The first prisoners selected from Dachau (some of whom had voluntarily registered for transfer to a “convalescent camp” or “sanatorium”) arrived at Hartheim no later than January 1942. When the personal effects of transferees were returned to the camp with the address of the sender marked as “Hartheim”, the voluntary registrations ceased. Prisoners were also transferred to Hartheim from the Gross-Rosen, Sachsenhausen, and Ravensbrück concentration camps.[649] They all shared a common fate. After late August 1941, when Hitler ordered a cessation to the gassing of the mentally and physically disabled, only concentration camp prisoners were gassed in T4 killing centres.

During the summer of 1943 Hartheim became an administrative department of Aktion T4, since Berlin was no longer considered safe in view of the increasing frequency and intensity of bombing raids. Another administrative department was also installed at the Aktion T4 recreation facility “Haus Schoberstein” in Weissenbach, at Lake Attersee in Austria.[650] This villa had initially been designated as a recreation facility for T4 personnel, including the staff of Aktion Reinhard, who were often to be found there when on leave.

As seemingly occurred at all of the killing centres, the local population soon became aware of the nature of the activities being carried on there. After the arrival of one of the grey buses at Hartheim, a dark cloud always appeared over the castle. On days when there was a low cloud base, smoke smelling of burnt flesh and hair would spread over the town of Hartheim, causing the townsfolk to be physically sick. The fact that many people were brought to the castle, but nobody left, resulted in rumours spreading. To reassure the citizens, the Hartheim authorities arranged communal meetings. The townspeople were told that the vile odours had been caused by the use of contaminated oil. A warning was issued against persons speculating to the contrary, but it was impossible to completely hide the evidence of the killing. Hartheim's function quickly became common local knowledge.

The last 14f13 gassing at Hartheim occurred on 11 December 1944.[651] During December 1944 and January 1945 inmates of the Mauthausen concentration camp dismantled and removed the gassing installations,[652] and Hartheim again became a normal nursing-home for mentally ill patients.[653] Although most of the T4 documentation was destroyed toward the end of the war, a U.S. War Crimes Investigating Team discovered a box in Hartheim containing statistical reports on the number of patients killed. This data has formed the basis of many subsequent attempts to establish the number of T4 victims.[654]

In 1954 the rooms of the castle were temporarily converted into apartments for rent, and in 1969 a memorial was installed in the part of the building used for killing purposes. The “Verein Schloss Hartheim” was founded in 1995 with the objective of perpetuating the history of Nazi “euthanasia” at Hartheim, and establishing an appropriate museum at the castle. In 2001, further significant traces of the “euthanasia” process were uncovered.[655]



Located at Pirna near Dresden, above the river Elbe, Schloss Sonnenstein was built on the site of a former medieval castle and had been used as a mental home since 1811. It was the first major state institution in Germany to be explicitly dedicated to treating, rather than just interning, mentally ill patients. In the nineteenth century, the reform-oriented hospital was one of the most renowned institutions of its kind in Europe. In 1922 as a Heil und Pflegeananstalt (Care and Cure institution) it had housed 672 psychiatric patients. By 1939, the highly respected psychiatrist, Paul Nitsche, had been in charge of the Sonnenstein state hospital for more than ten years.

In October 1939 the mental home was officially closed. Part of the institution, situated behind the main buildings and excluded from the area allocated to the killing centre, was used first as a military hospital and then to house Volksdeutsche refugees from Bessarabia. Another section, also at the rear of the property, remained a regular mental hospital and assumed the name “Mariaheim”. Between early 1940 and June of that year, that part of the castle located in buildings 1-3 at the front of the property was converted into the “euthanasia” centre. Building 3 served as a reception area for the arriving victims and buildings 1-2 provided office space and staff quarters. Building 2 (now numbered C 16) contained the actual killing facility, including the gas chamber and a crematorium with two stationary coke-fired ovens located in the basement.

A high brick-wall on two sides of the complex shielded it from outside observation, while a tall hoarding was erected to serve a similar purpose on the other two sides. Sleeping quarters for the Brenner were provided in the attic of building C 16. The physician-in-charge, Horst Schumann, who transferred from Grafeneck, arrived in late April to supervise the final renovations in time for killing to commence in June 1940. The Sonnenstein “euthanasia” facility was to differ from most of the other killing centres because it did not occupy the entire hospital, which made secrecy even more difficult than it was to prove elsewhere.[656]

From the end of June 1940 until September 1942, at least 15,000 persons, probably many more, were killed within the scope of the “euthanasia” programme and Sonderbehandlung 14f13 at Sonnenstein; a minimum of 13,720 patients from various institutions alone had fallen victim to T4 during the first phase of the killing.[657]One nurse testified that during his three week stay in July 1940 about 1,000 people had been gassed, including youngsters aged fifteen and sixteen.[658] Well before gassing experiments had started at Auschwitz in late summer 1941, 575 prisoners from that camp were transferred to Sonnenstein for extermination on 28 July 1941.[659] Other prisoners also arrived in 1941 and 1942 from Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald concentration camps. A prisoner working as a physician's secretary in Buchenwald was witness to the fate of 190 prisoners gassed at Sonnenstein in July 1941:

… A long list of prisoners, identified by their numbers, was ordered over the loudspeakers to report to the camp gate… The next day and the day after that, these prisoners were taken away from the camp. When they left we didn't know where they were being taken. Some days later the hospital orderly, Wilhelm, came in with some personal effects… false teeth, spectacles, crutches. We knew then for certain the prisoners had been killed… Shortly afterward the SS camp physician appeared… He gave me a list of prisoners who had been transferred and killed and told me to cross them off the hospital register and to remove the file cards. Hoven [the SS doctor] confirmed that the prisoners of both convoys were dead and that I should prepare the official death certificates. I asked what cause of death I should mention. He told me I should go and find something in the medical dictionary…[660]

On one occasion, the problem of flames escaping from the chimney required the expert advice of the KTI. It was concluded that the chimney had not been built correctly, and that too many corpses were being cremated at the same time. This kind of hitch was not uncommon; similar incidents occurred at Hartheim and Brandenburg, in the latter case requiring the crematorium to be removed to the outskirts of town.[661]

The Sonnenstein staff consisted of approximately 100 persons. Based upon their expertise in the deception, gassing, and burning of innocent victims. about one third of them were transferred to the extermination camps in occupied Poland. During August/September 1942, the Sonnenstein killing centre was liquidated and incriminating material such as the gas chamber installations and crematorium ovens dismantled. From October 1942 until 1945 the buildings were used as a military hospital, and in the post-war years served a number of different local government and commercial functions. Out of public sight a large commercial plant was installed which utilised the buildings that had once housed the killing facilities.

