Waldniel (Provinzial Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln, Teilanstalt Waldniel)

map of waldniel

The facility Waldniel became a branch of the Provinzial Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln in 1937, after the Franciscan order that had run the establishment as the St. Josefsheim since 1909 was forced to declare bankruptcy and the administration of the Rhenish province assumed the property. The Kinderfachabteilung in Waldniel came into existence when in August 1941 the head of the Rhenish provincial administration (Landeshauptmann) Heinz Haake agreed to the demands of the "Reichsausschuss" (Brack, Hefelmann, v. Hegener) to have at least one special children's ward established in the Rhenish province. After no local doctor was found to head it, Dr. Georg Renno was sent to Waldniel, which formally was under the directorship of the director of the facility in Süchteln, Dr. Kleine, in October 1941. Dr. Renno had previously worked in the Landesheil- und Pflegeanstalt Leipzig-Dösen, itself the location of a special children's ward since October 1940 (see Kinderfachabteilung Leipzig-Dösen), where he was involved in the development of director Hermann Nitsche's infamous "Luminal-Schema," which led to the death of more than 100 patients during testing. He was also the assistant director of the T4 gassing facility in Hartheim. According to a letter of 22 December 1941 by Viktor Brack, the "activities" in Waldniel had not yet started then, although there was a special allocation (Sonderzuwendung) to Waldniel personnel working for the Reichsausschuss in 1941. The first children were transferred from the institution of Gangelt on 16 December 1941. Dr. Renno soon contracted tuberculosis of the lung and left. Prior to his departure he signed two death certificates on 27 January 1942. His successor was to become Hermann Wesse, who on the insistence of Dr. Walter Creutz, the provincial administrator responsible for medical facilities, underwent a pediatric psychiatric internship (in the Kinderfachabteilung Brandenburg-Görden as well as the Rheinische Landesklinik für Jugendpsychiatrie in Bonn (Rhenish State Clinic for Pediatric Psychiatry) prior to his assuming responsibility for the special children's ward on 1 October 1942. In the meantime, Dr. Hildegard Wesse, his wife, was the interim physician, and during this period a total of eight children died. The relatively very low number of deaths has led researchers to conclude that the special children's ward did not actually operate until Hermann Wesse took over. A special arrangement existed in so far as the assessment reports to the Reichsausschuss were reviewed and co-signed by Dr. Hans Aloys Schmitz, the head of the Rhenish State Clinic in Bonn. He had been asked to do so by Dr. Creutz, who was skeptical of Hermann Wesse's abilities.

The Kinderfachabteilung, located in the "Schutzengelhaus" (the house of the guardian angel) was closed at the beginning of July likely due to the increase of Allied aerial bombing in the area, and the remaining 183 children transferred to special children's wards at Brandenburg-Görden, Uchtspringe,  Lüneburg, Ueckermünde and Ansbach.

During Hermann Wesse's time as physician responsible for the special children's ward, 15 children died in 1942 and 76 in 1943. These numbers are derived from bureau of vital statistics (Standesamt) in Waldniel (see Zöhren 1988, p. 26). Additionally, outside the Reichsausschussverfahren, six children of female forced laborers died there as well.

After Waldniel, Hermann Wesse with his wife went to Leipzig-Dösen, the location of another Kinderfachabteilung, and then assumed responsibility for the special children's wards in Uchtspringe and Kalmenhof (see Kinderfachabteilung Uchtspring and Kinderfachabteilung Kalmenhof). At his trial in Düsseldorf for the murders at Waldniel the court established in 1948 that 93 children had died, of which 30 (between the ages of 2 and 8) were considered confirmed to have been murdered. The investigations of the state attorney's office are reported to have resulted in a list of 98 deaths of children between 27 January 1942 and 1 August 1943. The sentence was life in prison (later commuted to 12 years; for further information on Hermann Wesse's criminal conviction, see Kinderfachabteilung Uchtspringe). Dr. Renno, after dealing with illnesses, returned to Hartheim in 1943 and become involved in the "Aktion 14f13," the murder of sick concentration camp inmates. He was never found guilty in a court of law and died in 1997. Dr. Hildegard Wesse became responsible for the special children's ward in Uchtspringe in 1943 (see Kinderfachabteilung Leipzig). She was never charged for her deeds at Waldniel and was acquitted for her involvement in the killing of children at Uchtspringe but convicted of manslaughter for killing 30 adult women there (see Kinderfachabteilung Uchtspringe). Dr. Schmidtz was dismissed from office by the British authorities but was found not guilty in a trial in terms of his involvement in "euthanasia" actions and was reinstated as the director in 1947, which he remained until his retirement in 1964. He died in 1983. Dr. Kleine served as a witness in trials of personnel and administrators concerning Waldniel. He was put on leave as director of the Provinzial Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln and dismissed in 1947. After his denazification procedure was over, he was rehired and served as a senior health officer. He retired in 1961 and died in 1968.

