Kalmenhof (Idstein) (Privat-Heilerziehungsanstalt Kalmenhof für Schwachsinnige)

The town of Idstein on a map
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 August 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 children, 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 sentenced to death in 1947, but he was resentenced 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.

Deaths of Children in the KalmenhofSource: 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 among children.

Picture of the hospital at Kalmenhof hospital Kalmenhof today
Sources: http://www.alt-idstein.info/html/der_kalmische_hof.html; author

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, at the Eichberg.

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, and 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 in 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 proceeded 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 burial place.

town cemetery Source: Author.

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 cross (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 Socialism."

picture of inscription 1
picture of inscription 2
picture of inscription 3
picture of inscription 4

picture of inscription 5
picture of inscription 6
older wooden cross
picture of mass grave inscription on the cross
Source: http://www.schlaege.com/html/gedenkstatte_kalmenhof_1.html; Landeswohlfahrtsverband 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.

Kalmenhof exhibit 1989 Source: http://www.heimkinder-ueberlebende.org/Martin_04_10_06-11.jpg

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.

display left 2
display right 1
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

display right 4
display 5
display stairs 1
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.

display upper level 1
display upper level 2
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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 language.
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.

display 4 upper level
display upper level 5
upper level exhibit 6
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.

display upper level 7
Display upper level 8 upper level stela
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.
Source: author.

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 "Kalmenhof 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 Day 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 recent 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.

A scholarly analysis of the history of commemoration and its determinants by the author (Kaelber 2011b, 2011c, 2012) can be found here, and in an extended version, here. Note: there are two important supplementary files: 1 and 2.

stumbling block for Ruth PappenheimerR. PappenheimerR. PappenheimerSource: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stolperstein_f%C3%BCr_Ruth_Pappenheimer_Frankfurt,_Kriftelerstra%C3%9Fe_103a.JPG.
The historian M. Hartmann-Menz has done research on one of the Kalmenhof victims, Ruth Pappenheimer, who was half Jewish (here). A stumbling block for her was placed on 21 June 2013 in Frankfurt. A newspaper report is here.

Other child victims who are known by name due to a newspaper story, web page about their life, or other form of memorialization include Wilfried Bender (with a stumbling block; and here), as well as several children who came to the Kalmenhof from Hamburg-Alsterdorf in 1943: Manfred Bala, Claus Beeck, Klaus-Dieter Braasch, Günther Eichler, Wolfgang Engel, Klaus Holst, Erich Kistner, Rudolf Meyer, Alfred Rahnert, and Heinrich Sund (list). A high school student report about Alfred Rahnert received the Bertini prize in 2005 (Kleinwächter and Ambos 2005).

In 2015, a stumbling block was installed in Hamburg for Peter Harms (see here), who died at the Kalmenhof in 1943 after his transfer from the Alsterdorfer Anstalten in Hamburg. Brief biographical accounts of Peter Harms and Alfred Rahnert can  be found in Barreiro et al. (2014).

Peter Harms
Peter Harms; Source: Elbe Wochenzeitung; http://www.elbe-wochenblatt.de/harburg/lokales/acht-neue-stolpersteine-d30877.html

In addition, there may soon be stumbling blocks for Gerd S. and Hans-Peter H., who also were sent from the Alsterdorfer Anstalten and died at the Kalmenhof in 1943.

The victim Emil W. is mentioned in the exhibit "Die historische Wahrheit kund und zu wissen tun: Die justizielle Aufarbeitung von NS-Verbrechen in Hessen" (see here).


Barreiro, Alicia, Benita Fussy, Gerrit Liebing, Asli Kaya, Tobias Kohl, Johanna Lotz, Timea Römer, Jana Schlemm, Janina Schlemm. 2014. "'Im Kinderheim Eissendorfer Pferdeweg nicht tragbar': Vier Harburger Heimkinder mit Behinderungen: Ihr Leben und ihr Sterben in der NS-Zeit: Dokumentation eines Schülerprojekts." Brochure. Hamburg: Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium.

Benedict, Susan, Linda Shields, and Allison J. O'Donnell. 2009. "Children's 'Euthanasia' in Nazi Germany." Journal of Pediatric Nursing 25, 6: 506-16.

Benzenhöfer, Udo. 2003. "Genese und Struktur der 'NS-Kinder- und Jugendlicheneuthanasie.'" Monatsschrift für Kinderheilkunde 151: 1012-19.

Dahl, Mathias. 2004. Endstation Spiegelgrund: Die Tötung behinderter Kinder während des Nationalsozialismus am Beispiel einer Kinderfachabteilung in Wien 1904 bis 1945. 2nd ed. Vienna: Erasmus.

