(Idstein) (Privat-Heilerziehungsanstalt Kalmenhof für
The Kinderfachabteilung in the Kalmenhof, which is situated in the town of
Idstein, was the second to be established in what today is the state of
Hesse. Located in a facility that was once lauded as one of the most
pedagogically innovative and progressive institutions in the country, it
operated until March 1945. The date of its establishment is given
as 1941 at the latest (Benzenhöfer), in or shortly after August 1941
(Berger and Oelschläger), in September 1941 at the latest (Topp), at the
turn of 1941/1942 (Sick, Sandner). During May 1 and August 31, 1941, the
Protestant minister's death register showed 35 deaths of children, to which
"Euthanasia" or "E" had been added to the registry - which may indicate that
even before the formal establishment of the special children's ward, as was
practiced elsewhere, children began to be murdered. After the clinic's
director, Ernst Müller,
volunteered for the German army and left in June 1941, the new director was
Wilhelm Grossmann, who formally remained deputy director until
1945. Responsible for the Kinderfachabteilung was Dr. Mathilde Weber (nee
Wolters), who contracted tuberculosis from one of the children she murdered
and resigned due to health reasons, effective at the end of June 1944. In
May 1944 she was replaced by Hermann Wesse, who had previously worked in the
special children's wards at Görden,
Waldniel, Leipzig, and Uchtspringe. Wilhelm Grossmann was sentenced to
death in 1947, but he was resentenced to 4.5 years in prison in 1949 and
released in 1951. Dr. Weber (remarried name: Vogtmann) was sentenced to
death for murder in 1947, but on appeal her sentenced was reduced to 3.5
years in 1949. After she unsuccessfully sought to be instated as a
physician, she is known to have lived in Idstein, no less, until two years
before her death in 1996. Hermann Wesse was sentenced to death in 1947. His
sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1949, and he was released in
1966. Among the perpetrators of euthanasia crimes convicted to prison terms,
he was the one who served the longest term.
The number of children who died in the special children's ward was very
large. The death register of the town's civil registry office (Standesamt)
recorded over 600 deaths during the years 1941 and 1945, of which about two
thirds were children and youth up to the age of 20, and the vast majority of
whom were murdered. A conservative estimate is between 300-350 children
and youths, which is a large number given the cramped conditions at the
locale of the Kinderfachabteilung, the expanded third floor under the roof
the hospital built on site in 1927. (Dahl, p. 165, lists 359 deaths but
assumes that the ward did not operate until the end of 1941). The facility,
built in 1927, is currently empty and in poor condition.
edited by author.
Recently, German wikipedia has included a detailed chart of the timing of
the deaths. Note: the chart comprises deaths at all ages, not just among
The trials against core personnel were covered extensively in the
regional/national newspaper Frankfurter
Rundschau, and a local paper also reported on them in the early
1950s. However, in 1948 an list with over 600 signatures appealed the Dr.
Weber's capital conviction and had the support of local politicians and
clergy, noting Dr. Weber's sense of duty and love for her patients (!). The
magistrate of Idstein also supported her appeal for clemency in 1954. Dr.
Grossmann enjoyed similar support. The presence of local support appears to
have been similar to the condition at the other Kinderfachabteilung in
Hesse, at the Eichberg.
A publication on occasion of the 80th anniversary of the communal
association of the administrative district that included reports on the
institutions provided for by this association did not mention the Nazi
crimes at the Kalmenhof, and on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of
the Kalmenhof the director mentioned euthanasia only in passing, and
the local newspaper, not at all. It thus may not surprise that at the time
of the 90th anniversary of the existence of the Kalmenhof in 1978, no
memorial or other medium of commemoration hinted at the existence of the
crimes against children and youths during the Nazi period, and the then
director appear not to have known about this part of Kalmenhof's history.
The local newspaper even denied the disabled persons had been killed there
at all - in spite of a series of publications on Nazi "Euthanasia" crimes
that had included the Kalmenhof in their accounts. As is often the case,
commemoration remained a personal and serene affair: a nurse with a few
children proceeded every year to the cemetery, until 1961.
