Eichberg (Eltville) (Landesheilanstalt
The Kinderfachabteilung at the Eichberg clinic (asylum), situated close
town of Eltville, was the first of two to be established in what today
is the state
of Hesse. It operated from March or early April 1941 until March 1945.
director of the clinic was Dr. Friedrich Mennecke (who was also an
evaluator for "T4"), and responsible for the Kinderfachabteilung was
Dr. Walter Schmidt, who was also the clinic's deputy director. Dr.
Mennecke was commissioned for the German army at the end of 1942 due to
a conflict with Otto Friedrich ("Fritz") Bernotat, the commissioner
for the state hospitals in Hessen-Nassau, and thereafter was director
on a nominal basis, while Dr. Schmidt carried on as de facto director.
The Eichberg trial in Frankfurt in December 1946 was the second
"euthanasia" trial under the jurisdiction of German courts (after the
conviction of Dr. Hilde Wernicke and nurse H. Wieczorek in Berlin for
their involvement in crimes at Meseritz-Obrawalde in March 1946), in an
effort to hold the perpetrators accountable for about 2,300 patients
who had died at
the Eichberg as a result of the murderous policies, and as many who had
been sent to die in the gas chamber at Hadamar. The trial included a
judicial review of the murders in the children's ward, and henceforth
all subsequent publications that mentioned "children's euthanasia"
listed the Eichberg as one of those facilities where such murders had
taken place and where beyond speculation. It figured quite prominently,
for example, in Alice Platen-Hallermund's Die Tötung Geisteskranker in Deutschland
his role in filling out for T4, his role as
medical evaluator for this organization, his involvement of the
transfer of patients to the murder facility Hadamar, the establishment
and operation of a special children's ward, and finally the murder of
adult patients, Dr. Mennecke was sentenced to death and died in 1947
before the verdict could be carried out, to tuberculosis or possibly to
suicide. Dr. Schmidt confessed to have killed between 30-40 children
and head nurse Helene Schürg between 30-40 on her part. The nurse also
stated that about 500 children had been admitted to the special
children's ward, of whom 200 had been actively killed. The station
nurse Andreas Senft also confessed to killings. Dr. Schmidt was
initially sentenced to life, which in an appeals process was changed to
the death sentence, only to be commuted back to a life sentence in
1949. A further pardon resulted in the reduction of the sentence in
1951 to 10 years, and after a public campaign in which hundreds of
citizens from the area and newspaper stories and editorials petitioned
for his release, he was released in 1953 and, in spite of having his
medical license revoked, practiced illegally in the Hattenheim area.
The two nurses received prison sentences of eight and four year,
respectively, and received an early release in 1951 and 1959.
The number of victims is estimated to have been at least 430 victims
(Dickel 1991: 105). More than 500 children and youths died during the
operation of the Kinderfachabteilung - the vast majority of them was
likely murdered (Sandner 2003: 539).
To house the Kinderfachabteilung, an existing facility was
recommissioned as a children's barrack. It housed the
younger children, while children older than nine years of age were
adult patients in other stations. The facility no longer exists.
: Dickel 1988, p. 19.
The Eichberg was also a place where other physicians of "children's
euthanasia" could be "instructed," such as was the case with Dr. M. Schütte of the Kinderfachabteilung Stuttgart in 1943
Kinderfachabteilung Stuttgart; Sandner 2003: 536).
Dr. Schmidt's public support may in part be explained as a reaction and
defense mechanism against the negative publicity the Eichberg received
through the trial and its exposure in publications such as
Platen-Hallermund's. The facility had a poor reputation in the
the trial (see Faulstich, in
Vanja et al. 1999: 252-53), and although in 1949 on occasion of the
hospital's 100th anniversary the director of the Eichberg and the
commissioner for the state hospitals still commemorated the victims
(Faulstich, in Vanja et al. 1999: 256), the memory of "euthanasia
crimes" slipped into oblivion. The director Dr. Gerhard Amler wrote an
unpublished ms. chronicling the history of the Eichberg facility in
circa 1981, in which he referred to "children's euthanasia" and noted
that a total of 707 children had been admitted, of whom 499 died,
buit when in 1982-83 a group of
students and their teacher Dr. Horst Dickel began to reinvestigate
the events during the Nazi period, they found that the director of
facility had not even heard of the trial (Dickel 1983: 4). A similar
amnesia was apparent among the older residents of towns and villages
around the Eichberg, among whom the students did not find a single one
who said to have had knowledge about the killing of children in the
period, and many were bothered about being asked about the past at all
(Dickel 1983: 60-62). Yet according to the historian Markus Kreitmair
(2000: 123), the
children's arrival at the train station in Hattenheim could hardly have
gone unnoticed, and surely the word must have spread quickly in this
rural area. As he notes, "even those who had not directly witnessed
events were able to use their common sense in arriving at the
conclusion that children were being killed at Eichberg. Evidence of
this common knowledge can be seen in villagers' warnings to parents
that the Eichberg's children were used for medical research" (p. 124).
