"Am Spiegelgrund" (Städtische Jugendfürsorgeanstalt “Am Spiegelgrund” Wien),

part of the Niederösterreichische Landes-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt für Nerven- und Geisteskranke "Am Steinhof";
in March 1942 renamed Heilpädagogische Klinik der Stadt Wien "Am Spiegelgrund"; 
in Nov. 1942 divided into Wiener Städtische Nervenklinik für Kinder "Am Spiegelgrund" ("Municipal Mental Clinic for Children") apart from the Wiener Städtische Erziehungsanstalt "Am Spiegelgrund" ("Municipal Reformatory" - also referred to as Wiener Städtisches Erziehungsheim "Am Spiegelgrund")

Map of Vienna in Austria

The Kinderfachabteilung in Vienna, the Städtische Jugendfürsorgeanstalt “Am Spiegelgrund” Wien, operated from late July 1940 until May 1945. It was the first of at least two "special children's wards" to open in Austria, and the second one established overall. The clinic's medical directors were Prof. Dr. Erwin Jekelius (until early 1942) and Dr. Ernst Illing (since 1942), and responsible for the "special children's ward" were Dr. Heinrich Gross, Dr. Margarethe Hübsch, and Dr. Marianne Türk. Dr. Jekelius died in 1952 in a Soviet prison. Dr. Illing was sentenced to death and executed in 1946. Dr. Gross had an illustrious career (see below). Dr. Hübsch was acquitted, and Dr. Türk sentenced to 10 year incarceration (she served two).

Close to 800 children died in the special children's ward in "Am Spiegelgrund," making it a site of one of the largest number of children murdered. The "special children's ward" was housed in pavilions 15 and 17. The reformatory was housed in pavilion 18. In pavilion 23 was the Städtische Arbeitsanstalt Steinhof," which housed young women aged 20-22 and considered deviant.
Spiegelgrund map
view of 17 and 15
Pavilion 15
pavilion 17
Source: author

In newspaper reports in the immediate postwar period there was little question about the nature of the crimes - here illustrated by the heading "The children's murderers of the Steinhof in the dock." This illustrates that the murders were publicly known in what Wolfgang Neugebauer has called a brief anti-fascist period after WWII during which perpetrators were persecuted.

Picture of newspaper article in 1946 Source: Author's photo of exhibit at the Spiegelgrund (2009)

Dr. Gross was sentenced after World War II to two years for a single case of manslaughter, but the verdict was set aside on a technicality, and Dr. Gross became one of Austria's most prominent forensic experts. When in the late 1970s the Committee for Critical Medicine (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kritische Medizin) under the leadership of Dr. Werner Vogt made allegations about Dr. Gross concerning his involvement in "children's euthanasia," the latter sued for slander and damages but lost, with the High Court (Oberlandesgericht) making a affirmative determination of Dr. Gross's complicit involvement in and responsibility for the murders that happened in the "special children's ward" - the beginning of the end of Dr. Gross's medical career. The Arbeitgemeinschaft's dispute with Dr. Gross followed an incident in which Friedrich Zawrel, survivor of Spiegelgrund, recognized Dr. Gross as one of his torturers during the Nazi period, and Dr. Gross then wrote up a spurious negative psychiatric assessment to have Zawrel committed in order to cover up. This case had ended up in the press and come to the attention of the Committee for Critical Medicine.

In 1988, the "year of reflection" (Bedenkjahr) inspired by the 50th anniversary of Austria's integration with larger Germany (the "Anschluss"), two commemorative plaques were placed on the hospital's territory, with the inscription "In commemoration of the victims in psychiatry of the National Socialist State, and as a warning. Established in 1988." Another plaque with the same inscription was placed in the vicinity as well. That year for the first time a commemorative event took place that included staff. It was dedicated to the victims of NS-psychiatry in the psychiatric establishments in Vienna. (see Gabriel/Neugebauer p. 9).

Memorial plaque 1988picture of plaque 1988 (2) Source: http://www.nachkriegsjustiz.at/vgew/1140_baumgartnerhoehe.php; author

One year later the room where Dr. Gross’s ghastly collection of brain specimens of victims was housed in the cellar of the hospital's pathology section was re-commissioned as a "room of commemoration," simply by putting up a plaque. The plaque displayed the following text: "The Psychiatric Hospital Baumgartner Höhe established this room 50 years after the beginning of the murderous program against the sick and disabled in commemoration of the children who died in the Wiener Städtische Nervenklinik für Kinder Am Spiegelgrund." There was no public acknowledgement about the re-commissioning of the room, and the room was off limits to the general public, as access was apparently only granted to nursing students as part of their training and, occasionally, to journalists.
"memorial room" 1989 plaque in memorial room
Sources: http://de.doew.braintrust.at/popup.php?t=img&id=304 and Salzburger Nachrichten, 19 Nov. 1994

