Kaufbeuren-Irsee (Kreis-, Heil- und Pflegeanstalt für Geisteskranke Kaufbeuren-Irsee)

Kaufbeuren on a Map
The Kinderfachabteilung in Kaufbeuren was established in December 1941 (as the second of three in Bavaria) and was in operation until mid-April 1945 (and children were killed until June 1945). The clinic's medical director was Dr. Valentin Faltlhauser, who was directly responsible for this ward. The ward (an extension) in Irsee, which is close by, opened a few months later. Its medical director was Dr. Lothar Gärtner, the clinic's deputy director, who was directly responsible for the ward in Irsee and committed suicide in 1945. Dr. Faltlhauser received a sentence of 3 years for instigation to be an accessory to manslaughter and was pardoned by the Bavarian secretary of justice in 1954. He died in 1961.

Picture of Kaufbeuren clinic in 1945 Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/media_ph.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005200&MediaId=3316)

221 children died in the special children's ward in Kaufbeuren and Irsee. Dr. Faltlhauser collaborated with another doctor in conducting tuberculosis experiments on children in the Kinderfachabteilung, of whom the majority died as a consequence.

Heuvelmann (2014: 58) notes that 400 person were deported from the Irsee facility as part of the "T4" program, and 600 died during the war thereafter. The first children were admitted in November 1940, and between the end of 1945 to the end of 1945 108 minors died there.

Recent research (Steger 2006) has shown the role of the three Bavarian "special children's wards" (Ansbach, Eglfing-Haar, and Kaufbeuren) as suppliers of tissue specimens for the Neuropathological Research Institute in Munich. With certainty Eglfing-Haar provided 144, and probably as many as 297, slide preparations of brain material from the “Special Pediatric Unit” in Eglfing-Haar, whereas 23 came from Kaufbeuren and 25 from Ansbach.

Even though American troops entered Kaufbeuren in late 1945, the clinic site was initially left undisturbed because of a putative occurrence of typhus there. After military personnel entered the clinic, it was discovered that a 4-year old, Richard Jenne, had become the last victim of "children's euthanasia" on May 29, 1945 (see for his picture provided by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum here; and for the document that is part of the extensive Nuremberg trial record available online here).

Kaufbeuren was probably known of having been one of the most notorious sites of medicalized murder in Bavaria, as indicated in the Munich newspaper of 7 July 1945, which titled its story, printed on its cover, on Kaufbeuren "Mass murder in the asylum" (Klee p. 452).

In Kaufbeuren a recognition of the past murders did not begin until the early 1980s. As late as 1976, when the Bezirk Schwaben published a volume on the 100 year anniversary of the psychiatric clinic Kaufbeuren one of the directors after WWII noted in an assessment of the era 1933-1945 that a special children's ward existed after Dec. 1941 but did not mention the murder of children. Dr. Faltlhauser was judged in the following way: "Seine Arbeit war im Grund getragen von Liebe und Sorge um die Kranken" (Bezirk Schwaben, p. 55; "His work was basically motivated by his love and care for the sick") and "Die Entwicklung des Hauses verdankt ihm viel" (Bezirk Schwaben, p. 55; "The progress of the clinic owes a lot to him"). Just two years earlier, in 1974, the Catholic clergyman of the clinic had put up a sign in the clinic chapel referring to the victims of "Euthanasia," but the sign disappeared quickly, likely by order of the clinic director.
Display in 1974

Changes began to occur when in the wake of psychiatric reform in the 1970s the new director Dr. Michael von Cranach and others confronted the institution's Nazi past. In. the hallway of the administrative part of the clinic Dr. Michael v. Cranach and a group of other physicians instigated the placement of a text beneath a picture of Dr. Faltlhauser that details his involvement in "euthanasia." The text ends with the note that "the events in the [Nazi] past must always remind us how an ideology contemptuous of human life can turn the actions of a physician into an instrument of extermination."
picture of Faltlhauser and text Source: Author.

A boulder that has the inscription "In memory of the 2000 patients of the hospital Kaufbeuren-Irsee who were murdered between 1940 and 1945 as victims of [Hitler's] 'Euthanasia decree'" together with murdered patients' names was placed on site. The massive stone is meant to signify the historical burden of the "Euthanasia" crimes that rests on the clinic. Patients, visitors, relatives of victims, and staff members leave little mementos such as candles there.
Memorial (boulder) in Kaufbeuren Source: Author.

