Dortmund-Aplerbeck (Provinzial-, Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Dortmund-Aplerbeck)

Dortmund-Aplerbeck on a map
The Kinderfachabteilung in Dortmund-Aplerbeck was established in November 1941 as the second of (what today is the state of) North Rhine-Westphalia's three special children's wards and served as the functional replacement for the children's ward at Niedermarsberg. It operated at least until 1943. The clinic's medical director was Dr. Fritz Wernicke, and Dr. Theo Niebel was responsible for the special children's ward. Both physician's careers after WWII remained untarnished by their involvement in children's euthanasia. Dr. Wernicke continued as a practicing physician and died in 1961. Dr. Niebel even became a state Senior Medical Officer of Health (Landesobermedizinalrat) in 1957 and died in 1974.

The initial conference of the directors and head administrators of medical and care facilities in the province commemorated those who had fallen in the war yet did not mention those who had perished under the "euthanasia" measures. After pressure from American prosecutors in the context of the Nuremberg and the British occupation authorities as well efforts by the appointed first minister president of  North Rhine-Westphalia, Rudolf Ameluxen, to shed light on the murder of patients, the provincial association of Westfalen as the larger communal institution responsible for the general welfare of the population conducted investigations resulting in reports in 1946-47 on the Euthanasia crimes in the Province of Westphalia established that children had been murdered in the Kinderfachabteilung in Niedermarsberg but erroneously concluded that the special children's ward in Dortmund-Aplerbeck had never operated as such. The events at the Kinderfachabteilung never came under judicial review (see Teppe 1993; Hanrath, p. 96). A partial explanation for the failure to recognize the events in the children's ward may lie in the ward's characteristics: unlike its predecessor in Niedermarsberg, the special children's ward, housed in what had been built as a facility for the sick (Lazarett-Gebäude), was embedded in a larger children's station (Kinderabteilung) open to the public, and the nurses were recruited from existing personnel on the premises. These characteristics helped the ward to maintain an appearance of normalcy and allowed the killing actions to remain less visible. Still, the medical director Wolfgang Leonhardt (1972-1986) interviewed nurses who had worked in the special children's ward and knew about a high rate of mortality there, even though their memories remained vague.

drawing of special children's ward
Picture drawn of the children's ward, based on the memory of the resident and survivor Karl-Heinz Warneke in 1950 (Source: Die Grünen; Dokumentation des Bundes der "Euthanasie"-Geschädigten und Zwangssterilisierten e.V./original exhibit; also in Bitzel, p. 79)

picture of building
Picture of the building in which the children's ward was housed
(Source: Bitzel, p. 79

Of the 491 children and youths up to the age of 18 admitted to the facility in Aplerbeck between November 1941 and the end of WWII, 236 died during this period. Based on the already elevated levels of normal deaths, estimates of 162 unexplained deaths exist. One notorious case of a child experiencing the conditions in the Kinderfachabteilung was that of Paul Brune, who is said to have survived due to his good record as a student.

These crimes against children remained forgotten until 1989. In 1983, on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933, the then director of the Regional Council (Landschaftsverband) of Westfalen-Lippe, Herbert Neseker, and the Council Committee (Landschaftsausschuss) initiated a review of the history of the Provinzialverband der Provinz Westfalen (the Provincial Association of the Province of Westfalia), the historical predecessor of the Regional Council, during the Nazi period, specifically in the area of psychiatric care, a task it commissioned its research institute to carry out. Dr. Karl Teppe of the Institute of Westphalian Regional History (LWL-Institut für westfälische Regionalgeschichte) informed the Assembly of the Regional Council of Westphalia-Lippe in August 1989 in his lecture "On the value of life (and lack thereof) during the years of National Socialism: Hitler's 'Euthanasia'-decree of 1 Sept. 1939" of the mass murder among psychiatric patients and engendered public interest in the subject matter. The director of the clinic, Prof. Janssen, later noted that he had previously not known about the "euthanasia" crimes on site. The speech also mentioned the existence of a children's euthanasia ward in Dortmund-Aplerbeck, as did his written report (Teppe 1989, p. 22), in which Dr. Teppe affirmed its existence. These events mark the "discovery" of the "euthanasia" crimes in the children's ward. Several activities ensued.

picture of memorial
memorial in front of KFA
Source: author

First, in front of the building that housed the Kinderfachabteilung members of the clinic's staff union planted a Ginko tree and placed a memorial stone next to it 1989--a staff activity not initially supported by the clinic's entire directorship. The memorial stone' inscription reads "In memory of the victims of fascism in psychiatric institutions in 1939-1945. Initiated by personnel and funded by union members of the public service union of this facility in the year 1989" (Zum Gedenken an die Opfer des Faschismus in der Psychiatrie 1939 - 1945. Auf Anregung der Beschäftigten und gestiftet von ÖTV Gewerkschafterinnen und Gewerkschaften dieser Klinik im Jahr 1989). According to reports, sometimes small flowers are still sometimes placed there, placed by individuals (visitors, staff, or patients).