Such medical research was actually carried out in conjunction with the
Heidelberg University's Psychiatric Clinic under Professor Carl
Schneider, where children were examined, then send to Eichberg to be
murdered with the intention of having their brains returned to
Heidelberg for research (see Hohendorf et al. in Vanja et al. 1999;
Sandner 2003: 546-51; see also Kinderfachabteilung Wiesloch).
The inquiries of Dr. Dickel and his students marked a new period of
interest among scholars in the Eichberg during the Nazi period, and in
the special children's ward there in specific. A series of analyses
followed (Dickel 1988, 1991; Orth 1989; Schneider-Wendling 1997;
Sandner 2003), including a first detailed analysis of the extant
patient records (Teich/Tucholski 1992), which got its start when the
memorial site Hadamar sought to include information about children at
Eichberg for its permanent exhibit "Transferred to Hadamar" (1991) and
covered the topic in its travelling exhibit "'Euthanasia' in Hadamar:
The National Socialist Politics of Extermination in Facilities in
Hesse," which expressly covers the murder of children at Eichberg as
one of its topics (see here).
On the premises, a memorial cross was erected in the cemetery in 1985
of the clinic. The text inscribed in a plaque at the bottom reads as follows: "In memory of
the helpless human beings who fell victim to the 'euthanasia'-crimes of
Nazis at the clinic Eichberg. Mostly their names
are not known. The death of these innocents persons must be a warning
to us." In 1988 a
display was attached to the chapel. It reads: "In memory of the
helpless children who fell victim to the 'euthanasia'-crimes at the
Eichberg during the time of National Socialism and lie buried here. Their death
must be a warning to us."
Source: Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen 1985: 79-80.
context of the decision to rededicate the chapel that is surrounded by
cemetery (on which victims of “euthanasia” were buried) as a place of
service around 1988, at which time the commemorative plaque was placed
chapel’s outside wall, and in response to considerations to de-sanctify
cemetery, a commemorative stone in the form of a sarcophagus was placed
the chapel in the old cemetery in 1993 (it was dedicated on July 2,
1993). Created by the sculptor Uwe Kunze, it has the
memory of the many people who at the Eichberg fell victim to
Nationalist Socialist compulsory sterilization and "euthanasia" crimes;
we commemorate - the 301
women and men who were compulsorily sterilized between 1935 and 1939; -
the 2,019 patients, who in 1940/41 were transferred from the transfer
facility to the killing center Hadamar, among whom were 660 patients of
the Eichberg; - the
476 children with disabilities, who between 1941 and 1945 in a
so-called special children's ward were observed "for scientific
purposes" and then murdered; -
the many male and female patients who between 1942 and 1945 were killed
through exposing them to malnutrition and the provision of overdosed
medications. Their lives and deaths are a warning to us, and an
obligation for the presence and future." (In
an die vielen Menschen, die auf dem Eichberg Opfer der
NS-Zwangssterilisation und »Euthanasie«-Verbrechen wurden, gedenken wir
– der 301 Frauen und Männer, die von 1935–1939 unter Zwang sterilisiert
worden sind, – der 2019 Patientinnen und Patienten, die 1940/41 über
die »Sammelanstalt« Eichberg in die Tötungsanstalt Hadamar verlegt
wurden, darunter 660 Menschen vom Eichberg, – der 476 behinderten
Kinder, die von 1941–1945 in einer sogenannten Kinderfachabteilung zu
»wissenschaftlichen Zwecken« beobachtet und dann ermordet wurden, – der
vielen Patientinnen und Patienten, die von 1942–1945 durch
Unterernährung und überdosierte Medikamente gewaltsam zu Tode kamen.
Ihr Leben und Tod sind uns Mahnung und Auftrag für Gegenwart und
teddy bear and wooden horse protrude from the sculpture but seem to be slowly sinking into it. This spatial arrangement is meant to represent a process of falling into oblivion, of the children themselves
and the childhood of so many destroyed on
The memorial stone is located adjacent to a field that served
as a mass grave to the children. A field of roses under the
custodianship of local high school students was once placed there in 1988.