Only after a youth group from the neighboring town had visited Auschwitz and
after a conversation with a survivor, who pointed to the local events, came
back to demand that the crimes at home be addressed did the state welfare
association initiate the formation of commission in late 1981, with
representatives of the town, religious organizations, and
the Kalmenhof institution. Both the local newspaper and the Frankfurter
Rundschau also ran reports about the events in the past, and in November
1982 an event occurred that include presentations and conversations about
"Euthanasia during National Socialism," with a youthful audience. The
interest in the topic was further by the traveling exhibit "Heilen und
Vernichten in Nationalsozialismus" (Healing and Annihilation during National
Socialism) assembled by a group surrounding Dr. Wuttke-Groneberg (see
exhibitions). A first public religious service was held on Germany's
National Day of Mourning in 1984, and a wooden cross erected on the site of
the children's burial place.
Since 1987 there is a plaque at the town cemetery next to an older one for
those who died on foreign soil during the world wars. It reads: "In memory
of the victims of dictatorship. Many of the 600 victims of the Kalmenhof lie
buried in the cemetery. Their lives were considered unworthy of living in
the totalitarian state. 1941-1945" (Zur Erinnerung an die Opfer der
Gewaltherrschaft. Viele der 600 Opfer aus dem Kalmenhof liegen auf diesem
Friedhof begraben. Ihr Leben galt im totalitären Staat als lebensunwert.
In the same year, in Mai 1987, a memorial was dedicated on a field that
after October 1942 served as a mass grave site. It replaced the wooden cross
(which stood between 1984-1987; see below) and consists of a metal cross and
a stone circle. The inscriptions read: "In memory of the victims of tyranny.
More than 600 children and adults of the Kalmenhof were murdered between
1941 and 1945. The Nazis considered their lives as unworthy of living. Many
of the victims are buried here. The number and location of the individual
graves are unknown" (Zur Erinnerung an die Opfer der Gewaltherrschaft. Mehr
als 600 Kinder und Erwachsene aus dem Kalmenhof wurden in den Jahren
1941-1945 ermordet. Ihr Leben galt den Nationalsozialisten als lebensunwert.
Viele der Opfer liegen hier begraben. Anzahl und Lage der einzelnen Gräber
sind unbekannt). The inscription on the cross reads: "In memory of the
victims of the crimes committed in the Kalmenhof during the time of National
Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen, p. 81; author
On occasion of the 100th anniversary of the institution a traveling exhibit
was created in 1988, entitled "Erziehbar - Bildbar - Brauchbar. 100 Jahre
Erziehungsarbeit im Kalmenhof in Idstein. Bilder und Dokumente deutscher
Sozial- und Pädagogikgeschichte" (Capable of being nurtured - educated -
useful. 100 years of pedagogy in Kalmenhof/Idstein. Pictures and documents
of German social and pedagogical history), which depicted the Kalmenhof's
From this exhibit the section on "euthanasia" was revised and has been on
display on the first and second floor of the administration building of the
Kalmenhof since 1997. The exhibit is entitled "Der Kalmenhof
- Geschichte – Kontinuität –Aktualität” (The Kalmenhof - History -
Continuity - Presence). It is displayed in the administrative building at
the ground and upper level.
|Lower level left side: "The facility:
Efficient and successful"
A map and different parts of the historical facilities are shown.
|Lower level left side: "The facility:
Modern and confident"
The facility embraces a novel pedagogical perspective on people with
disabilities: they participate in sports and are begun to be
integrated into society.
|Lower level right side: "The
Kalmenhof: Then and now"
A brief overview of the exhibit, its origin, the "euthanasia" crimes
(both in the special children's ward and during decentralized
euthanasia) in overview, and the memorial today
|Lower level right side: Various
facilities and aspects of assistance to people with disabilities
||Lower level right side: Various
facilities and aspects of assistance to people with disabilities
||Stair case: "The founders"
Biographies of three founders (a reverend, a banker, and a
politician), two of them Jewish, of the facility conceived as a
progressive charitable foundation, which housed a considerable
portion of Jewish individuals until the 1930s.
