Waldniel (Provinzial Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu
Süchteln, Teilanstalt Waldniel)
The facility Waldniel became a branch of the Provinzial Heil- und
Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln in 1937, after the Franciscan
order that had run the establishment as the St. Josefsheim since 1909
was forced to declare bankruptcy and the administration of the Rhenish
province assumed the property. The Kinderfachabteilung in Waldniel came
into existence when in August 1941 the head of the
Rhenish provincial administration (Landeshauptmann) Heinz Haake agreed
to the demands of the "Reichsausschuss" (Brack, Hefelmann, v. Hegener)
to have at least one special children's ward established in the Rhenish
province. After no local doctor was found to head it, Dr. Georg Renno
was sent to Waldniel, which formally was under the directorship of the
director of the facility in Süchteln, Dr. Kleine, in October 1941. Dr.
Renno had previously worked
in the Landesheil- und Pflegeanstalt Leipzig-Dösen,
itself the location of a special children's ward since October 1940
(see Kinderfachabteilung Leipzig-Dösen), where he was involved in the
development of director Hermann Nitsche's infamous "Luminal-Schema,"
which led to the death of more than 100 patients during testing.
He was also the assistant director of the T4 gassing facility in
Hartheim. According to a letter of 22 December 1941 by Viktor Brack,
"activities" in Waldniel had not yet started then, although there was a
special allocation (Sonderzuwendung) to Waldniel personnel working for
the Reichsausschuss in 1941. The
first children were transferred from the institution of Gangelt on 16
December 1941. Dr. Renno soon contracted tuberculosis of the lung and
left. Prior to his departure he signed two death certificates on 27
January 1942. His successor was to become Hermann Wesse, who on the
insistence of Dr. Walter Creutz, the provincial administrator
for medical facilities, underwent a pediatric psychiatric internship (in
the Kinderfachabteilung Brandenburg-Görden as well as the Rheinische
Landesklinik für Jugendpsychiatrie in
Bonn [Rhenish State Clinic for Pediatric Psychiatry) prior to his
assuming responsibility for the special children's
ward on 1 October 1942. In the meantime, Dr. Hildegard Wesse, his wife,
interim physician, and during this period a total of eight children
died. The relatively very low number of deaths has led researchers to
conclude that the special children's ward did not actually operate
until Hermann Wesse took over. A special arrangement existed in so
far as the assessment reports to the Reichsausschuss were reviewed and
co-signed by Dr. Hans Aloys Schmitz, the head of the Rhenish State
Clinic in Bonn. He had been asked to do so by Dr. Creutz, who was
skeptical of Hermann Wesse's abilities.
The Kinderfachabteilung, located in the "Schutzengelhaus" (the house of
the guardian angel) was closed
at the beginning of July likely due to the increase of Allied aerial
bombing in the area, and
the remaining 183 children transferred to special children's wards at
Brandenburg-Görden, Uchtspringe, Lüneburg,
Ueckermünde and Ansbach.
During Hermann Wesse's time as physician responsible for the
special children's ward, 15 children died in 1942 and 76 in 1943. These
numbers are derived from bureau of vital statistics (Standesamt) in
Waldniel (see Zöhren 1988, p. 26). Additionally, outside the
Reichsausschussverfahren, six children of female forced laborers died
there as well.
After Waldniel, Hermann Wesse
with his wife went to
Leipzig-Dösen, the location of another Kinderfachabteilung, and then
assumed responsibility for the
special children's wards in Uchtspringe and Kalmenhof (see
Kinderfachabteilung Uchtspring and Kinderfachabteilung Kalmenhof). At
his trial in Düsseldorf for the murders at Waldniel the court
established in 1948 that 93 children
had died, of which 30 (between the ages of 2 and 8) were considered
confirmed to have been murdered. The investigations of the state
attorney's office are reported to have resulted in a list of 98
deaths of children
between 27 January 1942 and 1 August 1943. The sentence was life in
prison (later commuted to 12 years; for further information on Hermann
Wesse's criminal conviction, see Kinderfachabteilung Uchtspringe). Dr.
