Public Mental Health Practices in Germany
Sterilization and Execution of Patients Suffering from Nervous or Mental Diesase
Leo Alexander, Major, M.C., AUS
CIOS Item 24
Combined Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee
c. Information received from Oberstabsarzt Dr. Alfred Schwenninger, Director of the military section of the Institution in Wiesloch
Dr. Schwenninger said that he had observed all the goings on at Wiesloch institution in regard to the killing of the mentally ill since 1939, although it was done in a deliberately secretive manner ("getarnt und geheimuisvoll"). He further stated that Dr. Möckel had been an old National Socialist from way back and that he was fully behind the extermination policy for the mentally ill and closely tied by bonds of personal friendship to the originators and main activators of that policy. The main activators of the policy of "euthanasia" of the mentally ill were Professor Carl Schneider and his associates at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Heidelberg, Professor Heyde in Würzburg, Dr. Nitsche, Dr. Packheiser (principal expert in the Public Health Office, Baden), and Dr. Möckel himself. "I once met the whole gang here. They used to come to Wiesloch regularly for discussions." Dr. Schwenninger feels that Dr. Packheiser was a particularly evil fellow. He was originally a physician and then became a career man in the Health Ministry, who at the beginning of the rise of the Nazis went over to the personal staff of Hess. Packheiser first informed Dr. Möckel about the coming arrangements concerning the killing of the mentally ill in the summer of 1939. He told him that it would be started as soon as war broke out.
Dr. Schwenninger feels that the sermon by Bishop Galen had a good deal to do with curbing the large scale exterminations in the spring of 1942, but he feels that Stalingrad and the consequent increased need for manpower, which drew a lot of the SS personnel who sat in these organizations to the war fronts, had still more to do with reducing the organized extermination activities.
All the organizations whose sole purpose was to kill the mentally ill had fancy sounding scientific names. The first one was the "Deutsches Forschungsinstitut für Krankenbewegungen" which was founded in 1940 and operated through 1941. When this folded up, Professor Carl Schneider and his associates founded the "Deutsches Forschungsinstitut für Geisteskranke" which carried out the same policies locally after the nation-wide organization had folded up late in 1941. In this local organization, which was headed by Professor Carl Schnieder and which operated at the State Institution in Wiesloch, the same thugs were employed who had been employed previously by the Gemeinnützige Krankentransport G.m.b.H., with the addition of "a bunch of lewd women from Berlin who acted as nurses on those wards". They killed patients locally, without transferring them, in small groups at a time. This substitute organization finally broke down after Stalingrad when all these SS bullies were drawn into the military reserves. One day, shortly after Stalingrad, the whole "spooky set-up, including the lewd women, disappeared overnight into thin air". Then the third method started consisting of systematic starvation at special institutions to which patients were transferred in large numbers presumably because of lack of space. The places where perhaps most of these patients were taken were institutions in Alsace, Bavaria, a special institution in Emmendingen, and Hadamar in Hessen-Nasssau. From these institutions relatives then received the well known ominous letters of death. The worst of it was that people knew there was no real shortage of space because whole institutions were empty, especially in the very beautiful institutions in Illenau, Zinsheim and Reichenau. The latter, a brand new institution with 1200 beds, was being used as a school for the SS. Dr. Schwenninger stated he had always protested against these activities. "I used to stick my neck out almost to the point of being sent to a concentration camp. Here I was always surrounded by spies, Dr. Möckels spies".
Dr. Schwemnninger added that psychopaths were sometimes transferred from state institutions into concentration camps. He knows of 94 such patients who were taken to a concentration camp which supplied slave manpower to the radium mines in Johannesthal. Of these 94, 8 are still alive. Dr. Schwenninger added that one of them - "an unpleasant homosexual" - had announced his visit to Wiesloch within the next few days. Since 1934 many criminals were shunted into state institutions for the insane under paragraph 42b of the Penal Law, and these were later supposed to be disposed of to concentration camps.
After the interview with Dr. Schwenninger, we returned to Dr. Möckels office, where he told us something about his other activities and interests apart from the extermination of the insane. It turned out that he was an enthusiastic horticulturist. His office was full of diagrams about the progress of horticulture and fruit growing at Wiesloch and he proudly displayed the progress made in the yield of some special brand of plum. It turned out also that Dr. Möckel was a frequent contributor to horticultural magazines, and he had written a special paper published in the Psychiatrisch-Neurologische Wochenschrift, about the delightful diversion which horticulture constituted for the mentally ill.