|Upper level: "The time of National
A speech of the deputy director in 1933, Roman Galler, who opposed
the takeover of the facility by the National Socialists and their
stance toward people with disabilities, is displayed, as well as a
newspaper report (noting both Jewish influence on the institution
and the activities of an nurse who worked in his SA uniform) and a
protocol of a meeting with the new director.
|Upper level: "The program: 'Racism
Terms of Social Darwinist provenance such as "useless eaters" and
"persons unworthy of living" are shown next to a display depicting
people with disabilities as ape-like burden to society and a text
from Binding/Hoche's book arguing for the termination of "life not
worth living." Next to it is a picture of a Kalmenhof nurse and two
children, intended as a contrast and meant to question such
assertions and language.
|Upper level: "The victims"
Over 200 people were compulsorily sterilized and over 750 people
died between 1939 and 1945, among them about 450 who were up to 20
years of age between 1941 and 1945. Half of those died within a
month after admission.
|Upper level: "Anneliese H."
The case of a victim of sterilization is addressed and the ways in
which the victim was observed, tested, found to be intellectually
deficient, and sterilized are shown.
|Upper level: "Emil W."
The last phase of the life of the child is shown by reference to
personal documents: his notes to his mother, the facility's letter
stating that the child is well, the notifications about his "sudden
death" and the burial that "allowed for no delay."
|Upper level: "The perpetrators"
Displayed are the biographies of the perpetrators, and the outcomes
of their trials, as well as a newspaper report.
|Upper level: "The transports"
The function of the facility as intermediate station for patients
destined for the gas murder facility Hadamar is discussed.
Transports also occurred to other facilities.
|Upper level: "Everyday life: Murder
in the facility"
Various testimony from trial records and personal memory are given,
including the nature of the killings of children and a ritual of
"celebration" by personnel. Also shown are personal letters showing
that remnants of the humanistic spirit at Kalmenhof continued among
|Upper level: Stela with anonymized
names of victims
Several such stelae are displayed.
A flier is available here (and here as text). It is noteworthy that the text not
merely replicates core elements of the exhibit but rather complements them.
The exhibit was created by the Landeswohlfahrtsverband (state social
services association) Hesse and represents the joint efforts of a committee
"Kalmenhof from yesterday to today" (Arbeitsgruppe "Kalmenhof zwischen
Gestern und Heute") at the Sozialpädagogisches Zentrum Kalmenhof
Idstein and the archival division of the Landeswohlfahrtsverband
(Funktionsbereich 060.2 "Archiv, Gedenkstätten, Historische
Thus Kalmenhof is one of the few sites of former Kinderfachabteilungen that
have a permanent exhibit in place. The annual number of visitors who are
part of a guided tour is about 200 (more recently, the number has been
lower). A report on a visit is found here.
An annual event of commemoration takes place on Germany's National Day of
Mourning (Volkstrauertag). Recently, the director of the memorial at Hadamar
addressed the story of Hans Meiners, who as a boy with a disability survived
the Kinderfachabteilung (here).
A recent cinematic film, "The Unworthy" (Die Unwertigen), thematizes among other things the
life of a child at the Kalmenhof during the Nazi period.
German Wikipedia has an informative entry on the history of the Kalmenhof 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 historian M. Hartmann-Menz has done research on one of the
Kalmenhof victims, Ruth Pappenheimer, who was half Jewish
A stumbling block for her was placed on 21 June 2013 in Frankfurt. A
newspaper report is here.
Other child victims who are known by name due to a newspaper story, web page
about their life, or other form of memorialization include Wilfried Bender (with a stumbling
block; and here),
as well as several children who came to the Kalmenhof from
Hamburg-Alsterdorf in 1943: Manfred Bala, Claus Beeck, Klaus-Dieter Braasch,
Günther Eichler, Wolfgang Engel, Klaus Holst, Erich Kistner, Rudolf Meyer,
Alfred Rahnert, and Heinrich Sund (list).
A high school student report about Alfred Rahnert received the Bertini prize
in 2005 (Kleinwächter and Ambos 2005).
In 2015, a stumbling block was installed in Hamburg for Peter Harms (see here),
who died at the Kalmenhof in 1943 after his transfer from the Alsterdorfer
Anstalten in Hamburg. Brief biographical accounts of Peter Harms and
Alfred Rahnert can be found in Barreiro et al. (2014).