In the summer of 1947, some T4 staff were among those accused in the Dresdner Ärzteprozess (“Doctors' Trial” in Dresden). Paul Nitsche, T4 Obergutachter, was sentenced to death, together with two male nurses from Sonnenstein. 40 years of silence followed, before the part Sonnenstein had played in the euthanasia programme was recognized. It was not until 1989 that the public commemoration of the history of this “euthanasia” centre occurred.

After reunification in 1989, an employee of the Tolkewitz municipal cemetery in Dresden discovered three mass graves containing the urns of “euthanasia” victims. They were exhumed by the German war graves agency, and laid to rest in a more dignified tomb in the Dresden-Tolkewitz cemetery in January, 2004. Since 9 June 2000 a permanent exhibition has been on display in the rooms of building C 16. The fate of twenty-two representative victims murdered at Sonnenstein are documented in a memorial tract in the basement of the building.[662][663]


Other Killing Centres

There were eventually to be more than one hundred hospitals, asylums, and medical facilities across the Reich where “euthanasia” was practiced.[664] In more than thirty of these institutions there was a ward dedicated to the killing of children.[665]

It is beyond the scope of this work to describe all of the centres where state-sanctioned murder occurred. Instead, the following is intended to provide brief descriptions of a few of the major establishments. In general terms, operational methods were common to all. Obviously, staffing levels were dependant upon the size of the institution.



Previously situated in Posen/West Prussia, in 1939, the town of Meseritz was brought within the Prussian province of Pomerania. Today the town bears the name Miedzyrzecz and is situated in Poland. The hospital at Obrawalde (now Obrzyce)[666] completed in 1904 and usually referred to as Meseritz-Obrawalde, is today considered one of the most notorious killing centres of so-called “wild euthanasia”.[667]

In the early 1930s, Meseritz-Obrawalde was a general hospital enjoying a good reputation. However, the hospital's non-psychiatric facilities, which included internal medicine, neurology and obstetrics departments, were closed in 1938.[668] Meseritz-Obrawalde had been built to accommodate 700 mental patients and held 900 such cases in 1939, but within a year the institution was more than filled to capacity with 2,000 inmates under the care of just three physicians – Drs Theophil Mootz, Hermann Vollheim, and Hilde Wernicke.[669] According to the evidence of a former employee, who left Meseritz-Obrawalde in 1939, the hospital was the second or third newest such institution in all of Germany at that time, had modern equipment, and was run according to correct medical principles. Nurses and also other staff members very much enjoyed carrying out their duties in Obrawalde back then because Obrawalde was considered more or less a model institution.

In contrast, a former patient claimed that absolutely no medical treatment occurred at Meseritz-Obrawalde during his stay there in the last year of the war.[670] Killing had replaced therapy.

During the period preceding the suspension of the “euthanasia” programme in August 1941, large numbers of patients had been transferred from Meseritz-Obrawalde “to the east” and had, like patients from other institutions in the region, simply disappeared. At the beginning of 1942, at which time “euthanasia” had entered its so-called “wild” phase, the first trains, each containing about 700 handicapped patients, arrived at the hospital. They were eventually to be transported to Meseritz-Obrawalde from at least twenty-six German cities, frequently arriving in the middle of the night.[671] At the end of that year, and more particularly during 1943, these trains arrived with increasing regularity. All the nurses and orderlies had to assist in the unloading of the sick patients, who were in a deplorable condition; many were emaciated and very dirty. As Wernicke testified:

Only one who has witnessed once the arrival of such a transport can have an idea of what we were dealing with. The patients were half-starved, often totally covered in their own dirt, exhausted. Many were crippled and helpless after journeys that sometimes took several days. Some died during the travel and others soon thereafter. We very often had to be on our feet day and night with only a few hours of rest in order to take care of the arrivals. Because of the crowded conditions, it was almost impossible to fight problems like lice, scabies, and dysentery.[672]

It would appear that these abysmal conditions contributed to the nursing personnel's ability to distance themselves emotionally from those entrusted to their care. The patients were in such an undignified condition that the staff could be convinced to kill thousands of them without compunction. To coin a phrase, they were less than human.[673]

They were helped in this attitude by the appearance and mind-set of their superiors. Appointed in November 1941, Walter Grabowski, the first non-medical director at Meseritz-Obrawalde, patrolled the wards dressed in hunting attire, accompanied by a large dog.[674] Conditions at the hospital rapidly deteriorated under his administration. Apart from chronic overcrowding, there was a shortage of medications and cleaning materials. Even the well supplying the hospital's water began to run dry.[675] It was Grabowski who instituted “euthanasia” at the hospital in late 1942[676] or early 1943,[677] reputedly terrifying the institution's staff by frequently holding roll-calls at which he impressed upon them their duties and obligations to everyone except their patients. Soldiers were protecting them by doing their duty at the front, he proclaimed; they were equally required to do their duty at Meseritz-Obrawalde.[678] Any infraction of his orders would result in severe punishment, he threatened. In fact, for all of his bluster, as with so many bullies, it seems that when faced with determined opposition, Grabowski simply backed down. But the threats were often enough in themselves for most employees – or so they later said. One nurse explained: “If I had not followed official orders back then, I was certain that I would have been subject to reprisals from Grabowski. What kind of reprisals these might have been, I could not imagine, but without a doubt I had something to be afraid of.”[679] This may or may not have been true. In any event, it certainly provided the necessary degree of self-justification required to follow unpalatable commands.

Mootz and Wernicke were responsible for selecting the condemned, sometimes after reviewing a patient's file or a cursory medical examination,[680] although in practice those selected for killing included “patients who caused extra work for the nurses, those who were deaf-mute, ill, obstructive, or undisciplined, and anyone else who was simply annoying.” The choice of victim was completely arbitrary, and also included some “who had fled and were recaptured, and those engaging in undesirable sexual liaisons.”[681] The actual killing was done by nurses and `carers', rather than any of the three doctors.[682] For those not selected for death, conditions in the hospital were appalling. A former inmate testified:

The people lay in metal frame beds on top of each other, on straw sacks. The privy lay open between the rows of beds…Here there was only a minimum to eat. In the morning there was bread and coffee. At midday there was watery soup with a few globules of fat for the workers. If one was lucky, there were a few more globules, but it was all basically water, so that one could not be nourished by it.