Renno, after dealing with illnesses, returned to Hartheim in 1943
and become involved in the "Aktion 14f13," the murder of sick
concentration camp inmates. He was never found guilty in a court of law
and died in 1997. Dr. Hildegard Wesse became responsible for the
special children's ward in Uchtspringe in 1943 (see Kinderfachabteilung
Leipzig). She was never charged for her deeds at Waldniel and was
acquitted for her involvement in the killing of children at Uchtspringe
but convicted of manslaughter for killing 30 adult women there (see
Kinderfachabteilung Uchtspringe). Dr. Schmidtz was dismissed from
office by the British
authorities but was found not guilty in a trial in terms of his
involvement in "euthanasia" actions and was reinstated as the director
in 1947, which he remained until his retirement in 1964. He died in
1983. Dr. Kleine served as a witness in trials of personnel and
administrators concerning Waldniel. He was put on leave as director of
the Provinzial Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln and
dismissed in 1947. After his denazification procedure was over, he was
rehired and served as a senior health officer. He retired in 1961 and
died in 1968.
Commemoration of the events at Waldniel has been unusual in three ways.
First, it began relatively early; second, activities leading to
commemoration have been carried by local individuals and civic
who relied on personal initiative; and third, documentation of these
events is available in extraordinary detail via a website.
Between the end of WWII and the early 1990s the use of the facilities
at Waldniel included those of a British military hospital and school
(the Kent and the Windsor school). After in 1951 burials had ended in
the cemetery of
the facility, which housed about 900 patient graves, including at least
76 of children for the years 1942 and 1944, bone fragments were
discovered when homes were erected for the British forces, indicative
of the fact that the property adjacent to the cemetery had been used as
burial ground. A cross was erected in 1962 with a typical dedication
for the period, which did not mention patients or "euthanasia" ("To the
Dead in this Cemetery. The
Fallen Heroes 14-18 39-1945"). Feedback from former students
indicates that students might have been well aware of the murder of
children there, though perhaps the historical details might not have
been known to them. At the time it appears that the directorship of the
Kent school was not keen on informing students about the events at the
facility during the Nazi period. An issue of the "Kent Chronicle" in
the mid 1960s did not refer to the Kinderfachabteilung in its
historical overview. Some former students of the Kent School contacted
by this researcher indicated that they may have been vaguely aware of
atrocities during the Nazi period, although much of that may have been
based on rumors.
The cross was relocated in 1979 to the park of a newly built church in
the vicinity, where in 1982 new texts were added to the sides,
including one that reads "Den unschuldig Ermordeten/St. Josefsheim
Hostert/1939-1945" ("To the innocently murdered/Home of St. Josef,
Hostert/1939-1945). This was the first express reference, though still
somewhat veiled, to the events in the Kinderfachabteilung.
In 1985 the past history of the Kinderfachabteilung began to be
rediscovered when a citizen of Waldniel saw a reference to the
Kinderfachabteilung Waldniel in an exhibit on "euthanasia" crimes in
Cologne, "Heilen und Vernichten im Nationalsozialismus" (Healing and
Extermination in National Socialism), which was one of the very first
exhibits on the subject matter in Germany (see exhibits). A citizens'
petition was filed with the town council to place a commemorative
plaque at the Kent school, and a regional newspaper ran a story on the
Kinderfachabteilung. In the council's discussion, one of the councilor
alluded to already existing practices of commemoration in sermons and
processions of the local Catholic community - if accurate, such practices
have been among the earliest manifestations of this type of
commemorative practice for such children anywhere. The outcome of the
town council's and town mayor's deliberations was a resolution in 1986
not to erect a display but rather to lease the cemetery grounds from
its owner and to turn it into a memorial. Subsequently, the local
secondary school was asked whether it wanted to take over the upkeep of
the memorial, and it did. The students and one of their teachers, Peter
Zöhren, not only restored the overgrown cemetery to its appropriate
form, but also put together an exhibit on the
"euthanasia" crimes that had been committed (here and here). Based on the students'
activities, the research of researchers at the
psychiatric clinic in Viersen to shed light on "euthanasia" crimes
there (see below), and his own inquiries, Peter Zöhren published a detailed
in 1988, "Nebenan - eine andere Welt" (Next to us: A different world).
A bronze display was placed next to the entry door of the cemetery that
reads "Anstaltsfriedhof - 1907-1937 St. Josefsheim der Franziskanier -
1937-1952 Prov. Heil- und Pflegeanstalt - In der Anstalt wurden während
des Nationalsozialistischen "Euthanasie-Programms" mindestens 30 Kinder
ermordet. Insgesamt starben über 500 Patienten. 1044 Menschen wurden in
andere Anstalten abtransportiert. Viele kamen dort um" (Cemetery of the
facility - 1907-1937 Home of St. Josef of the Fransciscans - 1937-1952
Care facility of the Communal Association of the Rhenish province -
During the National-Socialist "euthanasia-program" at least 30 children
were murdered in the facility. In all, more than 500 patients died.
1,044 persons were transported to other facilities. Many of them
perished in those).
A memorial stone was placed at the memorial site at the same time. It
has the inscription "Den unschuldigen Opfern" ([Dedicated] To the
innocent victims). The memorial was dedicated on 26 November 1988.
At the time, a working group at the LVR-Klinik Viersen formed to
explore the involvement of the clinic in NS "euthanasia." Patient
records of victims, including more than 60 records of children who had
died in the children's ward, had been found in a cellar of the
administrative building in 1986. At the entrance of the building a
commemorative display was placed in 1989: "During National Socialism
several hundred patients of the then Provinzialanstalt
Johannistal/Süchteln were transported [to other facilities] and to a
large extent, murdered. In the special children's ward of the branch
facility Waldniel at least 30 disabled children were killed. Their fate
admonishes us to monitor our actions" (In der Zeit des
Nationalsozialismus sind mehrere hundert Patientinnen und Patienten der
damaligen Provinzialanstalt Johannistal/Süchteln abtransportiert und zu
einem grossen Teil ermordet worden. In der Kinderfachabteilung der
Teilanstalt Waldniel wurden mindestens 30 behinderte Kinder getötet. Ihr
Schicksal mahnt zur Überprüfung unseres Tuns). Annual memorial events take
place there (see here)
Since then, there have been numerous commemorative events, which over
years have involved various individuals, groups, and organizations.
These events are chronicled in detail on the web site of the Gedenkstätte
Waldniel-Hostert, which is supported by Peter Zöhren and has
existed since 2006. The
website of the LVR-Klinik Viersen, the successor of the Heil- und
Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln, in its section pertaining to its
department of psychiatry and psychotherapy (Fachbereich Psychiatrie und
Psychotherapie) has a detailed overview of the history of the clinic that
includes the murder of patients during the Nazi period and the events
at Waldniel. The website
of former students of the Kent School also
informs about the special children's ward in its history section, although the information seems to
be a translation of Peter Zöhren's website.
Source: P. Zöhren
In early 2010, a small exhibit by Peter Zöhren was shown in Lobberich and
The website of the Gedenkstätte Waldniel-Hostert also informs about one
of the victims, Elschen, for whom a "stumbling block" was placed at the
place where she grew up in Duisburg. A relative of the child visited
the memorial site as part of the memorial services in 2007. A block for
another victim has been put in the ground in 2012 in Krefeld (see here).
The facility itself is in private hands (it is for sale) and in
a dilapidated condition. Access is not permitted without permission of
the owner and highly unsafe. Occasionally access is granted to groups
wishing to see the historical facilities. It is used commercially for photo
shoots and action tv due to its architecture.
New research on the perpetrators at Waldniel and their victims by Andreas
Kinast has been published in 2010. One story that addresses his research is
A video on the subject matter, which also addresses Elschen, is available on
Peter Zöhren's website provides updates here: http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/archiv1.html.
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bis 1961. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
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Medizinische Fakultät der
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———. 2011. "
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———. 1995. ..Kann der Gnadentod
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Concerning "Euthanasia" trial(s)
for this location
Bauer, Fritz et al., eds. 1968-1981. Justiz
NS-Verbrechen: Sammlung deutscher Strafurteile wegen
nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen, 1945-1966. Amsterdam:
University Press Amsterdam. Nos. 102, 191, 282, 339, 380, 480.
Bryant, Michael S. 2005. Confronting
the "Good Death": Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953. Boulder:
University of Colorado Press. Pp. 150-63.
Mildt, Dick de. In the Name of the
People: Perpetrators of Genocide in the Reflection of Their Post-War
Prosecution in West Germany: The 'Euthanasia' and 'Aktion Reinhard'
Trial Cases. The Hague: Martinus Nuhoff Publishers. Pp. 132-5.
Last updated on 6 September 2013