The presentation of the "room" in such a farcical way as a "memorial" was soon recognized as scandalous, as brain specimens from the victims, on the basis of which Dr. Gross had launched his scientific career, remained stored in the basement of the hospital. In 1992 the Green Party member and district councilor Wolfgang Krisch suggested a burial of the specimens in an honorary grave and a more appropriate way of documenting the crimes of the past in the form of an appropriate memorial space. Dr. Wolfgang Neugebauer, then director of the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance, also advocated for a more appropriate form of commemoration and sought to have Dr. Gross finally criminally prosecuted. Relatives of victims were scandalized by the way in which remains of victims were presented as well. After discussions in which suggestions for a different form of memorial were rejected at first, the clinic's director, Dr. Gabriel, was amenable to considering different options for commemoration, such as an exhibit of the history of the hospital, including the Nazi period, a memorial, or a documentation with the display of such specimens.

A burial of the remains of the victims was at first made impossible by the criminal investigations into Dr. Gross's criminal past, which commenced in 1997 after documents formerly inaccessible in the GDR implicated Dr. Gross, which led to reports and inquiries by the magazine "profil" (M. Enigl), the medical dissertation by Matthias Dahl, efforts by the directory of the Documentation Center of Austrian resistance to have Dr. Gross charged, the Green Party, and reporting in international news organizations. Dr. Gross ended up being charged with murder in 1999 (suffering from dementia, he was never held accountable and died in 2005).

picture of 2 urns picture of urns
Source: Koller, p. 116.

vienna cemetery 1 vienna cemetery 2
vienna cemetery 3
vienna cemetery 4
vienna cemetery 5
vienna cemetery 6
vienna cemetery 7
vienna cemetery 8
vienna cemetery 9
vienna cemetery 10
vienna cemetery 11

Remains of dead children misused for scientific investigations were buried in 597 urns in April 2002 under exclusion of the public, to conform to wishes of relatives. One urn was buried in the presence of representatives of major religious organizations. A public commemorative event with the symbolic burial of 2 additional urns was held on 28 April 2002 at the victims' honorary grave in Vienna's Central Cemetery. The grave has a plaque with the following inscription: "In memory of the children and youths who as 'life unworthy of living' fell victim to National-Socialist Euthanasia in the then children's clinic Am Spiegelgrund in the years 1940 to 1945." A description of the event can be found here.

On the occasion of this burial one month later a permanent exhibit was opened up in pavilion 5, first floor, for which the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance was responsible. The group that was charged with its conception included representatives of public and civil organizations as well as scholars with a background in history, medicine, and psychiatry. The exhibit had as its theme the larger framework of Nazi medical crimes in Vienna and included a commemorative display of some of the children, as they had been photographed before their death, as well as some displays with texts. It was initially conceptualized as a traveling exhibit and was thus of a provisional nature. It was meagerly funded by the city of Vienna, which apparently in 2002 had promised to establish a scientific center there for research on the crimes.

picture of exhibit 2002 Source: cp-architektur.

An online exhibit "War Against the 'Inferior':  On the History of Nazi Medicine in Vienna" opened also at the time, with information that was more extensive than found on site. At the time, it was one of the most extensive documentation of NS-"children's euthanasia" crimes found on the Internet. The exhibitors decided to embrace online delivery of information early in part because of the provisional and spatially restricted nature of the offsite exhibit and because of in-house technical expertise that made a fairly elaborate website possible without being prohibitively expensive. The website has also been much easier to update and enhance than an offline exhibit, and such updates to the websites did indeed occur long before the offline exhibit was reconceptualized.

In November 2003 another memorial was erected, in the form of 772 light stelae, one for each child victim. Its concept was designed by Tanja Walter. The text display reads: "Memorial for the victims of the Spiegelgrund. This memorial commemorates those children and youth who were murdered in the Nazi euthanasia facility Am Spiegelgrund between 1940 and 1945. Each stela stands for an extinguished life. The [stelae's] tight order reflects the situation of the children, held hostage and deprived of their freedom."

Picture of light stelae memorialtext next to stelae Source: Author
steale 2010

The exhibit online was revised and expanded since its inception, and a revised on site exhibit opened in July 2008. A brochure is available.

Picture of new exhibit 2008 Source: Author

The exhibit includes a part on "children's euthanasia," also available online (in German/English).
exhibit 2008 on children (1)  Source: Author
picture of euthanasia display 2 Source: Author

On site guided tours of the exhibit are offered to visitors (in 2008: 88), mostly to school classes. Also, at the site Friedrich Zawrel periodically offers talks about about his personal experiences with the "Kinderfachabteilung." A report on his talk can be found here.