Commemoration of the events at Waldniel has been unusual in three ways. First, it began relatively early; second, activities leading to commemoration have been carried by local individuals and civic groups who relied on personal initiative; and third, documentation of these events is available in extraordinary detail via a website.

Between the end of WWII and the early 1990s the use of the facilities at Waldniel included those of a British military hospital and school (the Kent and the Windsor school). After in 1951 burials had ended in the cemetery of the facility, which housed about 900 patient graves, including at least 76 of children for the years 1942 and 1944, bone fragments were discovered when homes were erected for the British forces, indicative of the fact that the property adjacent to the cemetery had been used as burial ground. A cross was erected in 1962 with a typical dedication for the period, which did not mention patients or "euthanasia" ("To the Dead in this Cemetery. The Fallen Heroes [19]14-18 [19]39-1945"). Feedback from former students indicates that students might have been well aware of the murder of children there, though perhaps the historical details might not have been known to them. At the time it appears that the directorship of the Kent school was not keen on informing students about the events at the facility during the Nazi period. An issue of the "Kent Chronicle" in the mid 1960s did not refer to the Kinderfachabteilung in its historical overview. Some former students of the Kent School contacted by this researcher indicated that they may have been vaguely aware of atrocities during the Nazi period, although much of that may have been based on rumors.

display on the cross Source: http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/Web_Galerie/images/02006GedenkkreuzTafelre.jpg
The cross was relocated in 1979 to the park of a newly built church in the vicinity, where in 1982 new texts were added to the sides, including one that reads "Den unschuldig Ermordeten/St. Josefsheim Hostert/1939-1945" ("To the innocently murdered/Home of St. Josef, Hostert/1939-1945). This was the first express reference, though still somewhat veiled, to the events in the Kinderfachabteilung.

In 1985 the past history of the Kinderfachabteilung began to be rediscovered when a citizen of Waldniel saw a reference to the Kinderfachabteilung Waldniel in an exhibit on "euthanasia" crimes in Cologne, "Heilen und Vernichten im Nationalsozialismus" (Healing and Extermination in National Socialism), which was one of the very first exhibits on the subject matter in Germany (see exhibits). A citizens' petition was filed with the town council to place a commemorative plaque at the Kent school, and a regional newspaper ran a story on the Kinderfachabteilung. In the council's discussion, one of the councilor alluded to already existing practices of commemoration in sermons and processions of the local Catholic community - if accurate, such practices would have been among the earliest manifestations of this type of commemorative practice for such children anywhere. The outcome of the town council's and town mayor's deliberations was a resolution in 1986 not to erect a display but rather to lease the cemetery grounds from its owner and to turn it into a memorial. Subsequently, the local secondary school was asked whether it wanted to take over the upkeep of the memorial, and it did. The students and one of their teachers, Peter Zöhren, not only restored the overgrown cemetery to its appropriate form, but also put together an exhibit on the "euthanasia" crimes that had been committed (here and here). Based on the students' activities, the research of researchers at the psychiatric clinic in Viersen to shed light on "euthanasia" crimes there (see below), and his own inquiries, Peter Zöhren published a detailed account in 1988, "Nebenan - eine andere Welt" (Next to us: A different world).

bronze display Waldniel Source: Author.
A bronze display was placed next to the entry door of the cemetery that reads "Anstaltsfriedhof - 1907-1937 St. Josefsheim der Franziskanier - 1937-1952 Prov. Heil- und Pflegeanstalt - In der Anstalt wurden während des Nationalsozialistischen "Euthanasie-Programms" mindestens 30 Kinder ermordet. Insgesamt starben über 500 Patienten. 1044 Menschen wurden in andere Anstalten abtransportiert. Viele kamen dort um" (Cemetery of the facility - 1907-1937 Home of St. Josef of the Fransciscans - 1937-1952 Care facility of the Communal Association of the Rhenish province - During the National-Socialist "euthanasia-program" at least 30 children were murdered in the facility. In all, more than 500 patients died. 1,044 persons were transported to other facilities. Many of them perished in those).

commemorative stone
picture of memorial
Sources: http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/Web_Galerie/images/01988EinweihungStein.jpg; author.