I came away from the interview with Dr. Möckel with the feeling that here was something that had no place in the reality of life at all, but something that was part of the famous stage play "Arsenic and Old Lace". This "Arsenic and Old Lace" atmosphere pervades a good deal of Nazi Germany. In a way they were all "Brewsters" faithful to the setting of the play. There was no point in deciding which Germans in positions of authority had committed atrocities and who had not, but rather, who had committed them with an air of innocence like the two old ladies in the play, and who had committed them with overt aggressive brutality, like one of the nephews. There were a few people around of the type of the good nephew who looked on in horror, but without energetic determination or effective ability to put a stop to it. The Brewster family of the famous play is indeed symbolic of the state of affairs psychological and factual which had existed in Nazi Germany. Giving him all benefit of the doubt, the least that can be said about Dr. Möckel is that he was the sweet old lady type of killer.
About the extermination program of the insane, he stated that it was all done in great secrecy: "they never dared to bother me; they knew that I would not have any part in it". The secretive manner in which it was done was most disgusting: "it was a lie organized by the State. The whole system depended on inforcing silence by tyranny. To say anything against it was equivalent to suicide because a word about it would have meant concentration camp, and concentration camp meant death". Still Dr. Kleist went as far as he dared without "committing suicide". As a member of the Governmental Supervisory Commission he was supposed to inspect the institutions for the mentally ill once a year, but between 1934 and 1938 he received no more invitations to inspect. In 1938 he heard that conditions in the state institutions were pretty bad, and so he saw to it that he was invited for an inspection. He found conditions pretty bad. The patients were undernourished, had no shirts and little other clothing and they slept on sacks of straw. Dr. Kleist reported the appalling conditions in three reports concerning the conditions found in Eichberg, Herborn and Wielmünster, dated 5 March, 24 March and 20 August 1938 respectively (Appendix 6, 7 & 8). In particular, Dr. Kleist objected to the fact that while there was ample administrative personnel in the offices, there was a great shortage of medical and nursing personnel, and that nutrition was poor as manifested by pallor and emaciation of the patients. In his report concerning Weilmünster Dr. Kleist added a note that Councillor Bernotat referred to the patients as "asocials and idiots". Dr. Kleist added that he found it regrettable that the principal official in charge of the State institutions had expressed an opinion which was not only erroneous but also offensive to many unfortunate fellow nationals (Appendices 6, 7 & 8). These reports led to an open conflict on his part with the responsible principal expert, the County Councillor Bernotat in Wiesbaden. Bernotat told Professor Kleist in a heated argument: "For these idiots even that is still too good. That is the opinion of the Führer." Dr. Kleist replied, "I have never been informed of the opinion of the Führer in this respect". Following this argument Bernotat requested another expert inspection by Professor Carl Schneider of Heidelberg, who criticised Dr. Kleists inspection report, and reported that conditions at the institutions were good "and everything good and beautiful". Dr. Kleist stated: "Following this I considered my activity as inspector of state institutions ended, and I did not again visit any of the state institutions for the mentally ill." Dr. Kleist added that one of the best directors of the state hospitals for the mentally ill, Dr. Henkel, had asked for his retirement earlier than he would have otherwise done, because of the difficulties which were put in the way of decent management by the Nazi government, and had been out of office several years before the institution in Hadamar had been transformed into a killing center.
a. Information received from Dr. William Altvater, who had taken over the direction of the institution five weeks previously, after its former director - who had administered the killing center - was arrested by the Americans.