At the clinic an annual memorial takes place in November. It is organized by the local district governor of the SPÖ, Andrea Kalchbrenner, and Waltraud Häupl, a sister to one of the child victims and long-term advocate of commemoration of these crimes. The choir of the local high school contributes musical elements and there are reminiscenses about the victims and their suffering. The attendants conclude the event by placing white roses at the field of stelae.

Picture of commemoration at Spiegelgund 1 Picture of commemoration at Spiegelgund 2 Picture of commemoration at Spiegelgund 3
Source: Wolfgang Krisch

The Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv put together an exhibit entitled "Kindereuthanasie in Wien 1940 bis 1945 - Krankengeschichten als Zeugen" (Children's Euthanasia in Vienna, 1940 -1945: Medical Records as Witnesses), which was shown there in 2005 and is still available online. The occasion for this exhibit was the transfer of the medical records to the archive. This exhibit was also shown for some time in the theater on the premises of the clinic.

Exhibit on Children's euthanasia in 2005 Source: http://www.dnms.no/bilder/org120.jpg

There is also a display right in front of pavilions 15 and 17, detailing some of the events that happened there as part of a "historical path," established in 2007. There is a guided tour once a week, and it includes a brief stop at the exhibit.

display steinhofgruende Source: Author

In 2012, the online exhibit was revised, particularly by the addition of video testimony by witnesses, and the onsite exhibit expanded with the addition of parts of the exhibit of the Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv.

As further remains of victims of NS-medicine in Vienna had been discovered, they were buried on 9 May 2012 at the Central Cemetery in Vienna. The remains could be attributed to 61 victims, whose names are listed on the memorial stone. Also buried where the medical specimens of additional number of 27 victims of the Kinderfachabteilung at the Spiegelgrund.

2012 memorialSource: http://www.sagen.at/fotos/showphoto.php/photo/30067/size/big/cat/

A recent article by the author has addressed the fate of Jewish children with disabilities who became victims at the Spiegelgrund (Kaelber, 2013).

There is a searchable data base of the victims here:
http://www.doew.at/personensuche; and the entry on the Spiegelgrund in wikipedia is extensive: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Am_Spiegelgrund

Most recently, there have been a number of developments:

- a local commemoration of the victims by local students occurred on 20 Nov. 2014 (see here; program);

- Friedrich Zawrel's death on 20. Feb. 2015 had a large echo in the Austrian press;

Portrait of Johan K. source: http://www.leopoldmuseum.org/media/image/800/2020.jpg

- the exhibit "Painting against Forgetting" (Zeichnen gegen das Vergessen) includes a portrait of Johan K., who was killed at the Spiegelgrund in 1943 (a flyer);

- a report by a working group addressed abusive conditions at the Steinhof (Otto-Wagner Spital) for disabled minors as patients there between 1960 and 1980 (see here);

- a stumbling block for Spiegelgrund victim Hansi Thaler was placed in St. Johann at a former residence of his parents in 2014 (here);

picture of spray paintingSource: http://theviennaproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Spitalgrund.jpg

- the Spiegelgrund was part of the social media project "The Vienna Project," with 38 "memory spaces." A hand-cut stencils were used to spray the tag "What happens when we forget to remember?" onto the pavement at the entrance of the hospital (see here).

Recent attention to the Spiegelgrund has been paid by the science author Steve Silberman in his book NeuroTribes, which in one chapter addresses "children's euthanasia" in the context of Viennese medicine under der Nazis, with a particular focus on Dr. Hans Asperger. The author does not engage with some of the most recent literature (much of it in German). This literature includes the foundational studies by Herwig Czech (2011, 2014a, 2015), who shows Dr. Asperger, who was head of the Heilpädagogische Abteilung (Department for Special Education/Orthopedagogy) of the University Pediatric Clinic at the time, to have been part of a commission as a "special education consultant" for the city of Vienna, in 1942 to assess the "educability" of children at the children's facility Gugging, of whom 35 were then found "not educable" and sent to the Spiegelgrund. Of the 29 of these of these children sent there in 1942, all died. At the Pediatric Clinic, at least one case is known in which Dr. Asperger by way of his evaluation initiated the direct transfer of a child to the Spiegelgrund, the almost-three-year old Herta Schreiber, in 1941. The child died less than 3 months after Dr. Asperger's evaluation, at a time when there was little question among leading medical practitioners about the role of the Spiegelgrund as a killing facility for infants and children.


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Last updated: 29 August 2015