Home

Eichberg (Eltville) (Landesheilanstalt Eichberg)

the town of Eltville on a map
The Kinderfachabteilung at the Eichberg clinic (asylum), situated close to the 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. The 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 only 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 (1948). For 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 personally, 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 placed among adult patients in other stations. The facility no longer exists.

map of Eichberg facility
building
: 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 (see 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 aftermath of 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 the 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 Nazi 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 traveling 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."

cross at Eichberg
memorial plaque at cross
Source: Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen 1985: 79-80.

In the context of the decision to rededicate the chapel that is surrounded by the old cemetery (on which victims of “euthanasia” were buried) as a place of religious service around 1988, at which time the commemorative plaque was placed on the chapel’s outside wall, and in response to considerations to de-sanctify the cemetery, a commemorative stone in the form of a sarcophagus was placed next to the chapel in the old cemetery in 1993 (it was dedicated on July 2, 1993). Created by the sculptor Uwe Kunze, it has the inscription "In 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 Erinnerung 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 Zukunft.)

A 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 Eichberg. 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.

field as mass grave



inscription at chapel Eichberg
picture of memorial stone (in color)

Source: http://www.dekanat-badschwalbach.de/index.php?s_id=54&lang=de&rdl=123&r=1264772811&DKS=714d7b74fa46cfcb6a79403527366e08; author

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 web site 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 the 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 published a 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).

There have 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 place until recently. On 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 now on.

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 twice a 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 education in schools.

exhibit in building

exhibit 1
exhibit 2
exhibit 3
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 hygiene."
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.


exhibit 4
exhibit 5
exhibit 6
Panel 4: "National Socialism (II): Politics at the institution in the 1930s"
Presents 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.


exhibit 7
exhibit 8
exhibit 9
Panel 7: "National Socialism (V): Child murder and research"
States the involvement of the Eichberg facility as a child "euthanasia" facility: its beginnings, operation, connection to "research," and commemoration. today
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 Hadamar.

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.

Around 2006 a working group Gedenkstätte (Memorial) formed with the purpose of engaging further with the history of the Eichberg. On September 1, 2009, on occasion of the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s “euthanasia” decree, the working group helped open a new place of encounter in House 8, at the site of two former “bunkers” where patients were disciplined, with displays that originated 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 commemorative event was held on September 1, 2011, and such an activity is planned to be continued on  that day of the year in future years. A recent public lecture on the subject matter is addressed in a newspaper article (here), as well as in another newspaper article that pertains to family members of victims (here).

A scholarly analysis of the history of commemoration and its determinants by the author (Kaelber 2011b, 2011c, 2012) can be found here, and in an extended version, here. Note: there are two important supplementary files: 1 and 2.

The realization of a new memorial installation "how distant and how close" (mostly) in the cemetery is planned in the near future. As the artist Birgit Helmy explains, a series of cement blocks organized in a spiral will contain the names and dates of birth and death of the about 2,500 victims. Individual blocks can be placed in the various places of memory, but the center will be in cemetery and feature a round stelae in the center, with a base and a sculpture of a brain covered by glass. The spiral placement of the blocks is meant to reflect the structure of the human brain. There will also be a sculpture of a child on the cemetery, and a stela at the location where the "T4" busses had arrived.

Child victims who are known by name due to a newspaper story, web page about their life, or other form of memorialization include a number of children sent to the Eichberg from the Alsterdorfer Anstalten (list). Their names include Ursula Bohmann, Grete Detert, Werner Gross, Irmgard Hrabe, Hugo Stoltze, Lola Ulawski, and Gustav Wagner. There is a "Stolperstein" for Gerhard Durner (here).

Literature


Amler, Gerhard. ca 1981. Chronik des psychiatrischen Krankenhauses Eichberg. Unpublished ms.

Benzenhöfer, Udo. 2003. "Genese und Struktur der 'NS-Kinder- und Jugendlicheneuthanasie.'" Monatsschrift für Kinderheilkunde 151: 1012-19.

Dickel, Horst. 1983. "Der Eichberg-Opfer und Täter: 'Lebensunwertes' Leben in der hessischen psychiatrischen Anstalt, 1935-1945." Geisenheim: n.p.

———. 1988. 'Die sind doch alle unheilbar': Zwangssterilisation und Tötung der 'Minderwertigen' im Rheingau, 1934-1945. Frankfurt: Verlag Moritz Diesterweg.

———. 1991. "Alltag in einer Landesheilanstalt im Nationalsozialismus: Das Beispiel Eichberg." Pp. 105-13 in Euthanasie in Hadamar, edited by the Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen. Kassel: Eigenverlag des Landeswohlfahrtsverbandes Hessen.

Harrison,Sharon. "The boundaries of knowing: Female nurses and ‘medicalised killing’ at the Landesheil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg." University of Melbourne. Available at at http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/publications/eras/edition-11/articles/sharrison.pdf

Hohendorf, Gerrit, Volker Roelcke, and Maike Rotzoll. 1996. "Innovation und Vernichtung: Psychiatrische Forschung und 'Euthanasie' an der Heidelberger Psychiatrischen Klinik, 1939-1945." Nervenarzt 67(11): 936-45.

