Niedermarsberg (Provinzialheilanstalt für Geistes- und Nervenkranke Niedermarsberg)

Marsberg on a map
The Kinderfachabteilung in Niedermarsberg (today a part of the city of Marsberg) was established in November 1940 as the first of (what today is the state of) North Rhine-Westphalia's three special children's wards and the approximately fifth one overall. Its establishment in a physically separate and closed-off ward in a building followed efforts in the summer of 1940 by Hefelmann, one of the main bureaucrats responsible for "euthanasia" in the Chancellery of the Führer) to open a special children's ward in the Province of Westphalia. It operated until December 1941, as the Kinderfachabteilung in Dortmund-Aplerbeck was established there as its functional replacement. Its closing was at least in part due to the fact that its operation did not remain secret in a heavily Catholic region and caused unrest. The special children's ward was housed in the St. Johannes Stift für Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie, which was founded as a "Idiotenanstalt" ("facility for idiots"), under the auspices of the Barmherzige Schwestern vom Heiligen Vinzenz von Paul (a Catholic order; the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Vincent de Paul). The clinic's medical director was Dr. Theodor Steinmeyer, who committed suicide after his arrest by the Allies in 1945. Responsible for the special children's ward was Dr. Werner Sengenhoff, who was recruited for this position from the provincial clinic in Dortmunt-Aplerbeck. He died in 1944, apparently after an illness. Additional medical personnel brought in by the Reichsausschuss consisted of the nurse Olga Ullrich and the nurse assistant Christel Zielke.

With the two physicians dead, Christel Zielke was the only one held responsible in a court, but her sentence of 3 years and 9 months was for having cooperated in the killing of 25 patients in the T4 facility Hadamar, where she had worked as well (she had also worked at Grafeneck and Bernburg; see Bauer). The events at the Kinderfachabteilung never came under judicial review (see Teppe 1993; Hanrath, p. 96).

It has been estimated that of a maximum of 53 children housed in the special children's ward, most if not almost all became victims of "children's euthanasia" (Kersting, in Köster, p. 13, specifies the number of actual victims as at least 36, based on the earlier research of Teppe).

In the immediate postt-war period, 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 presecutors 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 Westphalia 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 temporarily pierced the veil of professed ignorance that enveloped the St. Johannes Stift and other places, confirming that children had been murdered in the Marsberg Kinderfachabteilung. In fact, at the St. Johannes Stift mistreatment of patients continued well into the post-war period, as demonstrated in the notorious case of Paul Brune. In 1952. a review of the post-war reconstruction of public welfare institutions in the region included a reference to the murder of patients in the Nazi period. It also made mention of 35 victims of children's euthanasia in Niedermarsberg (Naunin 1952, p. 94).

In 1983, on occasion of the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship in 1993, 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 Provicial Association of the Province of Westphalia), 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. His written report (Teppe 1989) included references to "children's euthanasia" at Niedermarsberg.

memorial stoneSource: author.

The church of the clinic (see http://www.lwl.org/psychiatrie-marsberg-download/PDF/LageplanKlinik20090220.pdf, no. 05 on the map) has a memorial stone with the inscription "In memory of patients murdered during the tyranny of National Socialism. Let it be a warning to us today" (Im Gedenken an die während der Gewaltherrschaft des Nationalsozialismus ermordeten Patienten. Zur Mahnung uns heute). It does not address or thematize children's euthanasia specifically. It was created by sculpting company Steinmetz Köchling in Marsberg and placed in the summer of 1989. The inscription was created by the Protestant priest Rolf Kiefer.

picture of memorial by R. Lischka
picture of text
picture of plaque

Source: LWL.

However, at the entrance of house 11 a memorial was placed in Dec. 1989 that does (see above and also http://www.lwl.org/psychiatrie-marsberg-download/PDF/LageplanKJP20090220.pdf). It was created by the artist Reinhard Lischka and shows a sculptural display with the shapes of three children under two arms ascending. The text on the display reads "Not knowing hurts nobody, except for those who are hurt, because no one knows it! (Anon.) (Nicht Wissen tut niemandem weh, mit Ausnahme derer, denen weh getan wird, weil niemand es weiss! [Anon]). Below it there is a plaque with the text "The knowledge of the suffering and murder of the children in our home during the Nazi rule of terror is enduring warning to us." On occasion of the 125th anniversary of the clinic, an exhibit took place at the location, and a small zen garden in the central building was created to offer a  place of peace.

memorial 1
memorial 1b
Source: author.

