Historical and contemporary aspects of the children’s department and the Educational tract at Asylum area of the sanatorium and nursing home “Am Steinhof”, Vienna Austria.
T4, the euthanasia of physically as well as mentally handicapped people and in this case children, in the neuropathic clinic “Am Steinhof” are considered a crime against humanity! But hardly anyone in Austria knows the story of the 789 victims of the Spiegelgrund. With this literary research, Marie Vogt tries to bring to light a dark chapter in medical history.
…789 victims between 1939 and 1945
…NS – Doctor Dr. Heinrich Gross was never convicted and had an emerging career after 1945
…Most were poisoned, but recorded on death certificates as pneumonia victims
At the time of the Nazi regime, the striving for a seemingly “perfect” society was very pronounced. People who did not meet these ideas or who worked against them were wanted to be removed. A mentally, psychologically or physically ill person did not fit into the community image of the National Socialists at that time. With the consideration of a cost-benefit calculation or a “redemption” the implementation of these ideas was justified. This mentality was not only implemented in adults, but also in children; euthanasia on children began a year earlier – before adult euthanasia.
The term “euthanasia” comes from ancient Greek and is made up of the words “eu” (good) and “thanatos” (death). Loosely translated the word stands for “beautiful or easy death”. In ancient times, the term was used for “an easy death without long previous illness” and was highly regarded in society. Over time, the meaning of the term changed and was mostly used in connection with the act of a doctor to bring about an easy and painless death. In the late 19th century the term also appeared in connection with seriously and terminally ill people. At the time of National Socialism, the meaning of the term changed again. The terms “worth living” and “not worth living” were given a status in connection with “euthanasia”. A person who brings a social and economic benefit was seen as “worth living”. Sick and disabled people were “unworthy of life”. Even with children, care was taken to ensure that they could later do their expected part in society. The implementation of this ideology first took place with children in 1939, while adult euthanasia followed a year later. In total, around 30,000 people in Austria were killed as a result of “euthanasia programs”. Between 1939 and 1945 around 250,000 to 300,000 “mentally and physically ill people” died as a result of “euthanasia”.
The basis of child euthanasia goes back to an event that supposedly took place in 1939 – known as the “Knauer Fall”. Parents of a mentally and physically severely disabled toddler asked Hitler for permission to “redeem” their child. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s attendant doctor, visited the family and legitimized the request. The consequence of “Case K” was that Brandt and Philipp Bouhler, the head of the Fuehrer’s office, were commissioned by Hitler to act in the same way in similar cases. (see Pscheiden 2015, p. 41)
The organization of the course of the Nazi euthanasia began in the spring of 1939. With the help of registration forms, the selection took place, which was then assessed by experts. In the summer of 1939 the plan was completed and execution could begin. The Fuehrer’s chancellery was not allowed to appear as the issuer of child killings, so under these circumstances one spoke of the “Reich Committee for the Scientific Recording of Hereditary and Constitutional Serious Ailments” – also known as the “Reich Committee” for short. From that moment on, it was the administrative center. (see Irmler 2008, p. 51) In order to murder children and adolescents – or to watch them for the time being – so-called “children’s departments” were set up in existing sanatoriums and clinics in the Reich. As far as we know today, there were 37 children’s departments, which in Austria were among others in Graz, Klagenfurt and “Am Spiegelgrund” in Vienna. In most cases, the killing agent was the sedative Luminal, which was added to food or milk bottles. Luminal, originally called phenobarbital, is a drug from the group of barbiturates introduced in 1912 and is used in the treatment of epilepsy and for anesthesia preparation. If the treatment with Luminal was ineffective, the pain reliever morphine was injected. As a result of the low dose, the children became unconscious and only breathed superficially. In many cases, the result of luminal poisoning was pneumonia occurring after two to five days, the most frequently mentioned cause of death in medical records. In this way, the appearance of a natural death was preserved. In addition to “direct kills” by the influence of poison, withholding food and giving pills or syringes was another way of killing the children. The malnourished children had to sleep in the generally poorly heated pavilions with the windows open in winter, almost without clothes. This did not necessarily lead to fatal illnesses such as fever, but children also died from it due to a lack of treatment. To date, the number of children and young people admitted to “Am Spiegelgrund” is not known, but the data entered in the “Book of the Dead” can be certain. According to this, 789 infants died on the Steinhof grounds between 1940 and 1945
It was not until 1995 that the children of Nazi “euthanasia” were seen as victims of National Socialism. They were accepted as victims of this time in the National Fund of the Austrian Republic and in the Victims Welfare Act and were granted their remaining rights to “compensation, victim ID, pensions, etc.”
Surviving children not only had to struggle with the terrible experiences of childhood, but were also allowed to watch their perpetrators build a post-war career. Dr. Heinrich Gross, who was the chief doctor of the “Reich Committee Department” at the Vienna “Euthanasia Clinic” Am Spiegelgrund, was confronted again with his Nazi past in the 1970s, but never received a just punishment for his actions. His colleague Dr. Marianne Türk was sentenced to ten years in prison, but since she was a woman and therefore “dependent” on her male colleagues, she received extenuating circumstances.
“I also gave injections sometimes. I don’t know how many children I have personally done it to. “,
Dr. Marianne Türk
In the 1970s, due to the exposure of Dr. Heinrich Gross and his indictment, there was a real reappraisal of child euthanasia for the first time. Until then, there was silence about these events. Nowadays, memorials and monuments are used to commemorate that time. In the 90s and early 2000s there were some contemporary witnesses, such as Friedrich Zawrel, who went to schools and reported on their experiences. Unfortunately, due to the demise of most of the witnesses, this will no longer be possible in 2021.
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Scientific work prepared for: MGW
Author & Intellectual Property (C) of Marie Vogt / September 2021