Dr. Altvater had been called back from retirement because the former director, Dr. Wahlmann and his associates, had been implicated in the killings of the patients. Dr. Altvater stated that a pre-Nazi director, Dr. Henkel, had been pensioned in 1937 because he could not stand the inhumane policies which were then inforced, which consisted mainly in neglect and under-feeding of the patients. He was succeeded by a Dr. Masorski, who held a commission as Oberstabsarzt in the Naval reserve and who left the institution when he went on active duty in 1939. Then Dr. Wahlmann, who had been formerly director of the institution in Eichberg but who had been retired before the Nazis came to power, was recalled from retirement and made director of the institution in Hadamar. After Dr. Wahlmann took over, the institution was emptied of patients, and remained empty for a year until it was converted into a killing center. This conversion was carried out mainly by rebuilding the cellar and by building an approach from the garage directly into the cellar. The principal expert in the health office at Wiesbaden in charge of mental institutions, Mr. Bernotat, supervised the conversion and ran the show after it was converted. The institution served as annihilation center through 1940 and 1941. The patients were killed by gas in the cellar. The institution was one of the main seats of the Gemeinnützige Krankentransport G.m.b.H.
At present 440 patients are in the institution. They are all civilians. Dr. Alvater stated that he himself had not been a direct witness to the extermination activities, but that the head nurse, Miss Irmgard Huber, who had served in the institution since 1932, knew the facts through observations of her own. I expressed a desire to talk to Miss Huber and she was called and interviewed in Dr. Alvaters presence.
b. Information received from Miss Irmgard Huber, head nurse of the State Hospital for the mentally ill in Hadamar
Miss Huber stated that in 1939 part of the institution was transformed into a military hospital, and a large section into a hospital for prisoners of war, for the most part British and French. Only 200 of the former mental patients were selected to remain because they were agricultural workers and kept the farm running. At the end of 1940, the military hospital, as well as the hospital for prisoners of war, were discontinued and 100 of the mental patients were transferred to other institutions. The remaining 100 patients were all housed at the farm (Hofgut) in Schnepfenausen, which is the farm catering to the needs of the institution at Hadamar. At the same time, the institution itself was converted into a killing center. New administrative officials were brought in. A group of new doctors, clerks and drivers came from Berlin. Most of them wore civilian clothes, some of them SS uniform. Transports of 40-70 patients arrived daily. These patients were taken to a special wing of the cellar and were killed immediately on arrival, either on the same day or at the latest during the night following arrival. They were gassed. In July 1941 this whole set-up suddenly disappeared. Then the institution was empty for more than one year until September 1942, apart from some paper work that was being done the personnel which had been running the killing center. But even then, as before, while it was being run as a killing center, nobody was allowed to peek at what these people were doing. In September 1942, the institution was reopened but now the patients were no longer gassed in large numbers, but they were killed at the rate of 3-16 per day by morphine-scopolamine injections.
For the past half year there were only a few mental patients, but instead large numbers of normal Russians and Poles were brought for killing. These people were weak and emaciated, and were supposed to be suffering from tuberculosis, but did not cough. The killing of the Russians and Poles was done by a male nurse by name of Willig, who was arrested by the Americans. The male head nurse, Ruoff, who was in charge of the killing of the mental patients but helped with the killing of the others, was transferred by the SS shortly before the end of the war, and Miss Huber did not know whether he was arrested or not.
The mental patients brought for killing by morphine-scopolamine injections since September 1942, came mostly from Eichberg, Weilmünster and Andernach, but they had all been through three or four other institutions before they were sent to the killing center. The mental patients were killed singly in small private rooms. The normal Russians and Poles were killed in semi-private rooms in the womens wing, usually 3-16 per day as they were brought in by the trains. The last group of mental normal Russians and Poles was killed 8 days before the Americans arrived in Hadamar.
There was no special starvation department in the institution, but all patients were practically starved. Only the working patients had supplementary rations. The food for the patients was "grim". It consisted of soup without fat; the supplementary rations for the working patients consisted of bread with butter.
c. Inspection of the site of the executions
The courtyard contained a large wooden garage, of a size sufficient to hold a number of large buses. From this garage a covered walk led directly into the cellar under one of the main buildings of the institution, so that the patients saw nothing of the outdoors. The site of the killings in the cellar had been covered up at the time when the mass killings were discontinued late in 1941, but traces of the crematorium chimney were still recognizable from the shape of the outlet covered with new masonry. The killing chambers themselves were found closed by masonry. There was an autopsy room in the adjacent open chamber in the same part of the cellar.
Miss Huber and Dr. Altvater then led me to the site where the Russians and Poles were killed in a series of semi-private rooms in the womens wing, each of which contained 3-4 beds.
Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences