"Am Spiegelgrund" (Städtische Jugendfürsorgeanstalt “Am
part of the Niederösterreichische
und Pflegeanstalt für Nerven- und Geisteskranke "Am Steinhof";
1942 renamed Heilpädagogische
Klinik der Stadt Wien "Am Spiegelgrund";
1942 divided into Wiener Städtische Nervenklinik für
Kinder "Am Spiegelgrund" ("Municipal Mental Clinic for Children")
apart from the Wiener Städtische Erziehungsanstalt
"Am Spiegelgrund" ("Municipal Reformatory" -
also referred to as Wiener
Städtisches Erziehungsheim "Am Spiegelgrund")
The Kinderfachabteilung in Vienna, the Städtische Jugendfürsorgeanstalt “Am
Spiegelgrund” Wien, operated from late July 1940 until May 1945. It was the
first of at least two "special children's wards" to open in Austria, and the
second one established overall. The clinic's medical directors
were Prof. Dr. Erwin Jekelius (until early 1942) and Dr. Ernst Illing
(since 1942), and responsible for the "special children's ward" were Dr.
Heinrich Gross, Dr. Margarethe Hübsch, and Dr. Marianne Türk. Dr.
Jekelius died in 1952 in a Soviet prison. Dr. Illing was sentenced to death
and executed in 1946. Dr. Gross had an illustrious career (see below). Dr.
Hübsch was acquitted, and Dr. Türk sentenced to 10 year incarceration (she
Close to 800 children died in the special children's ward in "Am
Spiegelgrund," making it a site of one of the largest number of
children murdered. The "special children's ward" was housed in pavilions 15
and 17. The reformatory was housed in pavilion 18. In pavilion 23 was the
Städtische Arbeitsanstalt Steinhof," which housed young women aged 20-22 and
In newspaper reports in the immediate postwar period there was little
question about the nature of the crimes - here illustrated by the heading
"The children's murderers of the Steinhof in the dock." This illustrates
that the murders were publicly known in what Wolfgang Neugebauer has called
a brief anti-fascist period after WWII during which perpetrators were
Source: Author's photo of exhibit
at the Spiegelgrund (2009)
Dr. Gross was sentenced after World War II to two years for a single case of
manslaughter, but the verdict was set aside on a technicality, and Dr. Gross
became one of Austria's most prominent forensic experts. When in the late
1970s the Committee for Critical Medicine (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kritische
Medizin) under the leadership of Dr. Werner Vogt made allegations about Dr.
Gross concerning his involvement in "children's euthanasia," the latter sued
for slander and damages but lost, with the High Court (Oberlandesgericht)
making a affirmative determination of Dr. Gross's complicit involvement in
and responsibility for the murders that happened in the "special children's
ward" - the beginning of the end of Dr. Gross's medical career. The
Arbeitgemeinschaft's dispute with Dr. Gross followed an incident in which
Friedrich Zawrel, survivor of Spiegelgrund, recognized Dr. Gross as one of
his torturers during the Nazi period, and Dr. Gross then wrote up a spurious
negative psychiatric assessment to have Zawrel committed in order to
cover up. This case had ended up in the press and come to the attention of
the Committee for Critical Medicine.
In 1988, the "year of reflection" (Bedenkjahr) inspired by the 50th
anniversary of Austria's integration with larger Germany (the "Anschluss"),
two commemorative plaques were placed on the hospital's territory, with the
inscription "In commemoration of the victims in psychiatry of the National
Socialist State, and as a warning. Established in 1988." Another
plaque with the same inscription was placed in the vicinity as well.
That year for the first time a commemorative event took place that included
staff. It was dedicated to the victims of NS-psychiatry in
the psychiatric establishments in Vienna. (see Gabriel/Neugebauer p.
One year later the room where Dr. Gross’s ghastly collection of brain
specimens of victims was housed in the cellar of the hospital's pathology
section was re-commissioned as a "room of commemoration," simply by putting
up a plaque. The plaque displayed the following text: "The Psychiatric
Hospital Baumgartner Höhe established this room 50 years after the beginning
of the murderous program against the sick and disabled in commemoration of
the children who died in the Wiener Städtische Nervenklinik für Kinder Am
Spiegelgrund." There was no public acknowledgement about the
re-commissioning of the room, and the room was off limits to the general
public, as access was apparently only granted to nursing students as
part of their training and, occasionally, to journalists.
http://de.doew.braintrust.at/popup.php?t=img&id=304 and Salzburger
Nachrichten, 19 Nov. 1994
The presentation of the "room" in such a farcical way as a "memorial" was
soon recognized as scandalous, as brain specimens from the victims, on the
basis of which Dr. Gross had launched his scientific career, remained stored
in the basement of the hospital. In 1992 the Green Party member and district
councilor Wolfgang Krisch suggested a burial of the specimens in an honorary
grave and a more appropriate way of documenting the crimes of the past in
the form of an appropriate memorial space. Dr. Wolfgang Neugebauer, then
director of the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance, also advocated
for a more appropriate form of commemoration and sought to have Dr. Gross
finally criminally prosecuted. Relatives of victims were scandalized by
the way in which remains of victims were presented as well. After
discussions in which suggestions for a different form of memorial were
rejected at first, the clinic's director, Dr. Gabriel, was amenable to
considering different options for commemoration, such as an exhibit of the
history of the hospital, including the Nazi period, a memorial, or a
documentation with the display of such specimens.
A burial of the remains of the victims was at first made impossible by
the criminal investigations into Dr. Gross's criminal past, which commenced
in 1997 after documents formerly inaccessible in the GDR implicated Dr.
Gross, which led to reports and inquiries by the magazine "profil" (M.
Enigl), the medical dissertation by Matthias Dahl, efforts by the directory
of the Documentation Center of Austrian resistance to have Dr. Gross
charged, the Green Party, and reporting in international news
organizations. Dr. Gross ended up being charged with murder in 1999
(suffering from dementia, he was never held accountable and died in 2005).
Source: Koller, p. 116.
Remains of dead children misused for scientific investigations were buried
in 597 urns in April 2002 under exclusion of the public, to conform to
wishes of relatives. One urn was buried in the presence of representatives
of major religious organizations. A public commemorative event with the
symbolic burial of 2 additional urns was held on 28 April 2002 at the
victims' honorary grave in Vienna's Central Cemetery. The grave has a plaque
with the following inscription: "In memory of the children and youths who as
'life unworthy of living' fell victim to National-Socialist Euthanasia
in the then children's clinic Am Spiegelgrund in the years 1940 to
1945." A description of the event can be found here.
On the occasion of this burial one month later a permanent exhibit was
opened up in pavilion 5, first floor, for which the Documentation Center of
Austrian Resistance was responsible. The group that was charged with its
conception included representatives of public and civil organizations
as well as scholars with a background in history, medicine, and psychiatry.
The exhibit had as its theme the larger framework of Nazi medical crimes in
Vienna and included a commemorative display of some of the children, as they
had been photographed before their death, as well as some displays with
texts. It was initially conceptualized as a traveling exhibit and was thus
of a provisional nature. It was meagerly funded by the city of Vienna, which
apparently in 2002 had promised to establish a scientific center there for
research on the crimes.
An online exhibit "War Against the 'Inferior': On the History of
Nazi Medicine in Vienna" opened also at the time, with information that
was more extensive than found on site. At the time, it was one of the most
extensive documentation of NS-"children's euthanasia" crimes found on
the Internet. The exhibitors decided to embrace online delivery of
information early in part because of the provisional and spatially
restricted nature of the offsite exhibit and because of in-house technical
expertise that made a fairly elaborate website possible without being
prohibitively expensive. The website has also been much easier to update and
enhance than an offline exhibit, and such updates to the websites did indeed
occur long before the offline exhibit was reconceptualized.
In November 2003 another memorial was erected, in the form of 772 light
stelae, one for each child victim. Its concept was designed by Tanja Walter.
The text display reads: "Memorial for the victims of the Spiegelgrund.
This memorial commemorates those children and youth who were murdered in the
Nazi euthanasia facility Am Spiegelgrund between 1940 and 1945. Each stela
stands for an extinguished life. The [stelae's] tight order reflects the
situation of the children, held hostage and deprived of their freedom."
The exhibit online was revised and expanded since its inception,
and a revised on site exhibit opened in July 2008. A brochure is available.
The exhibit includes a part on "children's euthanasia," also available online (in German/English).
On site guided tours of the exhibit are offered to visitors (in
2008: 88), mostly to school classes. Also, at the site Friedrich Zawrel
periodically offers talks about about his personal experiences with the
"Kinderfachabteilung." A report on his talk can be found here.
At the clinic an annual memorial takes place in November. It is organized by
the local district governor of the SPÖ, Andrea Kalchbrenner, and
Waltraud Häupl, a sister to one of the child victims and long-term advocate
of commemoration of these crimes. The choir of the local high school
contributes musical elements and there are reminiscenses about the victims
and their suffering. The attendants conclude the event by placing white
roses at the field of stelae.
Source: Wolfgang Krisch
The Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv put together an exhibit entitled
"Kindereuthanasie in Wien 1940 bis 1945 - Krankengeschichten als Zeugen"
(Children's Euthanasia in Vienna, 1940 -1945: Medical Records as Witnesses),
which was shown there in 2005 and is still available online. The occasion for this exhibit was the transfer
of the medical records to the archive. This exhibit was also shown for some
time in the theater on the premises of the clinic.
There is also a display right in front of pavilions 15 and 17, detailing
some of the events that happened there as part of a "historical path,"
established in 2007. There is a guided tour once a week, and it includes a
brief stop at the exhibit.
In 2012, the online exhibit was revised, particularly by the addition of
video testimony by witnesses, and the onsite exhibit expanded with the
addition of parts of the exhibit of the Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv.
As further remains of victims of NS-medicine in Vienna had been discovered,
they were buried on 9 May 2012 at the Central Cemetery in Vienna. The
remains could be attributed to 61 victims, whose names are listed on the
memorial stone. Also buried where the medical specimens of additional number
of 27 victims of the Kinderfachabteilung at the Spiegelgrund.
A recent article
by the author has addressed the fate of Jewish children with disabilities
who became victims at the Spiegelgrund (Kaelber, 2013).
There is a searchable data base of the victims here:
and the entry on the Spiegelgrund in wikipedia is extensive: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Am_Spiegelgrund
Most recently, there have been a number of developments:
- a local commemoration of the victims by local students occurred on 20 Nov.
2014 (see here; program);
- Friedrich Zawrel's death on 20. Feb. 2015 had a large echo in the Austrian
- the exhibit "Painting against Forgetting" (Zeichnen gegen das Vergessen)
includes a portrait of Johan K., who was killed at the Spiegelgrund in 1943
- a report by a working group addressed abusive conditions at the Steinhof
(Otto-Wagner Spital) for disabled minors as patients there between 1960 and
1980 (see here);
- a stumbling block for Spiegelgrund victim Hansi Thaler was placed in St.
Johann at a former residence of his parents in 2014 (here);
- the Spiegelgrund was part of the social media project "The Vienna
Project," with 38 "memory spaces." A hand-cut stencils were used to spray
the tag "What happens when we forget to remember?" onto the pavement at the
entrance of the hospital (see here).
Recent attention to the Spiegelgrund has been paid by the science author Steve Silberman in his book NeuroTribes,
which in one chapter addresses "children's euthanasia" in the context of
Viennese medicine under der Nazis, with a particular focus on Dr. Hans
Asperger. The author does not engage with some of the most recent literature
(much of it in German). This literature includes the foundational studies by
Herwig Czech (2011, 2014a, 2015), who shows Dr. Asperger, who was head of
the Heilpädagogische Abteilung
(Department for Special Education/Orthopedagogy) of the University Pediatric
Clinic at the time, to have been part of a commission as a "special
education consultant" for the city of Vienna, in 1942 to assess the
"educability" of children at the children's facility Gugging, of whom 35
were then found "not educable" and sent to the Spiegelgrund. Of the 29 of
these of these children sent there in 1942, all died. At the Pediatric
Clinic, at least one case is known in which Dr. Asperger by way of his
evaluation initiated the direct transfer of a child to the Spiegelgrund, the
almost-three-year old Herta Schreiber, in 1941. The child died less than 3
months after Dr. Asperger's evaluation, at a time when there was little
question among leading medical practitioners about the role of the
Spiegelgrund as a killing facility for infants and children.
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Last updated: 29 August 2015