Grossschweidnitz (Staatliche Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Grossschweidnitz)

Grossschweidnitz on a map

The Kinderfachabteilung in Grossschweidnitz was established in December 1943 as the third of (what today is the state of) Saxony's three special children's wards and the last one known to have been established of all of these wards. It was a replacement for Leipzig-Dösen, which took up patients from the bombed-out university clinic in Leipzig that year. It continued to operate until May 1945. The clinic's medical director was Dr. Alfred Schulz, who was charged in the Dresden trial but died while in detention in 1947. The physician responsible for the "special children's ward" was Dr. Artur Mittag, who had previously been responsible for the ward at Leipzig-Dösen and who committed suicide in 1946.

140 children had died in the special children's ward by the end of 1944, based on an analysis of the registration book, with a sharp decline of children present between January and March 1945. Based on Dr. Mittag's statement under arrest that he was responsible for 800 killings, and the fact that 505 killings had been documented for Leipzig-Dösen (the number has since been revised upward), it has been assumed that at least 300 children were murdered there. The current website of the emerging new memorial site at Grossschweidnitz (see below) notes that "at least 270 minors who were murdered there."

Of about 10,000 patients who were housed in the Grossschweidnitz clinic between 1939 and May 1945, 2,400 patients were transported to T4 gassing facilities, and about 5,000 died during "wild  euthanasia" as the consequence of being killed by medication, neglect, or starvation. Both in absolute numbers and a percentage of the overall patient population, the mortality in this clinic was among the highest in the entire German areas. In fact, the killing of patients by poisoning them had be authorized and requested as early as August 1939 by the Saxon Ministry of the Interior, and accounts exist which date the killing of children there in late 1940. The mortality rate among the patients in 1940 was 21%, whereas in the years 1933 to 1938 it had been under 5% on average (Böhm 2002, p. 41, in Sonnenstein).

Marianne Source: http://www.gerhard-richter.com/art/search/detail.php?5597
A prominent victim of "decentralized euthanasia" is the aunt of the famous painter Gerhard Richter, Marianne Schönfelder, whom he painted in 1965 and whose fate became known to the public as late as the 2000s. In the painting, which is based on a photograph taken in 1932, she holds the infant Richter (further information here).

In the early 1980s, a first reference was made to Grossschweidnitz in the book of Ernst Klee. This came to the attention of the then director, Dr. Manfred Oertel, who also received requests for information from West German relatives of former patients who might have been transported to Grossschweidnitz (and died there), and the director of the Katharinenhof in Grosshennersdorf  also found information that children had been transported from there to Grossschweidnitz. Dr. Oertel and colleagues discovered that medical records and statistics still existed, and that on the basis of extant records these children had then been transported to a T4 gassing facility (they were murdred in Pirna-Sonnenstein). Such information was provided in the education of nurses in training on site since the 1980s, and they were asked to tend to the cemetery. The knowledge of the trauma in the past was also still present locally then, as is evident when, for example, older patients who were receiving outpatient care, when physicians recommended that they come in for inpatient or stationary treatment, often rejected that recommendation replying "I don't want to die."

Dr. Oertel and a then-medical student, Holm Krumpolt, began advocating for a proper form of commemoration in the final years of the German Democratic Republic. Dr. Krumpolt wrote a dissertation on the subject of euthanasia in Grossschweidnitz.

Memorial stone mass grave
Photo credit: Detlef Hermann; author.

Funded by the clinic and reflecting a local initiative, a memorial stone by the sculptor Detlef Hermann was placed in the clinic's cemetery in 1990. It is conceived as a crosscut through a mass-grave (as it actually surrounded by such a grave), unearthed and thereby bringing murdered patients back from anonymity. The dead are covered by a thick layer of soil, as if the past had been covered up, the memories repressed, and the dead forgotten. The red x marks represent the desk murders at T4 and their activities as evaluators of the questionnaires and the fates of the patients (a red plus sign meant 'treatment'). Around the memorial is a field with a vast mass grave.  

sign at the entrance of cemeterySource: author

A plaque, which was placed at the entrance to the cemetery at the time, reads: "Memorial - For the over 5000 victims of 'Euthanasia' 1940 to 1945, who here found their resting place in mass graves.- Because as being sick they were 'different,' they were 'checked and sorted out.' Their fate as a warning to the healthy for all times. The clinic."