Kaelber, Lutz. 2011a. “Gedenken an die NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’-Verbrechen in Deutschland, Österreich, der Tschechischen Republik und Polen.” In Kindermord und “Kinderfachabteilungen” im Nationalsozialismus: Gedenken und Forschung, edited by Lutz Kaelber and Raimond Reiter. Hamburg: Peter Lang.

———. 2011b. “Gedenken an die NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’: Das Fallbeispiel der Landesheilanstalt Eichberg.” Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief 161: 14-24. Available (without table and pictures) at <http://www.gedenkstaettenforum.de/nc/gedenkstaetten-rundbrief/rundbrief/news/gedenken_an_die_ns_kindereuthanasie_das_fallbeispiel_der_landesheilanstalt_eichberg/>.

———. 2011c. “Gedenken an die NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’: Zwei Fallbeispiele und allgemeine Folgerungen zur Gedenkkultur.” Pp. 201-32 in Den Opfern ihre Namen geben: NS-“Euthanasie”-Verbrechen, historisch-politische Verantwortung und Erinnerungskultur, edited by the Arbeitskreis zur Erforschung der nationalsozialistischen “Euthanasie” und Zwangssterilisation. Munster: Klemm und Oelschläger, 2011.

———. 2012. "Child Murder in Nazi Germany: The Memory of Nazi Medical Crimes and Commemoration of 'Children’s Euthanasia' Victims at Two Facilities (Eichberg, Kalmenhof)." Societies 2(3) (2012): 157-194. Available at <http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4698/2/3/157> and here. Note: there are two important supplementary files: 1 and 2.
 
Kreitmair, Markus B. 2000. "In Fear of the Frail: The Treatment of the Disabled at the Eichberg Asylum for the Mentally Ill in Nazi Germany." M.A. Thesis, Department of History, Simon Fraser University. Available at http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk2/ftp03/MQ51380.pdf.

Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen. 1985. Mensch, achte  den Menschen: Frühe Texte über die Euthanasieverbrechen der Nationalsozialisten in Hessen. 3d ed. Kassel: Eigenverlag des Landeswohlfahrtsverbandes Hessen.

Meusch, Matthias. 1997. "Die Frankfurter 'Euthanasie'-Prozesse 1946-1948: Zum Versuch einer umfassenden Aufarbeitung der NS-'Euthanasie.'" Hessisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 47: 253-86.

Nuhn, Christiane. 1989. "Die psychiatrische Anstalt Eichberg und ihre Direktoren 1938-1945." Pp. 209-12 in Das Schicksal der Medizin im Faschismus, edited by A. Thom and S. M. Rapoport. Berlin: VEB Verlag Volk und Gesundheit.

Orth, Linda. 1989. Die Transportkinder aus Bonn: "Kindereuthanasie." Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag (here: 58-69).

Platen-Hallermund, Alice. 1948. Die Tötung Geisteskranker in Deutschland. Frankfurt: Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte.

Puvogel, Ulrike, and Martin Stankowski. 1996. Gedenkstätten für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, vol. 1. 2d ed. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Available at http://www.bpb.de/files/5JOYKJ.pdf.

Sandner, Peter. 2003. Verwaltung des Krankenmordes: Der Bezirksverband Nassau im Nationalsozialismus. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag. Available
here:  Anfang und Kapitel I - Kapitel II - Kapitel III - Kapitel IV - Kapitel V - Schluss und Anhang

Schneider-Wendling, Andrea. 1997. "Anstaltspsychiatrie im Nationalsozialismus am Beispiel der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg." MD. Diss., Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz.

Schreeb, Hans D. 2006. "Die Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg: Todesurteile bei der abendlichen Visite." Wiesbadener Tageblatt, June 9.

Teich, Sabine, and Anke Tucholski. 1992. "Eine Studie über 'Kindereuthanasie' in der Kinderfachabteilung der LHA Eichberg anhand der Krankenakten im Hessischen Hauptstaatsarchiv in Wiesbaden." Master's Thesis in Social Work, Fachhochschule Frankfurt a.M.

Topp, Sascha. 2004. “Der ‘Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden’: Zur Organisation der Ermordung minderjähriger Kranker im Nationalsozialismus 1939-1945.” Pp. 17-54 in Kinder in der NS-Psychiatrie, edited by Thomas Beddies and Kristina Hübener. Berlin-Brandenburg: Be.bra Wissenschaft.

———. 2005. "Der 'Reichsausschuß zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden': Die Ermordung minderjähriger Kranker im Nationalsozialismus 1939-1945." Master's Thesis in History, University of Berlin.

Vanja, Christina, Steffen Haas, Gabriela Deutschle, Wolfgang Eirund, and Peter Sandner, eds. 1999. Wissen und Irren: Psychiatriegeschichte aus zwei Jahrhunderten - Eberbach und Eichberg. Kassel: Eigenverlag des Landeswohlfahrtsverbandes Hessen. (Especially the contributions by Sandner, Hohendorf et al., and Faulstich.)
 
Last updated on 23 April 20143.