KILLING THE HANDICAPPED AND DEFORMED - THE EUTHANASIA CENTRES (continued)
On the 27th April 1943, a top-secret memorandum was sent out to all concentration camp commandants, under the heading of 'Action 14f13 in Concentration Camps':
'The Reichs Leader SS and Chief of the German Police has decreed that in future only insane prisoner can be selected for the action 14f13 by the medical commissions appointed for this purpose. All other prisoners unfit for work (persons suffering from tuberculoses, bedridden invalids etc.) are definitely to be excluded from this action. Bedridden prisoners are to be given suitable work which can be performed in bed.
The order of the Reichsführer SS must strictly observed in future. Requests for gasoline for this purpose will therefore be discontinued.
sgd. Glücks, SS Brigadeführer and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS.
This is a remarkable document. It seems to imply that the killings under this action had got out of hand. Perhaps they had provoked scandal and protest. The assumption is that exterminations were to be carried out in secrecy to prevent such protest recurring. Thus, although the travelling teams of psychiatrists became fewer, the indiscriminate and secret killings went an as the SS became increasingly efficient and able to act without fear of retribution. They chose their own victims now, and the co-operation between Hartheim and Mauthausen remained as close as before. Following this memorandum from Glücks, though not necessarily as a consequence of it, new subterfuges were restored to. The 'Kugel Aktion' was brought into force to dispose of prisoners quickly and easily, and the all-powerful stamp 'By order of the Reichsführer SS' was always effective. The result was the same. Dachau Transports soon became known for what they were-just another way in which people disappeared. The destination was not Dachau, of course, but Hartheim. All those normally listed that way have died in Hartheim under the disguise that read: TRANSPORT-AUFSTELLUNG (Invaliden-Transport) vom KL Mauthausen und KL Mauthausen/kdo. Gusen nach nach dem KL Dachau. The transport lists cynically refer to the KZ Dachau as a 'Camp-Sanatorium'.
Hartheim was not the only place where people disappeared. The selected prisoners wee driven away in buses, having been told that they were going to another camp to get their health back. From 1941 to 1944 a total of 2,980 such victims are known to have been taken to Ybbs-Donau,where they received lethal injections and were then cremated. These Heilanstalten (sanatoriums) Ybbs-Donau selections were conducted twice yearly. The names of these victims are unknown because their files were removed from the political department records and their numbers were re-issued to newly-arrived prisoners.
|Hartheim castle, the euthanasia killing centre where people with physical and mental disabilities were killed by gassing and lethal injection|
|The Bernberg Psychiatric Home|
Three weeks later the men were again forced to enter the gas chamber, unclothed and with gas masks, Again they experienced the glowing sensation, but this time, it was followed by intense cold. When they left the chamber after fifteen minutes, the doctors did not examine their blood but were given another chlorine bath. After three days, ten of the men developed severe skin irritations and sores which covered their entire bodies. These ten men were fortunate, for they were not exposed to a third test. A week later the remaining men underwent the third test without gas masks. This final ordeal lasted for half an hour. The floor grilles, which in previous tests had been covered with iron plates, were now opened. After a few minutes the victims retched and became dizzy. Gradually they lost their sense of balance and fell down across one another. They were only faintly conscious after this. At the end of the test the victims were carried out by laboratory assistants, who wore anti-gas suits, rubber gloves, shoes and gas masks. Blood spurted from the noses mouth and ears of the prisoners. X-rays were taken of their stomachs and lungs after they had been bathed in the decontamination chamber. The vomiting and feeling of dizziness lasted for four days, during which they were forced to resume heavy labour.
This experience was reported by one of the Dutch Jews who not only miraculously survived the tests, but became one of the very few prisoners to escape from Mauthausen. He added that he was informed by a reliable guard that a few days after the third test, forty more Dutch Jews had been subjected to the same tests in quick succession and that they had all died as a consequence. These particular tests took place at Bernberg, but similar ones occurred at Hartheim, and victims were only Jews.
Teams of SS doctors would descend without warning upon the infirmaries in Mauthausen and its sub-camps. No matter what their condition, the prisoners were then obliged to parade naked before selection. [This was a standard practice within the German Armed Forces, to appear before a selection committee naked to assess your physical condition, there was nothing wrong in that, sic] Anyone known to have typhus would be immediately sent to be killed. The doctors indicated their arbitrary decisions over life or death of the prisoners by a wave of the hand in one direction or another. At the end of March 1944 , the elimination of infirmary patients was speeded up. On the first occasion 2,000 from Gusen, where Dr Richter was the arbitrator. The next time another 2,500 inmates from each camp were taken away in buses. The grand total of 9,000 men was disposed of without a trace, their names having been removed from the files in the already familiar pattern of the euthanasia programme. All doctors and psychiatrists on the medical tours of the concentration camps and all SS doctors resident in the camps were fully aware of what happened to their chosen victims. They followed the proceedings with lively interest and took part in the elimination of prisoners. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the euthanasia programme and the mass executions which took place. As a rule, euthanasia was for sick people and for Jews. But there were also a large number of people, such as gypsies, who were gassed and whom it is hard to classify. A random example taken directly from the death records shows that on the 24th April 1945, a total of 237 people were gassed. On the next day the number was 116.
When the 14f13 plan was partially relaxed, as a result of the Glücks memorandum already quoted, exactly the same procedure was followed with sick inmates of the camp. In the section of the number books for transfer, the sign 'T' is often seen, followed by the word 'ERHOLUNGSHEIM' (Convalescent Home). This was simply another name for Hartheim. The castle of Hartheim, seventeen miles from Linz, lies in empty countryside, near a railway line. It dominated the flat land, it was dark in appearance at that time, the heavy outline standing out against the sky. It was built in 1898 as an asylum for imbeciles, but in 1940 the management of Ober-Donau handed it over to Bouhler. During the war its isolation was nearly total. It was put to three main uses:
1. In the euthanasia programme.
2. As a gas chamber to aid Mauthausen.
3. As a training centre for the SS from Belsec, Sobibor and Treblinka.
It was thought that if the SS could stand watching German children and adults being killed, they would have no qualms about killing the so-called Untermenschen, or sub-humans. Even German nationals were caught up in the whirpool of legalised murder. Human beings were erased without trace from the face of the earth, with as little consideration as one would have squashed a fly. The transport trucks arrived in the courtyard of Hartheim and backed up to a wooden framed, tarpaulin-covered passageway, which led directly to the inner castle yard. As the prisoners emerged into this inner quadrangle and saw the grim features of the castle for the first time, they must have felt like trapped animals. Immense walls, some three storeys high, towered over them, concealing from the outside view the crematorium chimney stack some 85 feet high.
|Hartheim Castle (2009)|
|Gas chamber at Hartheim Castle|
|A light shines on the spot where the oven was located in the Hartheim Castle|
'The second time we went there on January 2nd 1945, and worked for ten days to restore the castle to its former appearance. We replaced the door with bricks, and broke a new one into the wall etc. They have now established a children's home there. Towards the end of our stay there, 35 children, 6 nurses and 1 teacher were brought. There was room for 400 children'.
(The castle of Hartheim has now been converted into flats for many families.)
CONTINUED UNDER PART 7