For non-workers, rations were even worse. Their “soup” consisted of potato peelings in water. Relatives were prohibited from sending food to patients, who, so the relatives were informed, had enough to eat.[683]

The starving patients selected daily for liquidation were taken to so-called “killing rooms” (in Houses 1,3,6,8,9,10, and18),[684] where they were murdered by means of an orally administered drug overdose or a lethal injection. Normally ten tablets of Veronal or Luminal were dissolved in water. If the patient was unable or unwilling to drink the medication, they were injected with morphine and scopolamine instead. Sometimes a simple injection of air into a vein was sufficient to kill within minutes.[685] There is evidence that not all patients were so benumbed that they were prepared to be murdered without a struggle.[686] Because of this, and for the psychological relief of the perpetrators, the killing of patients was not usually undertaken by a single nurse; experience had shown that it was more efficient and less stressful (for the perpetrators, that is) that it be done by two or more nurses.[687] As one nurse described the process:

In general either the ward caregiver or I would sit the patient up in her bed, put an arm around her, and talk to her consolingly. So one of us would hold the patient in an upright position and the other caregiver would hold onto the glass with the medication. Then the patient either was able to swallow the liquid on her own, or it was given to her with a spoon. If the patient was extremely restless, which also happened quite frequently, then three caregivers were needed for the procedure.

The patients would quickly fall asleep and usually be dead within half a day. Those receiving injections of morphine and scopolamine died within a few hours.[688] After the patient had been killed by the male and female nurses, a fraudulent death certificate was prepared and sent to the victim's family. Most of the naked corpses were buried in mass graves in Obrawalde's own cemetery, but some were cremated in Frankfurt an der Oder. In the early days of the killing programme the staff had to remove the corpses themselves, but as the number of murders increased a group of male patients, the so-called “cemetery gang”, was made responsible for the disposal of the bodies.[689] Construction of a gas chamber to accelerate the killing and a crematorium to handle the large number of corpses was begun, but the project was not yet completed when Soviet troops liberated the hospital on 29 January 1945. Russian investigators interviewed some surviving inmates, who testified that 30 -50 patients had been killed at Meseritz-Obrawalde each day for several years.[690] Some 1,000 mentally ill patients were liberated by the Red Army, who found more than adequate evidence that the hospital “was actually a national facility for the extermination of the German population.”[691]

The precise number of victims at Meseritz-Obrawalde remains uncertain, and is likely to remain so, as most of the institute's records had been destroyed by the end of the war, but even the most cautious estimate of 6,991 fatalities is more than three times the hospital's maximum occupancy. An alternative post-war evaluation could only arrive at the probable number of handicapped patients killed at Meseritz-Obrawalde as being in excess of 10,000.[692] Other sources suggest as many as 18,000 victims.[693] There is evidence that physically or mentally impaired German soldiers may have been included among that number.[694] It is also known that following the bombing raids on Hamburg in late July 1943, a number of inmates from old-age homes were transported to Meseritz-Obrawalde for extermination under the aegis of Aktion Brandt. [695] In 1944, the death rate among incoming patients reached a staggering 97 percent,[696] so it was hardly surprising that the institution's deadly reputation spread far and wide. When one nurse travelled home by train, a fellow passenger, noticing the address on her suitcase asked: “Isn't that where people are given lethal injections?”[697]

Several thousand unused urns found at the time of liberation indicate that many further murders were planned. The dreadful conditions at Meseritz-Obrawalde were graphically illustrated by the post-war testimony of former patients, who described a concentration camp-like regime at the hospital, including roll call, selections, forced labour, and the appointment of trusted inmates to positions analogous to that of Kapos in the concentration camps.[698] Nurse Amanda Ratajczak, captured by the Russians in March 1945, admitted to killing more than 1,500 patients herself, the last of them one day before the arrival of the Soviet army. After a brief trial, along with caregiver Hermann Guhlke, Ratajczak was shot on 10 May 1945.

After the war Meseritz-Obrawalde continued to function as a psychiatric hospital, and has remained one to this day.[699]



Eichberg, near Eltville am Rhein, is an idyllically situated mental hospital founded in 1849 in the Wiesbaden district of Hessen-Nassau. Originally designed for 220 patients, by the mid-1880s there were 450 cases in residence.[700] As further buildings were added, the hospital's capacity was increased to 900 beds by 1937; after 1939 and the advent of “euthanasia”, the maximum number of patients the hospital could hold was eventually doubled to 1,800.

Hans Hefelmannn and his deputy, Richard von Hegener, visited Eichberg in 1941 to instruct Dr Friedrich Mennecke, already involved in adult euthanasia, to open a killing ward for children. Later Mennecke claimed that he could no longer recall the precise date the Eichberg children's ward opened, but assumed that it was some time in April 1941. After Grafeneck closed in December 1940, Eichberg also became a transit centre for Hadamar,[701] and from the time of the “stop order” in August 1941, commenced operations as a killing centre for adults in its own right.[702]

When rumours of the killings at Grafeneck began to circulate at Eichberg, Mennecke informed his staff that anyone spreading such stories without providing supporting evidence faced the prospect of a prison sentence; naturally enough this was to have precisely the opposite effect to that intended, and confirm the speculation in the minds of the more astute.[703] Whilst generally claiming to be unaware of the fate of the patients who had been sent to Hadamar, some nurses felt uncomfortable about the subject. One claimed:

Although I did not personally know the purpose of the transports, I had an unpleasant feeling about them from the beginning, because I was aware from the speeches of the National Socialist leader and of influential personalities that the excessively high number of psychiatric patients was complained about again and again.

Others were more perceptive: “When the clothes first came back, we could imagine nothing else than that the patients had been done away with there.”[704] Between January and August 1941, 2,262 patients were transferred from Eichberg to Hadamar, where virtually every one was gassed on arrival. Not all were seriously ill; some were only mildly disabled and capable of work.[705]

Although director of the institution (he had been appointed to this position in 1938)[706] and supervisor of the children's ward, Mennecke left the daily operation of the killing to his deputy, Dr Walter Eugen Schmidt. Mennecke completed the paperwork and ordered the inmate's death; Schmidt supervised the killings, sometimes personally carrying them out, and even went so far as to claim that a few severely malformed adults with Reich Committee documentation (that is authorizing them to be killed) arrived with a family request for their homicide.[707] A fanatical Nazi bureaucrat, Schmidt strutted around in SS uniform with pistol at his side, supervising the daily murder of patients. Described by one male nurse as a “hothead and psychopath,” Schmidt gave orders to his nurses to shoot dead any patient who attempted to escape. At least one of them, nurse Friedrich Golsmann, may have been prepared to do so, for he received a gun of his own for use when on duty.[708] Such was the character of Schmidt that some nurses felt it was quite conceivable that he was killing of his own volition: “the measures were completely in the spirit of Dr Schmidt [and] corresponded with his views,” stated one.[709] Another, who admitted to assisting Schmidt in killing patients, claimed that he could not refuse to carry out Schmidt's orders: “Dr Schmidt was a boor who would not have stood for refusal and undoubtedly would have ordered the most far-reaching consequences for me if I had refused.”[710]