Picture of boulder 1 Picture of boulder 2 Picture of boulder 3
Source: Erwin Resch

The boulder is located at a place on clinic property that is frequented by the public because it is located close to a spot that offers some of the best views of the town Kaufbeuren. The memorial was conceived, financed, and implemented by a group of physicians, psychologists, and nurses on the occasion of the 50th anniversary in October 1989 of the beginning of the "Euthanasia" program. Dr. v. Cranach headed a group of personnel, particularly resident physicians, who sought to place a memorial on clinic grounds. An annual commemoration takes place on January 27 in which local community members, clinic staff, clergy as well as nursing students participate. "Euthanasia" is a part of the nursing students' curriculum, and it is also a topic that is addressed in advanced professional training (berufliche Weiterbildung) there.

Dr. Michael v. Cranach, who has hosted and been part of commemorative events since the early 1980s, has also conceived the exhibit "In memoriam" (see in exhibits), which has as one of its foci the life and death of Ernst Lossa, who was murdered at Kaufbeuren.

picture of memorial in Kaufbeuren Source: Author.
On site (at the former clinic cemetery) is also another memorial of the Irsee artist Peter Müller since summer 2006. It is close to an older memorial and has the inscription 'In commemoration of the dead and victims of the NS-Euthanasia.' It is coated with a reddish patina may remind the visitor of the impermanence of all that is material and ideological. The stark cubic shape of the memorial itself is open to interpretation: does it stand for the harsh ideology of National Socialism putting a stop to any humane approach to illness and any resistance? Or is its shape intended to remind the visitor of the shape of the chimney of the crematorium that was erected in 1944 on site to burn the victims? - Given its rather remote location, the memorial presently does not seem to engender active commemoration.

In Irsee the historical chronicle of the cloister published in 1981 made no mention of the involvement of the institution in the Nazi euthanasia project. However, in that year a bronze sculpture by Martin Wank was erected on the grounds of the former clinic cemetery (where the victims were believed to have been buried, although more recent research shows the burial grounds to have been farther from the cloister). It was the first to commemorate the "euthanasia" victims at a site of a former Kinderfachabteilung in West Germany, and the second overall (after Kocborowo). It was commissioned by the district Schwaben in the context of the renovation of the Kloster Irsee and its re-dedication as a conference and education center. A small panel on the display reads "let me sing your passion" (a reference to the title of a ecclesiastical hymn, by Johann Michael Denis). As reported by the institution's priest, patients sang this song when they knew that they marked for death and were to die (Römer, p. 143). A plate is attached, with the text "In commemoration of the silent victims of political dictatorship." The memorial employs a somewhat effusive symbolism, explained in the booklet 'Memento for the euthanasia victims of Irsee': the lowest level of the memorial depicts a quagmire of guilt (and perhaps desperation, depicted by extending limbs) that holds on firm to the tree of death bearing the world as its fruit. On top of it is the Redeemer, who turns the world in his resurrection into the cradle of good.

picture of memorial in irsee Source: Author.

A display at the memorial addresses the historical events as well; its text is stated in the history section of the cloister's webpage (see the following). Before the plaque was installed, a sign directing visitors to the memorial had copies of the "Memento" attached to it.

Picture of text display in Irsee Source: Author.
The history part of the website of the Kloster Irsee (where Irsee's part of the special children's ward was housed), now called the "Swabian Conference and Educational Center Cloister Irsee" is explicit about its past: "1939-1945: The inhuman racial ideology of the National Socialists and the resulting activities for the 'extermination of worthless life' also affect Irsee: More than 2000 patients [adults and children] from Kaufbeuren/Irsee are deported to extermination facilities, die upon the provision of a fat free starvation diet [E-diet] or are directly killed as a result of injections and overdoses of medications." Parts of this text are also mentioned in the overview of the clinic's history in the hallways of the cloister.

Most recently, the former pathology (Prosektur) of the Irrenanstalt has been reopened as a memorial. A plaque at the entrance of the building reads: "Cloister Irsee. Memorial. By having a memorial on the former cemetery grounds, a memorial room in the facility of the then pathology, and [three] stumbling blocks at the front of the cloister the Swabian Educational Center Irsee commemorates the murder of the patients by Nazi "euthanasia" in the facility Kaufbeuren/Irsee. Let the fate of the victims be a warning to us: The dignity and the life of the sick, the marginalized in society, and those who need assistance deserve particular protection!"
Memorial plaque at the entrance of the new memorial Source: Author.

The memorial contains the dissection table that has been in place since the end of WWI (a copy of it was made for the exhibit on euthanasia in the Imperial War Museum). The anteroom contains an art installation by Beate Passow (1996), a triptych originally entitled "...most courteously I wish to ask thay you answer the following questions..." (a request made by Dr. Hensel, carrying out deadly tuberculosis experiments on children of the Kinderfachabteilung) with three pictures, each depicting a child, which are also included in Dr. v. Cranach's exhibit "In Memoriam" (see exhibits).

picture of pathology in Irsee B. Passow's installation (part 1)
B. Passow's installation (part 2)
B. Passow's installation (part 3)
Source: Author.