Source: author.

An innovative commemoration project that is unique in its kind was launched as the project "Idiotenfriedhof" (a reference to the cemetery of the originally named "Idiot facility," where many of the child victims were buried). It consists of two parts: first, an art installation by the artist Astrid Raimann at the entrance to the cemetery (established in 2004), which constitutes a 3x3m tube frame of a rectacular shape. It marks a boundary, and it is meant to generate questions in the observer: a boundary of what kind? Between what or whom? From and to where? Next to the frame is a small sign with the following words: "HERE AND THERE 1940-1941-2004" (HIER UND DA 1940-1941-2004). Various school classes come visit this memorial (for a report, see here).

Behind it, a sign points to a memorial on the cemetery grounds. The inscription on it reads: "Against forgetting. In memory of the murder of innocent children in St. Johannisstift Marsberg during the National Socialist tyranny December 1940 - end of 1941" (Gegen Vergessen. Zur Erinnerung an die Ermordung unschuldiger Kinder im St. Johannisstift Marsberg während der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft Dezember 1940 bis Ende 1941). It was placed there in 2000, and on 23 June 2001 a commemorative religious service was held there. A newspaper article notes that 18 of the Reichsausschusskinder are buried in this cemetery.

picture of living memorial 2Source: http://www.idiotenfriedhof.de/Bilder/Bilder/big_aquarell_04.gif

Second, creative workshop projects are carried out with young patients at the clinic since 2002. These include workshops in
2002: stone sculpting, with sculptor Astrid Raimann
2003: video workshop, with film producer Besime Atasever
2004: comic workshop, with comic author Julia Drinnenberg
2005: building and playing string puppets, with metal sculptor Kordula Klose
2006: water color painting, with painter Christina Stoschus-Schumann
2007: creative writing and improvisation theater, with writer Arzu Toker
2008: water color painting, with painter Christina Stoschus-Schumann
2009: stone sculpting, with sculptor Astrid Raimann
2010: painting, with painter Rosa Reichenbach
2011: painting, with painter Rosa Reichenbach
2012: creative writing and improvisational theater, with writer Arzu Toker
2013: sculpting workshop, with sculptor Astrid Raimann
2014: creative writing, with artist Sookee
2015: dance workshop, with dance therapist Ute Seddig

The art installation and living memorial are depicted on the following website, weblog, and blog. Reviews/comments in English/German also exist. Most recently, there is also a Facebook page. A film by J. Oppermann, "Finde Deine Form" (Find your form), about one of the workshops was produced and released in 2013.

The website of the clinic today does not mention the "Euthanasia" crimes on its premises. Instead, in its survey of its history it points to the existence of "compulsory sterilizations and forced transfers with the intent to kill [patients elsewhere]"--a curious depiction of the historical events. In contrast, in its book on the 125th anniversary the institution addresses the crimes during the Nazi era in great detail.

The Regional Council of Westfalen-Lippe addresses "euthanasia"-crimes in its account of the history of the Provinzialverband (der Provinz Westfalen), its historical predecessor. The section on psychiatry between 1933 and 1945 is detailed and includes a section on the Reichausschuss (LWL-PsychiatrieVerbund Westfalen und LWL-Kulturabteilung 2010, pp. 48-60). It further addresses Niedermarsberg under the heading "Commencement of Child Murder" on its Internet portal "Westphalian History" (here).

A memory of a child who is described as a belated victim of "children's euthanasia" at this location (she died in August 1945) is preserved here. Another young person's history (who died in 1942) is described here.

A recent documentary by the WDR addressed "The Hell of Pediatric Psychiatry: Violence and Abuse Behind the Institution's Walls," focusing on the period between 1945 and 1980 (here).

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


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Last updated on 29 May 2015