A memorial stone was placed at the memorial site at the same time. It has the inscription "Den unschuldigen Opfern" ([Dedicated] To the innocent victims). The memorial was dedicated on 26 November 1988.

At the time, a working group at the LVR-Klinik Viersen formed to explore the involvement of the clinic in NS "euthanasia." Patient records of victims, including more than 60 records of children who had died in the children's ward, had been found in a cellar of the administrative building in 1986. At the entrance of the building a commemorative display was placed in 1989: "During National Socialism several hundred patients of the then Provinzialanstalt Johannistal/Süchteln were transported [to other facilities] and to a large extent, murdered. In the special children's ward of the branch facility Waldniel at least 30 disabled children were killed. Their fate admonishes us to monitor our actions" (In der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus sind mehrere hundert Patientinnen und Patienten der damaligen Provinzialanstalt Johannistal/Süchteln abtransportiert und zu einem grossen Teil ermordet worden. In der Kinderfachabteilung der Teilanstalt Waldniel wurden mindestens 30 behinderte Kinder getötet. Ihr Schicksal mahnt zur Überprüfung unseres Tuns). Annual memorial events take place there (see here)

Since then, there have been numerous commemorative events, which over the years have involved various individuals, groups, and organizations. These events are chronicled in detail on the web site of the Gedenkstätte Waldniel-Hostert, which is supported by Peter Zöhren and has existed since 2006. The website of the LVR-Klinik Viersen, the successor of the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal zu Süchteln, in its section pertaining to its department of psychiatry and psychotherapy (Fachbereich Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie) has a detailed overview of the history of the clinic that includes the murder of patients during the Nazi period and the events at Waldniel. The website of former students of the Kent School also informs about the special children's ward in its history section, although the information seems to be a translation of Peter Zöhren's website.

panel 1 of exhibit
panel 2 of exhibit
panel 3 of exhibit
panel 4 of exhibit
Source: P. Zöhren
In early 2010, a small exhibit by Peter Zöhren was shown in Lobberich and Waldniel.

picture of Elschen
picture of a stumbling block
Source: http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/Web_Galerie/images/01942Elschen.jpg; http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/Web_Galerie/images/0200708Stolperstein02.jpg

The website of the Gedenkstätte Waldniel-Hostert also informs about one of the victims, Elschen, for whom a "stumbling block" was placed at the place where she grew up in Duisburg. A relative of the child visited the memorial site as part of the memorial services in 2007. A block for another victim has been put in the ground in 2012 in Krefeld (see here).

picture of Schutzenengelhaus
inside picture
Sources: http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/Web_Galerie/original/Hostert_1008.html; http://www.fotocommunity.de/pc/pc/display/18437196

The facility itself is in private hands (it is for sale) and in a dilapidated condition. Access is not permitted without permission of the owner and highly unsafe. Occasionally access is granted to groups wishing to see the historical facilities. It is used commercially for photo shoots and action tv due to its architecture.

New research on the perpetrators at Waldniel and their victims by Andreas Kinast has been published in 2010. One story that addresses his research is featured here.

A video on the subject matter, which also addresses Elschen, is available on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1O2WVDeaUw).

3 crosses representing victims Source:  http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/Web_Galerie/images/020140127_4.JPG

In January 2014, four crosses representing four of the about 100 murdered minors were placed at the memorial site. As part of a remake of the older film "NS-Euthanasia in the Rhineland," sequences for the remake were shot at Waldniel with youth actors in the fall of 2014. The film is scheduled for release in 2015 (see here).

Toward the end of 2014, a press report in a local newspaper addresses the discovery of bones, possibly of victims of the "special children's ward," in the backyard of a local home owner whose property abuts the memorial facility. It has been known for some time that the historical cemetery had been too small to house all the remains of the persons who died at Waldniel during WWII, and that adjacent properties had been used as an extension of the cemetery. Fragments have occasionally been found for many decades now, but the report serves as a reminder of an unusual situation that continues to disturb local residents and relatives of victims.

In early 2015, a stumbling block for child victim Margarethe Papendell, who died at Waldniel in 1943, was placed at the former location of her family's home in Krefeld (see here).

Peter Zöhren's website provides updates here: http://www.waldniel-hostert.de/archiv1.html. A new concept for a potentially extended memorial site is planned.