At the cemetery there is a plaque in a small chapel. It was restored in 2006 and to the existing text, which read "Commemorate in prayer the men and women of the clinic Irsee, who found their final resting place here and await eternal resurrection," the following text was added: "In memory of the victims of the NS-Euthanasia-Actions of 1941-45 who rest here."

picture of chapel on cemetery Source: Author.

Memorial plaque at the cemetery Source: Author.

There is a stela by the sculptor Alfred Neumann close to the former pestilence cemetery (Seuchenfriedhof) of the clinic established in 2005, which has the following inscription: 'In commemoration of 47 dead persons of the NS-Euthanasia actions who fell victim to a typhus epidemic in spring 1944.' It was erected at the end of 2005 based on a resolution of the city council. Its 47 small squares relate to the number of the victims.

Picture of stela in IrseeSource: Author.

pics of stumbling blocks Source: http://www.kloster-irsee.de/deutsch/kloster_irsee/pressearchiv1.php?p=537
In 2009, stumbling blocks (Stolpersteine) for three victims of "euthanasia" were placed at the cloister Irsee.

picture of salzstreuer memorial Source: C. Kaelber.
In addition, a youth group, "Die Salzstreuer' (Saltshakers), have advocated for the erection of a centrally located memorial for victims of National Socialism in Kaufbeuren. "Euthanasia" as a word is inscribed in the memorial, which was created by the artist Peter Müller and dedicated on 9 November 2008, the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht. A text display explains the context.

Picture of display 1 Picture of display 2
Source: C. Kaelber

The group also has put together an exhibit, "Es war auch hier: Kaufbeurer Schicksale im Dritten Reich" (It happened here too: The Fate of Kaufbeuren Residents in the Third Reich), which includes a section on children's "euthanasia (here). The group has a website with further information.

Picture of 500 candles at Kaufbeuren
Source: Allgäuer Zeitung (3 November 2010, p. 24)

On 1 November 2010, the author Robert Domes organized a display of 500 candles at the former cemetery at Irsee on All Saints' Day (see also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yitu5mTd49k). This events has since been repeated.

A film about Ernst Lossa, one of the victims, has been reported to be planned.  The student Sina Moshehi received the Bertini prize for his documentary "Zum Andenken: Vom Leben und Sterben des Ernst Lossa" (In memory: Life and Death of Ernst Lossa) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhuHbm9mvZw).

The reopened city museum of Kaufbeuren addresses "euthanasia" via electronic media in its facility.

A section entitled "A situation at the Freiburg public youth office" (Heidtke/Rössler 1995, pp. 335-39) describes the (rather remarkable) refusal of four young students of the Catholic Social Women's Office (Soziale Frauenschule) in Freiburg who interned at the public youth office to ready disabled children for transport to the special children's ward Kaufbeuren and accompany them in 1944 because it was an open secret that Kaufbeuren was an "extermination center."

In 2014, a stumbling block was placed in Ludwigsburg in memory of the victim Anita Henk, and a web page as well as a youtube video provides information about her fate.

The victim Rolf Mühlhahn is commemorated here.

Digital reproductions of records of the Grafeneck trial relate to a number of children from Wurttemberg and Baden who died in the Kaufbeuren facility between 1941 and 1945 (http://www.landesarchiv-bw.de/plink/?f=6-902860; ).


Benzenhöfer, Udo. 2003. "Genese und Struktur der 'NS-Kinder- und Jugendlicheneuthanasie.'" Monatsschrift für Kinderheilkunde 151: 1012-1019.

Bezirk Schwaben. 1976. Hundert Jahre Nervenkrankenhaus Kaufbeuren. Kaufbeuren: n.p.

Cranach, Michael von. 1987. "Die Psychiatrie in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus." In Verband der Bayerischen Bezirke, 150 Jahre Psychiatrie in Bayern (broschure).

———. 2008. "Geschichte des Nervenkrankenhauses Irsee." Lecture at the conference "60 Jahre Allgemeine Erklärung der Menschenrechte: Das Recht auf Gesundheit in Deutschland," Irsee. Available on youtube (here).

Domes, Robert. 2008. Nebel im August: Die Lebensgeschichte des Ernst Lossa. Munich: cbt.

Frei, Hans, ed. 1981. Das Reichsstift Irsee: Vom Benediktinerkloster zum Bildungszentrum. Weissenhorn: Anton H. Konrad Verlag.

Heidtke, Birgit, and Christina Rössler. 1995. Margarethas Töchter: Stadtgeschichte der Frauen von 1800 bis 1950 am Beispiel Freiburgs. Freiburg: Kore.

