Am Spiegelgrund clinic
Am Spiegelgrund was a children's clinic in Vienna during World War II, where 789 patients were killed under the Nazi Regime's Child Euthanasia Program, also known as Aktion T4. Between 1940 and 1945, the clinic operated as part of the psychiatric hospital Am Steinhof later known as the Otto Wagner Clinic within the Baumgartner Medical Center located in Penzing, the 14th district of Vienna.
Am Spiegelgrund was divided into a Reform School and a Children's Ward, where sick and disabled adolescents were unwitting subjects of medical experiments and victims of nutritional and psychological abuse. Some died by lethal injection and gas poisoning; others by disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, and "accidents" relating to their conditions. The brains of up to 800 victims were preserved in jars and housed in the hospital for decades.
Beginning in the spring of 1938, an extensive network of facilities was established for the documentation, observation, evaluation and selection of children and adolescents, whose social behavior, disabilities, and/or parentage did not comply with the Nazi ideology. The recording of these individuals often began in infancy. Doctors and midwives across the Reich reported mental and physical abnormalities in newborns and children to health authorities. In 1941 in Vienna, 72 percent of newborns were documented within their first year of life by the city's more than 100 maternity clinics. Included within the records was genetic information. Indeed, anyone who came into contact with a health institution was systematically recorded into a "hereditary database". All told, over 700,000 Viennese citizens were entered into this database. Genetic information was compounded with school assessments and with employer information and criminal records, when applicable.
Many within Vienna's healthcare system adhered to Nazi eugenics, and patients of all ages were funneled into specialized facilities, in which many patients were mistreated and killed. Among the patients were those deemed Life unworthy of life. Throughout Germany and Austria, euthanasia centres were established, including Hadamar Euthanasia Centre and Hartheim Euthanasia Centre, for people suffering from mental or physical handicaps. Children were not spared. Many children were "mercifully" sent to Children's Hospitals, and among the most prominent of these was the Kinderspital (Children's Clinic) am Spiegelgrund in Vienna.
Aktion T4 and The Children's Ward
The establishment of a Children's Ward at the Am Steinhof facility was not possible until the implementation of Aktion T4 called for the relocation of approximately 3200 patients, or about two thirds of the patient population at the time, in July 1940. The order subsequently emptied many of the "pavilions", or buildings, within the grounds. The patients were taken, sometimes after a brief transfer to the institutions of Niedernhart bei Linz (de) or Ybbs an der Donau, to the Hartheim Euthanasia Centre, near Linz. It is likely that Am Steinhof served as a transfer point for patients of other institutions, as well. The gassing of patients at Hartheim began in May 1940; by the end of the summer of 1940, the 3200 patients from Am Steinhof were systematically brought to the centre.
Both the patient selection process and the implementation of the action were carried out by the Commission of Berlin, assembled by Werner Heyde. The institutions themselves were informed only that large-scale transfers were necessary "for the defense of the Reich".
On July 24th, mere weeks after the transfers began, the Children's Clinic, Am Spiegelgrund, opened its doors with room for 640 patients in 9 buildings on the grounds. The curative education or special needs department of the Central Children's Home was relocated to Spiegelgrund, along with the department's so-called School Children Observation Center. There, children were evaluated to determine their educability.
Educability became a part of the patient selection process. Some of the children arrived perfectly healthy, in both mind and body, but were brought to the center due to delinquent behavior, poor upbringing, or unsuitable parentage. They were considered delinquents, if they had run away from home or resorted to petty crimes; they were considered inferior, if they were born out of wedlock or came from impoverished homes; they were considered "defective," if their parents were alcoholics or criminals. These educable children were not, however, exempt from experimentation and punishment at the hands of their caretakers, since they were often seen as a burden on society. In this way, "the child euthanasia program came to medicalize social belonging, incorporating social concerns as eugenicist criteria."