Peter Harms; Source: Elbe Wochenzeitung;
In addition, there may soon be stumbling blocks for Gerd S. and
Hans-Peter H., who also were sent from the Alsterdorfer Anstalten and died
at the Kalmenhof in 1943.
The victim Emil W. is mentioned in the exhibit "Die historische Wahrheit
kund und zu wissen tun: Die justizielle Aufarbeitung von NS-Verbrechen in
Hessen" (see here).
Barreiro, Alicia, Benita Fussy, Gerrit
Liebing, Asli Kaya, Tobias Kohl, Johanna Lotz, Timea Römer, Jana Schlemm,
Janina Schlemm. 2014. "'Im Kinderheim Eissendorfer Pferdeweg nicht tragbar':
Vier Harburger Heimkinder mit Behinderungen: Ihr Leben und ihr Sterben in
der NS-Zeit: Dokumentation eines Schülerprojekts." Brochure. Hamburg:
Benedict, Susan, Linda Shields, and Allison J. O'Donnell. 2009. "Children's
'Euthanasia' in Nazi Germany." Journal of
Pediatric Nursing 25, 6: 506-16.
Benzenhöfer, Udo. 2003. "Genese und Struktur der
'NS-Kinder- und Jugendlicheneuthanasie.'" Monatsschrift
für Kinderheilkunde 151: 1012-19.
Dahl, Mathias. 2004. Endstation
Spiegelgrund: Die Tötung behinderter Kinder während des
Nationalsozialismus am Beispiel einer Kinderfachabteilung in Wien 1904
bis 1945. 2nd ed. Vienna: Erasmus.
De.wikipedia.org. "Kalmenhof." Available at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalmenhof#cite_note-44
Kaelber, Lutz. 2011a. “Gedenken an die
NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’-Verbrechen in Deutschland, Österreich, der
Tschechischen Republik und Polen.” InKindermord
und “Kinderfachabteilungen” im Nationalsozialismus: Gedenken und
Forschung, edited by Lutz Kaelber and Raimond Reiter. Hamburg:
———. 2011b. “Gedenken an die
NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’: Das Fallbeispiel der LandesheilanstaltEichberg.”
Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief 161: 14-24. Available (without table and pictures)
———. 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>
Note: there are two important supplementary files: 1 and 2.
Kleinwächter, Astrid, and Katja Ambos. 2005. "'Seiner Unterwertigkeit
wegen...nicht tragbar': Alfred R. (1938-1943): Ein behindertes Hamburger
Waisenkind in der NS-Zeit." Student thesis, Heisenberg Gymnasium. Hamburg.
Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen. 1985. Mensch,
achte den Menschen: Frühe Texte über die Euthanasieverbrechen der
Nationalsozialisten in Hessen. 3d ed. Kassel: Eigenverlag des
———. 1988. 100 Jahre Kalmenhof,
1888-1988: Vom "Verein für die Idiotenanstalt zu Idstein" zum
"Sozialpädagogischen Zentrum." Kassel: Landeswohlfahrtsverband
———. 2006. Der Kalmenhof damals und
heute. Idstein and Kassel: N.p.
Meusch, Matthias. 1997. "Die Frankfurter 'Euthanasie'-Prozesse 1946-1948:
Zum Versuch einer umfassenden Aufarbeitung der NS-'Euthanasie.'" Hessisches
Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 47: 253-86.
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die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, vol. 1. 2d ed. Bonn: Bundeszentrale
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Sandner, Peter. 2003. Verwaltung des
Krankenmordes: Der Bezirksverband Nassau im Nationalsozialismus.
Schrapper, Christian, and Dieter Sengling, eds. 1988. Die
Idee der Bildbarkeit: 100 Jahre sozialpädagogische Praxis in der
Heilerziehungsanstalt Kalmenhof. Weinheim and Munich: Juventa
Verlag (especially the contributions by Berger and Oelschläger and by
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———. 2005. "Der 'Reichsausschuß zur wissenschaftlichen
Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden': Die Ermordung
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Last updated on 26 Mai 2015