Heuvelmann, Magdalene. 2013. "Wer in einer Gottesferne lebt, ist im Stande, jeden Kranken wegzuräumen": "Geistliche Quellen" zu den NS-Krankenmorden in der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Irsee. Irsee: Grizeto.

--------. 2014.
"'Wer in einer Gottesferne lebt, ist im Stande, jeden Kranken wegzuräumen': Geistliche Quellen zu den NS-Krankenmorden in der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Irsee." Pp. 52-70 in Die "Euthanasie"-Opfer zwischen Stigmatisierung und Anerkennung: Forschungs- und Ausstellungsprojekte zu den Verbrechen an psychisch Kranken und die Frage der Namensnennung der Münchner "Euthanasie"-Opfer, edited by Gerrit Hohendorf, Stefan Raueiser, Michael von Cranach, and Sibylle von Tiedemann. Munster: Kontur.
Klee, Ernst. 1995. "Euthanasie" im NS-Staat. Frankfurt: Fischer.

Mader, Ernst T. 1985 (first ed. 1982). Das erzwungene Sterben von Patienten der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee zwischen 1940 und 1945 nach Dokumenten und Berichten von Augenzeugen. Blöcktach: Verlag an der Säge.

Nießeler, Uli. 1984. "Vernichtungszentrum Kaufbeuren-Irsee." Türspalt (10).

Ost, Suzanne. 2006. "Doctors and Nurses of Death: A Case Study of Eugenically Motivated Killing under the Nazi `Euthanasia' Programme." Liverpool Law Review 27: 5-30.

Pötzl, Ulrich. 1995. Sozialpsychiatrie, Erbbiologie und Lebensvernichtung: Valentin Faltlhauser, Direktor der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irrsee in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. Husum: Matthiesen.

Raueiser, Stefan, and Bertram Sellner, eds. 2009. "...man stolpert mit dem Kopf und mit dem Herzen": Zum Gedenken an die Opfer der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren/Irsee. Irsee: Grizeto Verlag.

Resch, Erich. 2006. "Die Begräbnisstätten der Heil- und Pflegeanstalten bzw. des Bezirkskrankenhauses Kaufbeuren und Irsee." Kaufbeurer Geschichtsblätter: Mitteilungsblatt des Heimatvereins Kaufbeuren e.V. 17, 8: 258-78.

Römer, Gernot. 1986. Die grauen Busse in Schwaben: Wie das Dritte Reich mit Geisteskranken und Schwangeren umging: Berichte, Dokumente, Zahlen und Bilder. Augsburg: Presse-Druck- und Verlags-GmbH Augsburg.

Schmidt, Martin, Robert Kuhlmann, and Michael von Cranach. 1999. "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren." Pp. 265-325 in Psychiatrie im Nationalsozialismus: Die Bayerischen Heil- und Pflegeanstalten zwischen 1933 und 1945, edited by M. von Cranach and H.-L. Siemen. Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag.

Schweizer-Martinschek, Petra. 2004. "Die Versuche an behinderten Kindern in der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee 1942-1944." Pp. 231-59 in Nationalsozialismus in Bayerisch-Schwaben: Herrschaft, Verwaltung, Kultur, edited by Andreas Wirsching. Ostfildern: Jan Thorbecke.

———. 2008. "NS-Medizinversuche: 'Nicht gerade körperlich besonders wertvolle Kinder.'" Deutsches Ärzteblatt 105(26): A-1445.

Steger, Florian. 2002. "Medizinische Forschung an Kindern zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus: Die 'Kinderfachabteilung' der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee." Medizin, Gesellschaft und Geschichte 22: 61-88.

———. 2004. "'Ich habe alles nur aus absolutem Mitleid getan': 'Kinderfachabteilung' der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee: 'Kindereuthanasie'." Monatsschrift Kinderheilkunde 152(9): 1004-10.

———. 2005. "Kinder als Patienten der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee: Die 'Kinderfachabteilung' in den Jahren 1941-1945." Sudhoffs Archiv 89(2): 129-50.

———. 2006. "Neuropathological research at the 'Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Psychiatrie' (German Institute for Psychiatric Research) in Munich (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute): Scientific utilization of children's organs from the 'Kinderfachabteilungen' (Children's Special Departments) at Bavarian State Hospitals." Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 15: 173-85.

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.

Concerning "Euthanasia" trial(s) for this location
Bauer, Fritz et al., eds. 1968-1981. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen: Sammlung deutscher Strafurteile wegen nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen, 1945-1966. Amsterdam: University Press Amsterdam. Vol. 5, pp. 175ff.

Bryant, Michael S. 2005. Confronting the "Good Death": Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953. Boulder: University of Colorado Press. Pp. 192-98.

Freudiger, Kerstin. 2002. Die juristische Aufarbeitung von NS-Verbrechen. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Pp. 272-78.

last updated on 13 September 2015