De.wikipedia.org. "Kalmenhof." Available at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalmenhof#cite_note-44

Kaelber, Lutz. 2011a. “Gedenken an die NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’-Verbrechen in Deutschland, Österreich, der Tschechischen Republik und Polen.” InKindermord und “Kinderfachabteilungen” im Nationalsozialismus: Gedenken und Forschung, edited by Lutz Kaelber and Raimond Reiter. Hamburg: Peter Lang.

———. 2011b. “Gedenken an die NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’: Das Fallbeispiel der LandesheilanstaltEichberg.” Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief 161: 14-24. Available (without table and pictures) at <http://www.gedenkstaettenforum.de/nc/gedenkstaetten-rundbrief/rundbrief/news/gedenken_an_die_ns_kindereuthanasie_das_fallbeispiel_der_landesheilanstalt_eichberg/>.

———. 2011c. “Gedenken an die NS-‘Kindereuthanasie’: Zwei Fallbeispiele und allgemeine Folgerungen zur Gedenkkultur.” Pp. 201-32 in Den Opfern ihre Namen geben: NS-“Euthanasie”-Verbrechen, historisch-politische Verantwortung und Erinnerungskultur, edited by the Arbeitskreis zur Erforschung der nationalsozialistischen“Euthanasie” und Zwangssterilisation. Munster: Klemm und Oelschläger, 2011.

———. 2012. "Child Murder in Nazi Germany: The Memory of Nazi Medical Crimes and Commemoration of 'Children’s Euthanasia' Victims at Two Facilities (Eichberg, Kalmenhof)." Societies 2(3) (2012): 157-194. Available at <http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4698/2/3/157> and here. Note: there are two important supplementary files: 1 and 2.

Kleinwächter, Astrid, and Katja Ambos. 2005. "'Seiner Unterwertigkeit wegen...nicht tragbar': Alfred R. (1938-1943): Ein behindertes Hamburger Waisenkind in der NS-Zeit." Student thesis, Heisenberg Gymnasium. Hamburg.

Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen. 1985. Mensch, achte den Menschen: Frühe Texte über die Euthanasieverbrechen der Nationalsozialisten in Hessen. 3d ed. Kassel: Eigenverlag des Landeswohlfahrtsverbandes Hessen.

———.  1988. 100 Jahre Kalmenhof, 1888-1988: Vom "Verein für die Idiotenanstalt zu Idstein" zum "Sozialpädagogischen Zentrum." Kassel: Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen.

———.  2006. Der Kalmenhof damals und heute. Idstein and Kassel: N.p.

Meusch, Matthias. 1997. "Die Frankfurter 'Euthanasie'-Prozesse 1946-1948: Zum Versuch einer umfassenden Aufarbeitung der NS-'Euthanasie.'" Hessisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 47: 253-86.

Müller, Rudolf. 1987. "Das Heim des Todes." Stern, Nr. 45, 29 October.

Orth, Linda. 1989. Die Transportkinder aus Bonn: "Kindereuthanasie." Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag (see pp. 41-57).

Puvogel, Ulrike, and Martin Stankowski. 1996. Gedenkstätten für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, vol. 1. 2d ed. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Available at http://www.bpb.de/files/5JOYKJ.pdf.

Sandner, Peter. 2003. Verwaltung des Krankenmordes: Der Bezirksverband Nassau im Nationalsozialismus. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.

Schrapper, Christian, and Dieter Sengling, eds. 1988. Die Idee der Bildbarkeit: 100 Jahre sozialpädagogische Praxis in der Heilerziehungsanstalt Kalmenhof. Weinheim and Munich: Juventa Verlag (especially the contributions by Berger and Oelschläger and by Maass).

Sick, Dorothea. 1983. "Euthanasie" im Nationalsozialismus am Beispiel des Kalmenhofs in Idstein im Taunus. Frankfurt: Fachhochschule Frankfurt am Main.

Topp, Sascha. 2004. “Der ‘Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden’: Zur Organisation der Ermordung minderjähriger Kranker im Nationalsozialismus 1939-1945.” Pp. 17-54 in Kinder in der NS-Psychiatrie, edited by Thomas Beddies and Kristina Hübener. Berlin-Brandenburg: Be.bra Wissenschaft.

———. 2005. "Der 'Reichsausschuß zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden': Die Ermordung minderjähriger Kranker im Nationalsozialismus 1939-1945." Master's Thesis in History, University of Berlin.

Last updated on 26 Mai 2015