The book published by the clinic on occasion of the its 100th anniversary in 2002 addresses the events between 1933 and 1946 openly. The chronicle of the town on occasion of its 700th anniversay also refers in its section on the hospital to the "euthanasia" murders (p. 14), although in a different section it uses the term "state-mandated assisted dying" (vom Staat verfügte Sterbehilfe; p. 36) to refer to the historical events.

The history page of the clinic's website addresses the historical events during 1933-1945 as well, even though the special children's ward is not expressly mentioned.

On site, Dr, Krumpolt has offered lectures on "euthanasia crimes" over the years and seeks to establish a museum exhibit on "Euthanasia" crimes with the support of the mayor of Grossschweidnitz. The town's website has begun to provide information about the development of this undertaking on a dedicated page. The historian who currently conducts research for the exhibit is Dr. Dietmar Schulze.

Picture of Ursula Heidrich

Children who were murdered in Grossschweidnitz are featured in two exhibits and a memorial. One of them, the life and death of Ursula Heidrich, who was murdered in 1945 on the basis of being disabled, is part of the permanent exhibit at the memorial Pirna-Sonnenstein (see T4 memorials) and is also commemorated in a "Mahndepot" (memorial depot) in Dresden. As the organizers note, "memorial depots in Dresden mark places of memory. Only their lids remain visible: 6 cm in diameter, engraved with the word ORT (location) and a corresponding number. Each sealed capsule contains a text with the biography of the particular place in relation to the history of Dresden during the Second World War as well as a current photograph." On Ursula Heidrich, see here and here.

Lothar S., who was murdered at Grossschweidnitz at age 10 on the basis of having trisomy 21, died in Dec. 1940 after being transported from the Katharinenhof Grosshennersdorf, with most of the other children being further transported to the extermination facility Pirna-Sonnenstein. His story is part of the exhibit "NS-'Euthanasia' in Court" (NS-"Euthanasie" vor Gericht) (see exhibits).

A book on what happened to children born into the the "fount of life" (Lebensborn) includes a chapter on the child Sigune Imma D., who was born with trisomy 21 on 18 January 1943 and thus deviated from the ideal of the Aryan master race. She was murdered on 29 December 1943 in Grossschweidnitz (Schmitz-Köster and Vankann 2012: 305ff). The child is mentioned in the recent documentary "Der blinde Fleck" (see below). 

In 2014, there was a travel exhibit shown at the site of the future memorial, the former pathology of the facility. It addressed the Katharinenhof and was accompanied by a series of lectures. A report on the exhibit and the reactions in the community is here.

There is a new website, which details current events and activities, as well as emerging plans for the new memorial site: http://www.gedenkstaette-grossschweidnitz.org/index.php?id=2.

In 2014, the film "Der Blinde Fleck" (Blind Spot) thematized "euthanasia" in Grossschweidnitz. It includes the career of Dr. Elfriede Ochsenfahrt, who was accused of murdering children there. She later had a distinguished career as a physician in the East German republic.

It also addressed the history of Helmut Gäbler, who was admitted to Grossschweidnitz as a child in 1942 and had to demonstrate his ability to "be educated" in order to survive. He was able to leave the facility in 1947. He was also feature in an episode in the series "Selbstbestimmt" (Self-Determined) in 2014.

In 2015, the spring meeting of the Arbeitskreis NS Euthanasie und Zwangssterilisation will meet there in June.


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Last updated on 13 March 2015