Grafeneck and the "euthanasia" action

Even after more than half a century, the murder of helpless patients remains a chapter of Nazi history which human memory and imagination find difficult to comprehend. Next to the Holocaust, the wholesale murder of European Jews, this political capital crime stands for the end of humanity during the time of National Socialism. In a period of less than two years - from January, 1940, to August, 1941 - more than 70,000 mentally ill and handicapped people were killed in Germany. Death camps and crematoriums for this purpose were set up at six locations in Germany. One of these locations - physically only 60 km from the state capital of Stuttgart, yet nearly obliterated from human conscience - is the castle at Grafeneck (in the community of Gomadingen) near Münsingen on the Swabian Alb.

Here, between January and December, 1940, 10,654 patients from more than 40 so-called "Care Facilities" in Baden, Wuertemberg, and Bavaria and representing members from an uncounted number of communities throughout Baden-Wuertemberg and Bavaria were murdered. The Grafeneck castle, which had served as the hunting lodge and summer residence of Dukes of Wuertemberg, had been owned by the Stuttgart Samaritan Foundation since 1928, and operated as a so-called "Cripple Home". With its secluded location on a long rise in the Swabian Alb approximately six kilometers from Münsingen, the Samaritan Foundation was a nearly ideal candidate from the point of view of the "euthanasia" planners' criteria for organization and secrecy.

The Beginning

On October 12, 1939, a decree by the Wuertemberg Interior Ministry ordered the immediate confiscation for "the needs of the Reich". As part of this decree, the Samaritan Foundation was ordered to vacate the premises by October 14. Three months later, Grafeneck had been transformed into the first killing institute and became the model for all subsequent liquidation facilities. Grafeneck was now officially designated as a "Reich Care Institute" or "State Care Facility". The killing personnel, recruited almost exclusively from Berlin, was housed in the castle and numbered between 60 and 80 individuals. The actual killing complex was located 300 meters from the castle itself and consisted of a killing shed equipped with a gas chamber; the crematorium with two mobile ovens; an admissions barracks where the victims were stripped, photographed, and given a superficial medical examination, as well as a garage where, beginning in the Spring of 1940, two of the three gray busses belonging to Grafeneck were housed.

Between January and December, 1940, a total of 10,654 institutional patients became victims of the "T4 Action" at Grafeneck. Of these, approximately 4,500 came from Reich institutions in Baden, just under 4,000 from institutions in Wuertemberg, more than 1,500 from Bavarian facilities, and a further 500 from institutions in other parts of the Reich. The statistics for Wuertemberg alone cite 20 facilities from which patients were brought to Grafeneck to be murdered.

Twelve months after the start of the "Euthanasia" action and just prior to the 1940/1941 New Year, the facility at Grafeneck was "shut down", presumably at the intervention of Himmler. The reason for this appears to be the continued unwillingness on the part of a large portion of the population as well as protests from churches and within the NSDAP itself.

The decision to close Grafeneck and to relocate the killing personnel to Hadamar in Hesse was probably also greatly influenced by the extensive "exhaustion" of the immediate Grafeneck region and the consequent attainment of a previously defined "planned total".

The entire "T4 Action" was only dissolved eight months later at Hitler's verbal order.

The actors

Within the context of the preparation work for the so-called "euthanasia" action, there was close cooperation between state and official party offices at both the national as well as the state and local level with regard to all aspects of planning and execution.

At the national Reich level, this was the central "Tötungsbehörde" (literally, "Killing Office"), T4, empowered directly by the Chancellery of the leader of NSDAP, with its main offices at Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin-Charlottenburg and headed by Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler and Viktor Brack, together with the Reich Ministry, Department of Health Services, Office of Institutional Affairs, under the direction of Dr. Herbert Linden.

At the state level, it was primarily the Health Departments of the Ministries of the Interior in Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, and Munich which were responsible for matters concerning facilities responsible for the care and treatment of the mentally ill, together with the Reich Defense Commissars on whose orders the Interior Ministries carried out the relocation of patients, which were responsible for the "euthanasia" (T4 Action).

1. Starting in September, 1939, and based on this one could say "equal responsibility", first the mental facilities in southern Germany and then their residents were rapidly catalogued, the residents selected with the aid of registration forms, after which they were transported either directly or via so-called "transient institutions" to the castle at Grafeneck which had by then been converted into a killing facility, where, beginning in January, 1940, they were murdered.

2. The first medical superintendent, Dr. Horst Schumann, who initially had overall responsibility for seeing to the smooth operation of the mass murder, personally handled the first transport of 25 male patients to Grafeneck. This transport left the Eglfing-Haar institute near Munich on January 18, 1940. This is most probably the date on which the first individuals were murdered at Grafeneck. The first institution in Wuertemberg from which patients were "transferred" to Grafeneck was the state-run mental facility at Weinsberg.

3. In June, 1947, Grafeneck was returned to the Samaritan Foundation. The Foundations, with head offices in Nürtingen since 1975, is a member of the Diakonischen Werkes and the Protestant Church in Wuertemberg.

Since 1990, a memorial in the form of an outdoor Memorial Chapel provides a reminder of the more than 10,500 victims of the so-called "euthanasia" at Grafeneck. A stone threshold sunk in the ground at the memorial entrance lists the homes and institutions from which the individuals were brought to Grafeneck for killing. A memorial book which is continuously being added to currently contains the names of more than 6,000 victims.

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