When Mennecke rejoined the Wehrmacht in 1942 (he had also been summoned for a brief period of army service between the outbreak of war and January 1940), Schmidt became acting director, in charge of the children's killing ward.[711] Even under the supervision of Mennecke's predecessor, Wilhelm Hinsen, conditions at Eichberg had been appalling. In 1938, an amount of 0.49 Reichsmarks was allocated for each patient's daily food allowance, and straw bedding was in widespread use.[712] Rations were described as follows:

In the morning there was turnip on bread. We usually smeared that on the bread the night before so that it had time to sink in. There was also coffee in a tin mug, with no milk or sugar. Lunch was at noon. Turnips or swedes once more, cooked without any fat. Always the same thing. There was usually three potatoes, boiled in their skins. Once a week we had beetroot. At three o'clock we had coffee again and bread with syrup.[713]

Wartime conditions became even worse. One doctor testified:

Most of [the patients] were physically reduced to a state bordering on the skeletal. This was a consequence of the fact that the food was quantitatively and qualitatively totally inadequate…The then asylum director, Dr Mennecke, forbade the sort of forced feeding which was normal in the case of catatonic or depressed patients who refused food. During mealtimes, the patients were left to their own devices, which meant that weak, apathetic and helpless patients were subject to the sick and asocial thieving compulsions of certain individuals, thus losing their own food.[714]

Apart from overcrowding and starvation, patients had to contend with lack of heating and proper clothing. Of still greater concern was the prospect of being confined in the so-called “bunker”, a series of underground cells where any patient could be incarcerated on the whim of a staff member. Nurses testified that some patients were kept in the dark, filthy, rat-infested, unheated “bunker” for six months or more, with no supplement to the detainee's already inadequate rations.[715]

At a meeting of T4 physicians at the KdF in early 1942, plans were made for a new-style children's ward to be opened, where innovative kinds of treatment would be explored and tested. Unresponsive children were to be sent to Eichberg for killing. In the interests of efficiency, some of those present even wished to combine research, treatment, and murder in a single institution[716] Eichberg had already become a vital source of brains for Carl Schneider's Heidelberg research into the mentally retarded. Children from various hospitals, some as far away as Hamburg, were transferred to Eichberg. There they were observed, killed, dissected, and their brains sent to Schneider. In late 1942, Schneider urgently requested T4 to provide a list of institutions holding retarded patients, and in the summer of 1943, exhorted Paul Nitsche to transfer 10-12 such patients to Heidelberg every month. However, facilities for Schneider's research became steadily worse as the war progressed. In August 1944 he was complaining that Eichberg was delivering only one or two retarded subjects monthly; by the final year of the war, Schneider's research had been completely thwarted, since autopsies were not being performed on the children killed at Eichberg, leaving him without the crucial material he required.[717]

At least 430 children were murdered at Eichberg in the “Children's Speciality Department”, lodged in a separate single-storied building close to the main hospital. If, after a period of observation, the child showed no evidence of improvement, Schmidt applied to T4 in Berlin for “authorization for treatment” (Behandlung) – that is, the killing of the child.[718] In a minimum of thirty documented cases, lethal doses of medication were administered to children personally by Schmidt.[719] Four-year-old Friedrich S. was admitted to Eichberg, where his parents visited him on his birthday, 21 October 1941. He was underfed and covered in bruises. Two weeks later Friedrich's father wrote to the asylum and received a reply dated 14 November 1941 to the effect that his son was dead. A number of parents began to speculate how their child could appear healthy at the time of their visit, yet be dead a few days later.[720]

Sick foreign workers were also transferred to Eichberg, where within a few weeks at most they were dead, the great majority almost certainly murdered. In a letter to the Labour Office at Frankfurt am Main, Schmidt outlined his cynical abuse of his position as a “healer”: “The above-named is a mentally ill Russian female who is no longer capable of deployment in Germany. Nor can we anticipate that she will be capable of working again in the foreseeable future; she is lying here simply as a burden upon our authorities.” One month later the woman was dead.[721]

At the post-war trial of Mennecke, Schmidt, and others, Dr Elisabeth V. testified about conditions at Eichberg in 1942 after her return there to serve as a physician. Amongst other horrors, patients were being directed by non-medical staff to the rat-infested bunker mentioned earlier. When she complained to Schmidt about the treatment of foreign workers, he replied that she was just a woman, and would never be able to understand him regarding these matters.[722]



Prior to the commencement of “euthanasia”, a surgical department had been established as part of the sterilisation programme at the large hospital complex of Eglfing-Haar, near Munich in Bavaria.[723] The removal of adult patients from the hospital to the killing centres at Grafeneck and Hartheim was initiated by a letter from Dr. Walter Schultze of the Health Department of the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior in Munich, dated 8 January 1940. The first transport, consisting of 25 male patients, left on 18 January 1940. In total, from that time until 20 June 1941, when the last shipment in this initial phase of “euthanasia” was dispatched, 20 transports were sent from Eglfing-Haar at fairly regular intervals. The number of deportees varied between12-149 per trip.

At first it was believed that a total of 1,857 patients had been taken away to be killed, all but one of whom were non-Jews. However, when the surviving lists of those deported were checked, it was discovered that this figure did not include a transport of 191 Jewish inmates sent to Lublin for extermination on 20 September 1940. Eglfing-Haar served as an assembly point for Jewish patients from all Bavarian hospitals, who were housed in two isolated buildings. One male nurse later described an arrival of such Jewish inmates in September 1940: “There were many elderly gentlemen, including a city councilman from the Rhineland, business people, lawyers, an acquaintance of Thomas Mann,” as well as “frail, elderly ladies” and “a boy from Gmund whose parents had escaped to England.” On 20 September, Gekrat collected the191 handicapped Jewish patients. 33 were from Eglfing-Haar itself.[724] After several weeks had passed, relatives were informed that the patients had died in the hospital at Cholm (Chelm) in Poland.[725] On the same day that they were deported, Dr Hermann Pfannmüller, the man in charge of Eglfing-Haar, sent a list of the 191 Jews destined to be killed in the Lublin region to the Ministry of the Interior in Munich, smugly declaring: “I herewith report to the State Ministry that henceforth my institution will accommodate only Aryan mental patients.”[726]

The medical complex at Eglfing-Haar treated both adults and children, with the killing ward for children, established in September 1940, located separately from the regular children's section. The aforementioned Pfannmüller was an early participant in both adult and children's “euthanasia”. In Eglfing-Haar, he introduced a brutal system intended to murder his charges in a heartless manner; he also conducted tours through his institution in order to educate the public about the mental and physical deficiencies of his patients.[727] That this tutoring apparently achieved its objective can be gauged from the fact that some visitors questioned why the patients were still being kept alive.[728] They had a sympathetic listener in Pfannmüller, for even before “euthanasia” had officially commenced, Pfannmüller was murdering children at Eglfing-Haar.[729] In 1946, Ludwig Lehner, a Bavarian schoolteacher, provided testimony concerning his observations during the course of one such visit, undertaken in the autumn of 1939:

During my tour, I was eyewitness to the following events: After visiting a few other wards, the institution's director himself, as far as I remember he was called Pfannmüller, led us into a children's ward. This hall impressed me as clean and well-kept. About 15 to 25 cribs contained that number of children, aged approximately one to five years. In this ward Pfannmüller explicated his opinions in particular detail. I remember pretty accurately the sense of his speech, because it was, either due to cynicism or clumsiness, surprisingly frank: “For me as a National Socialist, these creatures” (meaning these children) “obviously represent only a burden for our healthy national body. We do not kill” (he might also have used a euphemism instead of the word 'kill') “with poison, injections, etc., because that would only provide new slanderous campaign material for the foreign press and certain gentlemen in Switzerland. No, our method is, as you can see, much simpler and far more natural.” As he spoke these words, [Pfannmüller] and a nurse from the ward pulled a child from its crib. Displaying the child like a dead rabbit, he pontificated with the air of a connoisseur and a cynical smirk something like this: “With this one, for example, it will still take two to three days.” I can still clearly visualize the spectacle of this fat and smirking man with the whimpering skeleton in his fleshy hand, surrounded by other starving children. Furthermore, the murderer then pointed out that they did not suddenly withdraw food, but instead slowly reduced rations.”[730]

On 30 November 1940, Pfannmüller submitted his first report on admissions and discharges to the new children's department. Of the eleven children admitted during the preceding month, five had already died.[731]

In January 1993, at the suggestion of the Archbishop of Munich, four nuns accused Dr. Hans-Joachim Sewering of participating in the transfer of more than 900 German Catholic children from Schönbrunn Sanatorium in the city of Dachau to Eglfing-Haar, where they died. Schönbrunn Sanatorium, which was nearly 100 years old by the time that Sewering worked there, was home to a large number of institutionalized children. Sewering, a member of the Nazi Party and the SS since 1933, rose from Staff Physician at Schönbrunn to Chief Medical Officer. Between 1942 and 1945, he participated in the “wild euthanasia” programme. About 900 children were sent from Schönbrunn to Eglfing-Haar for killing.

There is clear documentary evidence that Sewering signed an order on 23 October 1943 authorizing the transfer of fourteen-year-old Babette Fröwis from Schönbrunn to Eglfing-Haar, an order equivalent to a death sentence. Two weeks after her transfer from Schönbrunn, Babette Fröwis was dead, probably as a result of an intentional overdose of phenobarbital, despite the fact that the notation on her chart upon admission indicated that she was physically healthy. Sewering, her doctor, signed the transfer order, proof of his active role in the extermination process.

Sewering denied all knowledge of the killing of his patient. He continued to practice medicine in post-war Dachau, until public outcry about his involvement in “euthanasia” forced his resignation as President-Elect of the World Medical Association in 1993 (blamed, in true Nazi fashion, on “a world Jewish conspiracy”).[732] Twenty years earlier he had been appointed president of the German Medical Association. A man apparently devoid of any moral compass, he even attempted to shift the blame for the death of the murdered children onto the Franciscan nuns who had cared for them throughout the years 1933-1945. Sewering's statements so outraged the nuns that they issued a press release refuting his claims, and indicating that over 900 children had been taken away from them to be murdered as part of the “euthanasia” programme. The nuns stated that everyone at Schönbrunn, including the children themselves, knew that transfer to Eglfing-Haar meant death.[733] Quite unbelievably, despite all of the evidence of his participation in children's “euthanasia”, in May 2008 the German Federation of Internal Medicine awarded Sewering its highest honour, the Gunther-Budelmann medal “for services to the nation's health system”.[734]

Pfannmüller was proud of his achievements, telling a post-war German court that “putting the children to sleep was the cleanest form of euthanasia.”[735] At Pfannmüller's trial, testimony was offered concerning the death of a boy named Karl Memmel, who had consistently complained about the Eglfing-Haar starvation diet to his parents. They therefore supplied food for Karl, and were assured that it had been given to him. When they received notification of Karl's death, the boy's stepfather and his wife travelled to Eglfing-Haar. Eventually they were allowed to see Karl's emaciated body. Karl's stepfather told the court that “he can only have starved to death.” Karl Memmel's death at Eglfing-Haar, in the final moments of the war, was not exceptional. Pfannmüller's successor wrote about the killing of two Silesian refugee girls -- Ruth and Marie -- on 30 April and 1 May 1945, only days before Germany surrendered and after Hitler had already committed suicide. He concluded that both girls “had been…intentionally killed in a German hospital.”[736]

So successful were Pfannmüller's methods that in 1943 he established two “starvation houses” (Hungerhaüser) for adults. Often patients who were not considered sick enough for the gas chambers elsewhere were starved to death at Eglfing-Haar, where the motto was: “We give them no fat, then they go on their own.” Patients often suffered from hallucinations, and endlessly fantasized about food, or suffered from feelings of guilt over having done something wrong for which they were now being punished. From available records, it is estimated that at least 444 patients died at Eglfing-Haar from the effects of malnutrition.[737] The actual figure was probably greater.