The Eichberg is one of a few places where a monument exists
that expressly alludes to the existence of a Kinderfachabteilung and
its victims. Until 2010 the clinic's
did not address its past experience with "euthanasia" crimes on
the premises at all, and nor did the website of the
Landeswohlfahrtsverband (state social services association), which
otherwise provides an extensive documentation of commemoration at
places of "euthanasia" crimes. The website of the Vitos Rheingau now
has a chronicle on its website for Eichberg, which includes a brief
reference to the historical events 1933-1945 (here) and a link to a page that provides brief information about the memorial (here).
Indications exist that many people in
region do not wish to go back to this part of their history. At least
this has been the impression of an Eichberg historian who has lived in
this area (M. Kreitmair, personal communication), and is consistent
with the experience of a regional journalist. For when the latter
series of articles on the hospital at Eichberg in the regional
newspaper Wiesbadener Tageblatt,
the response was very different from that to other regional historical
reports - there wasn't one at all (Schreeb
2006; and personal communication).
been religious services on Totensonntag ("Sunday of the Dead," observed on the last Sunday before Advent) ever
since the re-dedication of the chapel as a site of religious service
and the establishment of a memorial stone,
but few regular commemorative event outside religious contexts took
occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2005
students of a local high school studied the history of the psychiatric
facility Eichberg and participated in a walk to the memorial.
A commemorative memorial hour (Gedenkstunde) was observed on 1
September 2011 and is planned to be continued on that day annually from
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the
foundation of the
hospital, in 1999 an exhibit entitled "Knowledge and Error:
The History of Psychiatry over Two Centuries: Eberbach and Eichberg"
was created, and a book was published to accompany it (Vanja et al.
1999). In the
aftermath of the exhibit Protestant
reverends of the clinic have begun to offer a tour for interested visitors, and now
year, for clinic personnel. A document about the tour can be
found here. The reverends also work
with students on the topic of
“euthanasia” crimes at Eichberg in the context of ethical-religious
|Panel 1: "From diagnostic classification to selection"
Presents information about the development of ideas: notions of mental
illness in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, the value of a person
judged by the criterion of "usefulness"; social Darwinism; and "racial
|Panel 2: "On the road to 'Allowing the annihilation of life not worth living'"
Discusses how "racial hygiene" becomes a political program: the theses
and impact of the book by Binding/Hoche, international eugenics, and
the passing of Germany's compulsory sterilization act in 1933 as a
first step toward the annihilation of the sick and disabled.
|Panel 3: "National Socialism (I): Compulsory sterilization"
Presents propaganda material against the "hereditarily sick" and the
operation of hereditary health courts in the Frankfurt and Wiesbaden
areas, as well as the case of a Eichberg patient who was sterilized.
|Panel 4: "National Socialism (II): Politics at the institution in the 1930s"
further information about changes in the 1930s: the elemination of
religious oversight, crowding, and reduction of expenses for caring for
the sick and disabled.
|Panel 5: "National Socialism (III): Nazification of the facility"
Addresses personnel policy and Nazi ideology at the facility using personal documents
|Panel 6: "National Socialism (IV): 'Euthanasia' Murders 1941"
Presents an overview of the T4 program, Eichberg's function as a base
as well as an intermediary facility for patients transported to the T4
gas murder facility Hadamar, the fate of Jewish patients from Eichberg
murdered at Hadamar, a case of a patient who was sent back from the
doorsteps of the gassing facility, two histories of patients who were
gassed, and a rare case, one in which an Eichbergnurse refused to
participate in the murder program.
|Panel 7: "National Socialism (V): Child murder and research"
the involvement of the Eichberg facility as a child "euthanasia"
facility: its beginnings, operation, connection to "research," and
|Panel 8: "National Socialism (VI): Murder facility Eichberg"
Relates to the more than 2000 dead patients at the Eichberg, and death
through starvation, as well as the transport of forced laborers to
|Panel 9: "Postwar period: 1945=1953: A look back and a new beginning"
Presents an overview of the trials against core "euthanasia"
perpetrators and advocacy for Dr. Schmidt. Also notes the difficult
financial at the Eichberg after 1945.
Source: author; Vitos Rheingau.
a working group Gedenkstätte (Memorial)
formed with the purpose of engaging
further with the history of the Eichberg. On September 1, 2009, on
anniversary of Hitler’s “euthanasia” decree, the working
group helped open a new place of encounter in House 8, at the site of
former “bunkers” where patients were disciplined, with displays that
in the 1999 exhibit, and seminar rooms
and a library. The exhibit contextualizes the "euthanasia" crimes at
the Eichberg, and one display provides a detailed account of the
historical events (see above). An annual commemorative event in September is planned. A
newspaper report is provided here.
A commerative event was held on September 1, 2011, and such an activity
is planned to be continued on that day of the year in future
A scholarly analysis of the history of commemoration and its determinants by the author (Lutz Kaelber) can be found here.
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