Arbeitskreis zur Erforschung der nationalsozialistischen "Euthanasie" und Zwangssterilisation, ed. 2013. Schatten und Schattierungen: Perspektiven der Psychiatriegeschichte im Rheinland. Munster: Klemm + Oelschläger. See especially Andreas Kinast, "Die Tötung behinderter Kinder in der Kinderfachabteilung Waldniel 1941 bis 1943" (pp. 87-106) and Peter Zöhren, "Waldniel-Hostert" (pp. 107-110)

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

Castell, Rolf, Jan Nedoschill, Madeleine Rupps, and Dagmar Bussiek. 2003. Geschichte der Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie in Deutschland in den Jahren 1937 bis 1961. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Forsbach, Ralf. 2006. Die Medizinische Fakultät der Universität Bonn im Dritten Reich. Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag.

Horsinga-Renno, Mireille. 2008. Der Arzt von Hartheim: Wie ich die Wahrheit über die Nazi-Vergangenheit meines Onkels herausfand. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.

Kaelber, Lutz. 2010. “Virtual Traumascapes: The Commemoration of Nazi ‘Children's Euthanasia’ Online and On Site.” Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media 4 (2010): 13-44. Available here.

Kaminsky, Uwe. 1995. Zwangssterilisation und "Euthanasie" im Rheinland: Evangelische Erziehungsanstalten sowie Heil- und Pflegeanstalten 1933-1945. Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag.

———. 2009.  "'Euthanasie ' im Rheinland: Verlegung und Krankenmord." Pp. 37-72 in "...wir waren samt und sonders gegen die Durchführung der Euthanasie-Aktion": Zur NS-"Euthanasie" im Rheinland, edited by the Arbeitskreis zur Erforschung der nationalsozialistischen "Euthanasie" und Zwangssterilisation. Münster: Klemm und Oelschläger.

Kinast, Andreas. 2010. "Das Kind ist nicht abrichtfähig": "Euthanasie" in der Kinderfachabteilung Waldniel 1941-1943. Cologne: shVerlag.

———.  2011. " Kindermord in Waldniel und die Legende vom rheinischen Widerstand." Pp. 121-44 in Kindermord und «Kinderfachabteilungen» im Nationalsozialismus, edited by Lutz Kaelber and Raimond Reiter. Hamburg: Lang.

Kohl, Walter. 2000. "Ich fühle mich nicht schuldig": Georg Renno, Euthanasiearzt. Göttingen: Steidl.

Orth, Linda. 1989. Die Transportkinder aus Bonn: "Kindereuthanasie." Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag (see esp. the chapter by Schulte).

Prost, Heinz. 2003. Rheinische Kliniken Viersen im Wandel der Zeit. 2d edition. Willich: n.p.

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.

Seipolt, Harry. 1993. "'Reichsausschusskinder' im Kreis Heinsberg, 1939-1945." Heimatkalender des Kreises Heinsberg 22: 123-35.

———. 1995. ..Kann der Gnadentod gewährt werden: Zwangssterilisation und NS-"Euthanasie" in der Region Aachen. Aachen: Alano Herodot.

Stierl, Sebastian. 1989. Die Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Johannistal/Süchteln und die Euthanasie. Viersen: n.p. 

Süß, Winfried. 2003. Der "Volkskörper" im Krieg: Gesundheitspolitik, Gesundheitsverhältnisse und Krankenmord im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland 1939–1945. Munich: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 327-39.

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.

Vormbaum, Thomas. ed. 2005. "Euthanasie" vor Gericht: Die Anklageschrift des Generalstaatsanwalts beim OLG Frankfurt/M. gegen Dr. Werner Heyde u. a. vom 22. Mai 1962. Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag. Pp. 87-88.

Zöhren, Peter. [1988] 2005. Nebenan - eine andere Welt: Vom Schicksal der Behinderten in der Anstalt Waldniel-Hostert, 1909-1945. N.p.: N.p.

Zöhren, Peter. 1991. "Die 'Kinderfachabteilung' Waldniel." In Psychiatrie im Abgrund: Spurensuche und Standortbestimmung nach den NS-Psychiatrie-Verbrechen, edited by R. Seidel and W. Werner. Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag.

———. 2008. "Gedenkstätte Waldniel Hostert 1988-2008." Pp. 89-102 in Heimatbote Schwalmtal, ed. by Walter Arretz.

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. Nos.  102, 191, 282, 339, 380, 480.

Bryant, Michael S. 2005. Confronting the "Good Death": Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953. Boulder: University of Colorado Press. Pp. 150-63.

Mildt, Dick de. In the Name of the People: Perpetrators of Genocide in the Reflection of Their Post-War Prosecution in West Germany: The 'Euthanasia' and 'Aktion Reinhard' Trial Cases. The Hague: Martinus Nuhoff Publishers. Pp. 132-5.

Last updated on 8 Feb. 2015