The Bavarian state hospital at Kaufbeuren and its branch at Irsee, affiliated in 1876, served as a transfer institution prior to the “stop order” and thereafter as a centre for “wild euthanasia.” During the First World War, the institution had served as a military hospital for shell-shocked and severely disabled soldiers. Since 1929 it had been headed by Dr Valentin Faltlhauser, from 1940 a T4 expert, and an enthusiastic supporter of both adult and children's “euthanasia.”[738]Clearly a dedicated eugenicist, he had been responsible for initiating the sterilisation of patients from Kaufbeuren-Irsee at the municipal hospital. Since he was also a judge in the local Hereditary Health Court, some might have viewed this as a conflict of interests, as well as being ethically indefensible, but neither issue apparently bothered Faltlhauser. Nor did it seem to concern members of the medical profession elsewhere, who found themselves in the similar position of being, in effect, prosecutor and adjudicator.[739]

In 1948, nurse R., a member of a religious order, reported the following concerning the conduct of affairs at Kaufbeuren:

Until August 1940, the patients were respected. They were well taken care of, and the director tried to improve their physical and mental health as best he could. But all of a sudden this changed. When I returned from my vacation in August 1940, eleven of the patients on my ward F 3 b, where primarily calm patients stayed, were gone. No one knew at that time where they had been taken. We believed they had been transferred to an asylum where they would be well cared for. But when, on 8 November 1940, the second transport of women disappeared, and when later their clothes and underwear were returned in an incredible state — it appeared as if the underwear and clothes had been ripped off the patients — we became suspicious. The third transport of female patients occurred on 9 December 1940. It was especially difficult for us nurses to deliver these patients, for whom we had cared for many years, like cattle to an almost certain death. The personnel of the buses from Berlin were rough and frightening characters, some women, some men. They grabbed the patients roughly and tied them down in the cars, sometimes even with chains. I had the impression that they were disguised SS people. The ambulance cars did not arrive at the main entrance, but came before dawn, collected the patients in the inner yard of the so-called country house, and left the hospital before daybreak.

The patients gradually suspected what was going on, got terribly frightened and cried and screamed at times. The selection of patients took place according to lists that were on hand in the office of the inspector. Many patients suspected their fate in advance. One female patient who was transferred from ward F 3 b to the so-called country house, from where the transports departed, said: “Now I know what is ahead of me.” Prior to her transfer, she asked for a good-bye pancake and went to confession. During confession, she cried bitterly. Some time after her deportation, her sister was notified that the patient had died as a result of dysentery.[740]

A number of nurses attempted to persuade relatives to remove patients from the hospital and take them home, something which did occur in certain cases. If it did not, the patient's next-of-kin would receive a letter similar to the following:

This is to inform you that your son, in connection with economically necessary measures for the clearance of patients from some facilities, has been transferred to another institution unknown to us. The patient transfers have been ordered centrally according to instructions from the National Secretary of Defence. The hospital has absolutely no influence concerning the transfer or non-transfer of its patients. You will be notified about the condition of your son by the receiving institution at an appropriate time.[741]

This deliberation obfuscation of the patient's whereabouts all formed part of the camouflaging of the killing operation. In fact, as another nurse recalled, patients “were picked up, on the next day they were dead and the relatives got news, dead of typhus or whatever, and it was all lies.”[742]

A conference, knowledge of which was immediately declared to be a state secret, was held by Walter Schultze of the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior on 17 November 1942, at which the directors of mental hospitals in the region were asked to provide a “special diet “ (Sonderkost, or E-Kost, as Faltlhauser termed it) for inmates. Since far too few patients were dying in the asylums, it was said, it was unnecessary to treat many of the diseases that occurred. Moreover, the death rate could be cheaply and efficiently “improved”, as Faltlhauser illustrated. Like Pfannmüller in Eglfing-Haar and others elsewhere, Faltlhauser was a devotee of the deprivation of food as a killing method, stating at the meeting that following the cancellation of the formal “euthanasia” programme, patients could now be killed by gradual starvation. Initially he had been opposed to “euthanasia”, but then he had become informed about the official programme, and now regretted its abolition. He produced the Kaufbeuren-Irsee condemned patients' menu for the meeting's edification. Initially introduced at Irsee in August and at Kaufbeuren in October 1942,[743] it was totally fat free, consisting of potatoes, yellow turnips, and green or red cabbage cooked in water. He boasted that this diet would ensure a slow death within about three months.[744] Following the meeting, Schulze produced a directive on 30 November 1942, stating:

With regard to wartime food supplies and the state of health of those asylum patients who work, we can no longer justify the fact that all inmates of asylums are receiving the same rations, without regard on one hand to whether they perform productive labour or are in therapy, or on the other hand to whether they are simply being kept in the asylum without performing any labour worthy of the name.

It is therefore decreed, with immediate effect, that those inmates of asylums who do productive work or who are receiving therapy, and in addition children who are capable of being educated, war casualties, and those suffering from geriatric psychoses, shall be better fed – in both a quantitative and qualitative respect – than the remaining inmates.[745]

Different diets were produced for carefully categorized patients. The best fed ate twice daily, with an additional ration of bread; then followed those on the standard diet, and finally the condemned, provided with the “basic diet” or E-Kost. A male nurse stated:

With regard to the E-Kost diet, I can repeat the following, which was told to me by the kitchen nurse: at one time, there were two pots of meat broth in the kitchen. The nurse begged the administrative inspector to be allowed to serve the broth to the patients on the E-Kost diet, since they were almost assaulting each other due to hunger. He started to shout and curse — one could even say scream — that he would rather spill the broth into the trash dump than give it to the patients on the E-Kost diet.[746]

Until a crematorium was built, a number of the working patients had to bring corpses to the cemetery and for some time had to dig the required graves. The priest conducting burial ceremonies (as many six or seven every afternoon) reported that the ringing of church bells was prohibited lest people in the vicinity became suspicious about the number of deaths occurring at the asylum. In the event, he was permitted to ring the bells for just the first of the daily funerals.[747]

Kaufbeuren also served as one of eleven collection centres for adult foreign psychiatric patients who did not recover from their sickness within the six-week period allowed for so doing. Typically, their fate was as already described for other foreign workers at Eichberg.[748] More than 2,000 adult and child patients from Kaufbeuren-Irsee were either deported to extermination facilities, starved to death, or died as a result of lethal injections and/or overdoses of medication.[749] Condemned patients were given Luminal or Veronal and sometimes Trional in pill form, as well as Luminal and Morphine-Scopolamine in liquid form. Morphine-Scopolamine was given when Luminal or Veronal alone did not yield the desired result.[750] The final component in the extermination process was provided in July 1944 with the building of a crematorium in Kaufbeuren.[751]

Faltlhauser continued to kill children even after the war had ended. In late April 1945, American troops occupied Kaufbeuren but, placing the state hospital off limits, did not interfere with its operation. For more than two months, the institution was able to function without change. It was only on 2 July, after rumours had reached the military in Munich, that American soldiers entered the hospital.[752] A German physician had returned home from the war to discover that mental patients were still being exterminated at Kaufbeuren; doctors, nurses, and other staff had continued to murder patients unmolested.[753] What the Americans found when they entered Kaifbeuren was described by an officer:

When asked to see the second doctor in charge, investigators were nonchalantly informed that he had hanged himself the night before. No one seemed to be aroused or emotionally upset at his violent end. Such was the callous attitude the doctors and nurses had for violent death. Observers found, in an uncooled morgue, stinking bodies of men and women who had died days before. Their weight was between 26 and 33 Kilograms. Among the children still living was a 10 year-old boy whose weight was less than 10 Kilograms and whose legs at the calf had a diameter of 2 ½ inches. An informant stated that tuberculosis and other disease are rampant. Scabies, lice and other vermin were encountered throughout, linen was dirty and quarantine measures non-existent upon [the] investigators' arrival.[754]

On 29 May 1945, Sister Mina Wörle, head nurse of the children's ward at Kaufbeuren-Irsee, murdered four-year-old Richard Jenne with a lethal injection. At 1:10 P.M, Faltlhauser recorded the death of the child from “typhus.” Richard Jenne was the last known victim of the “euthanasia” programme to be directly targeted in this way, although the inmates of many other institutions were to die in the days to come as a result of the treatment they had received in establishments like Kaufbeuren.[755]

Wörle and her fellow nurses Olga Rittler and Paul Heichele joined Faltlhauser in the dock at Augsburg in 1949. The three nurses were accused of killing either adults or children at Kaufbeuren or Irsee, the minimum numbers of victims involved varying from 20 to 100 in each case. “The principles of justice…required retrospective atonement,” the court ruled, but the degree of expiation imposed on the quartet was hardly excessive. After noting their alleged dedication to healing, their “more or less” regret for their actions, and the other mitigating circumstances applying in each case, the court imposed sentences of 18 months imprisonment on Wörle, 21 months on Rittler and 12 months on Heichele. Arriving at an appropriate punishment for Rittler in particular was no easy task, since she had been involved in the first (gassing) and second (medication) phases of “euthanasia”, had been married to a man who served at Bernburg and Treblinka, and had initially retired from then returned to the practice of state sponsored killing entirely of her own volition, in the full knowledge of exactly what was involved. However, the court decreed, she had no previous convictions, a fact which apparently weighed heavily in her favour.[756] As for Faltlhauser, this mass murderer of children and adults received a jail sentence of just three years.



The first transport of patients to be sent to a killing centre from Wiesloch, a mental hospital near Heidelberg, left on 29 February 1940 for Grafeneck.[757] In his capacity as director of the institution, Dr Josef Artur Schreck committed 580 of his patients to certain death, having already personally witnessed the Grafeneck gas chamber in operation.[758] Between March and May 1940, Dr Ludwig Sprauer, in charge of the health department in the Baden Ministry of Interior, issued orders that a number of patients (usually in batches of 120) were to be prepared for transport. Gekrat removed 800 patients in total from Wiesloch, the last of the transports leaving in the middle of 1941. The nature of the transports eventually became the subject of discussion within the local community because of the stereotyped nature of the letters received by relatives. These letters usually read “Your mother/brother/sister/son,” respectively, “has died. Unfortunately all medical skill has failed to keep him/her alive. His/her ashes can be obtained by you by writing to .....”[759]

A children's killing ward was established at Wiesloch early in 1941, supervised by Schreck. Having personally murdered three children and conducted autopsies on their bodies,[760] Schreck declined to perform further homicides, stating that “a hospital is not the appropriate place” for such killings; he did, however, continue to supervise the killing ward. During visits to Wiesloch, Dr. Fritz Kühnke, a young physician from Eglfing-Haar,[761] performed the actual killing of a further eight children,.[762] The last of these children was killed in May 1941. Aged between three and five, the children were killed by means of injections of Luminal, which induced terminal pneumonia. Schreck claimed to have been motivated by purely humanitarian considerations – it was “inhumane” to prolong the life of a handicapped child.[763]

Schreck, director of the Rastatt hospital since 1934,[764] was recruited by Sprauer in 1939. Although he had not been informed of their purpose, Schreck shrewdly suspected that the Meldebogen he was asked to process in late 1939 were not unconnected with a programme “along the lines of Binding/Hoche.”[765] In October 1939, Sprauer had been summoned to a meeting in Berlin by Herbert Linden, where, having first been sworn to secrecy, he was informed of the plan to kill incurable mental patients under the guise of “euthanasia”. By doing so, beds for wartime casualties would be made available. A legal basis for such action existed, Linden stated, although no formal law had yet been enacted.

Sprauer controlled twelve hospitals in the Baden region. However, he only succeeded in convincing two of the directors of those hospitals to cooperate fully with the “euthanasia” programme – Schreck and a Dr Gercke who was in charge of the mental home at Hub. All of the other leading medical personnel of the region resisted implementation of the proposal.[766] Some were more successful than others. For example, in December 1939, when Sprauer informed Dr Hans Römer, director of the Illenau mental home that Römer's patients were to be killed in accordance with a Führer order, Römer simply refused to cooperate. He managed to delay the removal of the victims for a few months, but after Römer had been forcibly retired, Schreck was temporarily appointed in Römer's place long enough to have the patients gassed. Illenau was then closed down.[767]

On the other hand, August Schilli, head of the Fussbach hospital and a member of the SS, was rather more successful in his opposition to the planned killings. Having discovered that his patients were being murdered he began discharging others he felt were threatened, or alternatively made sure that they were hidden or otherwise unavailable when transports were scheduled. On one occasion he arrived in his full SS uniform, and having argued fiercely with the Gekrat leader, managed to withhold sixty of the ninety patients slated for extermination. The next day Schilli visited Sprauer to file an official protest, and to inform him that no further patients would be handed over. Despite making threatening noises, Sprauer was unable, or unwilling to press the matter, and Schilli succeeded in saving the lives of the majority of the Fussbach inmates.[768] These actions, and those of others, indicate that it was possible to resist the “euthanasia” programme, at least to some degree, and to retain a modicum of morality. But in general, Sprauer's bullying tactics, coupled with threats of imprisonment or worse,[769] ensured that the project eventually attained its objectives.[770]

In an interrogation conducted on 9 June 1945 with an understandably nervous Dr. Wilhelm Möckel, then director at Wiesloch, the latter stated that in 1940, a delegation came from Berlin which was headed by Professor Carl Schneider of Heidelberg. This delegation arranged for the removal of patients by Gekrat, with killings to be carried out at Grafeneck and Hadamar. Möckel claimed: “I never wanted to hear about what they did at Grafeneck. It always nauseated me. Later I could not stand it any longer. Whenever a transport was to leave at night, I usually left the institution at noon and did not come back until the next day.”