memorial 1
memorial display

figure 1
figure 2
figure 3
figure 4
figure 5
Source: author

Second, the personnel at the clinic, as it exists today, decided to erect a memorial, which they chose after a proposal for a competition under the guidance of sculptor Theo Uhlmann at the Dortmund College of Design. Among 15 student competitors, the artist Antje Kietzmann provided the winning design, a sculpture that she describes as follows: "5 stelae, intended to illustrate the fear of the children, sculpted in stone, having to wait for their murder. 5 stelae, intended to remind us of fear and agonizing deaths, without being so repulsive as to turn away the viewer. The intention is not to depict in detail the cruelty or the ugliness of the euthanasia-crimes; rather, the viewer should stop, look at the small bronze plaque positioned at the foot of the stelae on the lawn, with the inscription 'In Memory of the Victims of Nazi Rule.' The visitor should walk around the stelae...Look at each one: the screaming child's face with those big eyes and pictured the wide-open mouth....hands in the middle of the stela trying to defend themselves...a huddled, fearful child...the back and head of a child turning away with fear... the huge terrified eyes of a child" (see here). The memorial was erected in 1991 - as Bernd Eichmann reports (on the basis of newspaper stories), apparently no survivors had been invited or given the opportunity to speak when it was dedicated on 9 December.

Third, the clinic commissioned the historian Uwe Bitzel to write a monograph on the involvement of the clinic and its personnel in NS crimes. It contains a detailed section on victims of "children's euthanasia" there. The book was published in 1995.

memorial display 1
memorial display 2
Source: author

Fourth, on the initiative of the Regional Council of Westfalen-Lippe as well as Dr. Bernd Walter (see Walter 1996, p. 699 n. 570), on 29 November 1994 a commemorative display was erected on the premises of an area that contains the former clinic cemetery where many of the child victims were buried. It is a memorial stone. The text reads: "On this site the cemetery of the hospital Dortmund-Aplerbeck was located from 1897 to 1976. Until 1966 patients and also hospital personnel were buried here. Among the 2,658 dead were at least 130 children, among whom a still remained unknown number became victims of the Nazi "euthanasia" crimes in the so-called "children's ward" in the institution between 1941 and 194. Here, where the memorial stands, were the bones of the children laid to rest. In the Westphalian Clinic for Psychiatry Dortmund a monument also memorializes the victims of the Nazi regime. The mortal remains of 448 dead, who died almost exclusively after 1945, were exhumed in 1976, and most of them taken to the main cemetery in Dortmund" (Auf diesem Gelände befand sich von 1897 bis 1976 der Friedhof der Heilanstalt Dortmund-Aplerbeck. Bis 1966 wurden hier Patienten und auch Angehörige des Anstaltspersonals beigesetzt. Unter den 2658 Toten befanden sich mindestens 130 Kinder, von denen eine bis heute unbekannt gebliebene Zahl 1941-1945 Opfer der nationalsozialistischen „Euthanasie"-Verbrechen in der sogenannten „Kinderfachabteilung" der Anstalt wurde. Hier, wo diese Gedenktafel steht, wurden die Gebeine der Kinder zur letzten Ruhe gebettet. In der Westfälischen Klinik für Psychiatrie Dortmund erinnert ein Mahnmal auch an diese Opfer des NS-Regimes. Die sterblichen Oberreste von 448 Toten, die fast ausschliesslich nach 1945 gestorben sind, wurden 1976 umgebettet, die meisten auf den Hauptfriedhof Dortmund.)

Fifth, researchers Dr. Franz-Werner Kersting and Dr. Bernd Walter of the Institute of Westphalian Regional History published a series of scholarly analyses on the details of the Nazi "euthanasia" program in Westphalia.

The website of the clinic expressly addresses "children's Euthanasia" crimes on its premises, and the Landschaftsverband (Regional Council) of Westfalen-Lippe addresses "euthanasia"-crimes in its account of the history of the Provinzialverband (der Provinz Westfalen), its historical predecessor.

Regular commemorations appear to occur on 27 January (see below). The announcement of the commemoration in 2013 mentions this website (see here).

picture of commemoration 27 January Source: http://www.lwl.org/LWL/Gesundheit/psychiatrieverbund/K/lwl_klinik_dortmund/neues/

A small exhibit on "euthanasia" was on display in the church of the facility in early 2010, on the initiative of the by reverend Anke Thimm.

The memory of a child described as a victim of "children's euthanasia" and admitted to the ward (she was later transferred to Niedermarsberg) is preserved here.

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Source: Högl, pp. 370-4.

The city archive of Dortmund has a permanent exhibition at the Memorial Steinwache, which includes panels with information concerning the operation of the Kinderfachabteilung. The exhibition catalog provides detailed information, including about two victims

Karl-Heinz Warneke, who reported having resided in the "special children's ward," died in 2012 (obituary).

A list of victims from Gelsenkirchen has been posted by the Stolperstein initiative there, and the list includes names of children who died here (see http://www.stolpersteine-gelsenkirchen.de/ns_krankenmorde_gelsenkirchen.pdf)

The fate of the child Jürgen Sommerfeld is describe here.


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Last updated on 10 February 2015