(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
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
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
death in 1947, but he was resentence 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.
Source: http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Kalmenhof_Diagramm_Todesf%E4lle.png; 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
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, the Eichberg (see there).
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,
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
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
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
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. 1941-1945.).
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
(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
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 entire history.
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 today.
||Lower level right side: Various facilities and aspects of assistance to people with disabilities today.
||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 Socialism"
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 and annihilation'"
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
|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 some.
|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
zwischen Gestern und Heute") at the Sozialpädagogisches Zentrum
Kalmenhof Idstein and the archival division of the
Landeswohlfahrtsverband (Funktionsbereich 060.2 "Archiv,
Gedenkstätten, Historische Sammlungen").
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
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 new 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.
Benedict, Susan, Linda Shields, and
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Weinheim and Munich: Juventa Verlag (especially the contributions by
Berger and Oelschläger and by Maass).
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