At first the patients did not know where they were being taken, but later when they became aware of what was happening there were terrible scenes as inmates refused to be transported. Eventually a storm of protest arose among the local populace because of the formulaic death notices which were being received from Grafeneck, Hadamar, and Brandenburg. At some time during that period Sprauer held a meeting and said that patients who had been transferred would no longer be “put away”, but 8 or 14 days later another batch of death notices were dispatched. Because of the wave of public protest, Möckel stated, the first phase of the mass killing of patients in special killing centres was discontinued in the middle of 1941, and a policy of extermination by starvation in the state institutions themselves was introduced. Starvation had the advantage of spreading deaths out over a longer period of time, so that large numbers of patients were not dying on the same day.

600 inmates from Wiesloch were transferred to Hadamar for killing in the three years to June 1944, when the last of these transports occurred. This was in addition to the 800 patients who were transferred to Grafeneck and Hadamar for killing between January 1940 and June 1941. Möckel also transferred patients for death by starvation to various other institutions, including Eichberg and Kaufbeuren. 150 cases, 60 men and 90 women, constituted the last transport to Kaufbeuren on 4 June 1944. A starvation centre named a “research house” was set up on Möckel's own hospital grounds. It was taken over and staffed by Carl Schneider, and operated throughout 1942 and 1943. Möckel claimed that he did not know how many patients were killed in this centre, and stated that he had not been aware until shortly before his interrogation that any patients were killed there at all. Schneider had his own staff functioning at the “research house”, separate from the Wiesloch employees. “Our personnel were indignant over the way these people lived. They received wine and beer by the car-load directly from Berlin.” It may come as no surprise that the Wiesloch staff were more concerned about supplies of alcohol than the fate of those supposedly in their care.

The inmates transported to killing centres as well as the patients killed at Wiesloch itself from 1940 to 1945 did not include any Jewish victims, since as early as 1935 the Jewish patients of Wiesloch had been dispatched elsewhere, together with healthy Jews living in Wiesloch and the surrounding area. They had all been taken away to an unknown destination which was supposed to be “somewhere in the Pyrenees”. Jewish patients were written off the books as “transferred to an institution outside of the province of Baden”.[771]

Möckel stated that one of his nurses, Amalie Widmann, once set out to have a look at the killing centre in Grafeneck. This nurse had apparently become depressed from seeing so many of her patients transported to their death, and developed some kind of an obsession about seeing the institution for herself. She was arrested soon after she arrived at Grafeneck. Möckel had unexpectedly received a telephone call from Grafeneck informing him that one of his nurses had been arrested on a charge of spying on the hospital. She was arrested there by the S.S. At Möckel's request she was finally released, but not before she was threatened with a concentration camp if she tried a thing like that again “and that means death”.

Widmann personally testified that among the patients on the first transport leaving Wiesloch for a killing centre on 29 February 1940, there were a good many that had become endeared and attached to her. After they had been taken away, she found herself constantly thinking about their sad fate, unable to rest day or night. Finally, she felt that it might give her peace of mind if she could actually see what happened at Grafeneck, and she therefore decided to visit there for herself. So she asked for a leave of absence without telling anybody what she planned to do, and went to Grafeneck on 22 July 1940. When she got off the train at Marbach a.d. Lauter bei Münzingen, which was the station for Grafeneck, the people who she asked for directions to the hospital looked at her in a peculiar way, as if there was something strange or funny about her. When she finally arrived in front of the institution at Grafeneck, she found a sign reading: “Entry strictly prohibited because of danger of infection” (“Zutritt wegen Seuchengefahr strengstens verboten”). There were heavily armed men in green uniforms about the area, obviously policemen. Suddenly Widmann felt gripped by an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and she ran away over an open field, crying bitterly. After a while she saw that she was on the grounds of a stud farm. The farmer came and asked her whether he could do anything for her, and she told him that she wanted to go and see the institution in Grafeneck. The farmer then told her: “Do not go there. One must not say anything”. Shortly afterwards SS-men with hounds appeared. She was brought before an official who asked her what she was doing at Grafeneck. She said that she wanted to see some of her old patients and find out how they were. The official then stated that the patients liked it so much there that they would never want to leave again. He interrogated her roughly about her antecedents and any connections she may have had with other groups. Then he telephoned Möckel. Widmann added that she felt she owed her life to Möckel, because if he had not spoken on her behalf, they would have killed her. The sole reason for her going to Grafeneck was because of her close relationship with her patients.[772]

When also interviewed in the summer of 1945, Dr. Alfred Schwenninger was rather less complimentary about the good Samaritan Möckel, who, so Schwenninger claimed, was an old National Socialist of many years standing, and was fully behind the extermination of the mentally ill. Möckel was closely tied by bonds of personal friendship to the originators and main activators of the “euthanasia” programme, said Schwenninger, who was himself director of the military section at Wiesloch. In Schwenninger's opinion the principal players in the implementation of the policy in Baden were Carl Schneider and his associates at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Heidelberg, Werner Heyde in Würzburg, Paul Nitsche, a Dr. Packheiser, the principal expert in the Public Health Office of Baden, and Möckel himself. “I once met the whole gang here. They used to come to Wiesloch regularly for discussions,” reported Schwenninger, who felt that Packheiser, originally a physician who took up a career in the Health Ministry, was a particularly evil individual. It was Packheiser who had first informed Möckel about the coming arrangements concerning the killing of the mentally ill in the summer of 1939, passing on the information that it would commence as soon as war broke out.

After the `stop order' in August 1941, the operation at the State Institution in Wiesloch headed by Schneider killed patients locally in small groups, continued Schwenninger. One day, shortly after Stalingrad, that arrangement ceased.. Then the third method began – the systematic starvation at special institutions to which patients were transferred in large numbers. From these institutions relatives received the standard letter announcing the death of the patient.. Schwenninger claimed that he had always protested against these activities. “I used to stick my neck out almost to the point of being sent to a concentration camp. Here I was always surrounded by spies, Möckel's spies”.

Schwenninger added that psychopaths were sometimes transferred from state institutions to concentration camps. He knew of ninety-four such patients who were taken to a concentration camp which supplied slave manpower to the radium mines in Johannesthal. Of these ninety-four, eight were still alive. Since 1934 many criminals had been shunted into state institutions for the insane under paragraph 42b of the Penal Code, and these individuals were later supposedly transferred to concentration camps.[773]


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