Known officially as the Infant Center, Building 15 was designated as a Children’s Ward, the second of its kind in the Reich after Brandenburg an der Havel. The ward would report any supposed genetic or contagious diseases to the central healthcare office in Vienna, which would determine if "treatment" were necessary.
Patient records were evaluated by professionals to determine whether a patient should be euthanized, allowed to live, or observed pending a final decision. One preserved example of the evaluation records belonged to an adult patient, “Klara B.," institutionalized at Steinhof, who was among the 3200 patients evicted in the summer of 1940. Highlighted in red pen are the terms Jew (German: Jüdin) and her diagnosis of schizophrenia. The red "+"s on the bottom left of her form mark her for euthanasia. She was transferred from the Vienna facility to Hartheim, where she was gassed on August 8, 1940, at the age of 31. She and other institutionalized Jews faced unfavorable odds. Of these roughly 3200 patients, around 400, or 12.5%, were Jewish, when the Jewish community constituted just 2.8% of Austria's national population in 1933.
Those who remained behind or who were later brought to Am Steinhof were in no less danger than those who were removed. The death rates among patients at Am Steinhof increased annually between 1936 and 1945, from 6.54% to 42.76%, respectively. As the death rate climbed, the patient population naturally decreased. In 1936, there were 516 reported deaths; in 1945, there were approximately 2300.
Despite the regime's attempts to keep Action T4 a secret, the public was in some measure aware of increasing death rates among the institutionalized patients. In July 1940, Anna Wödl, a nurse and the mother of a disabled child, led a protest movement against the evacuation and killing of institutionalized children. Family members and supporters sent droves of letters to high-ranking officials in Berlin. They also protested outside institutions, but police and the SS soon put an end to the demonstrations. The Austrian Communist Party, the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and others formally condemned the killings, and on 24 August 1941, Hitler was pressured to abolish Action T4. The abolition, however, did not stop the killings. Other child euthanasia programs, particularly Action 14f13, quickly and quietly took its place. Anna Wödl’s protests proved to be in vain; while her son, Alfred Wödl, was spared a transfer to Hartheim, he died of "pneumonia" in the Children's Ward at Am Spiegelgrund on February 22, 1941. His brain was kept for research and housed in the hospital until 2001, when his remains were finally laid to rest.
- The head of the institution from 24 July 1940 to January 1942 was Erwin Jekelius, who in October 1940 was one of 30 participants in a conference about "Euthanasia" laws, which were never put into effect. The T4 program also used him as an expert to decide the fate of institutionalized patients. In September 1941, the Royal Air Force dropped pamphlets detailing his involvement in multiple murders at Spiegelgrund. He was arrested in 1945, and in 1948, he was sentenced in Moscow to 25 years of hard labor. He died in a Soviet labor camp in May 1952.
- Succeeding Jekelius and presiding over the institution for the next six months was Hans Bertha, who was significantly involved in the T4 campaign from its conception in 1940. Bertha was never tried for his crimes despite documented evidence that he was involved in the murders of patients at Spiegelgrund and his close association with Jekelius and other war criminals. Bertha also used the patient murders for his "scientific" progress. According to the murderous Hartheim physician Georg Renno, Bertha was particularly interested in epilepsy cases. When epileptic patients were murdered at Hartheim, for example, their brains were removed and given to Bertha for his research. After the war, he enjoyed an illustrious academic career in Graz.
- Hans Asperger was known to visit Am Spiegelgrund and to observe the children there. In his doctoral thesis, "The 'Autistic Psychopaths' in Childhood," published in 1944, he champions those with "milder challenges," who could attend regular school; however, he also recommended those he deemed "on the other end of the spectrum" to the euthanasia center.
- On July 1, 1942, Ernst Illing took over as medical director. He previously worked as a senior physician in the first children's division at the national institution at Brandenburg-Görden, alongside Hans Heinze, infamous for his involvement in the euthanasia program. Illing maintained his position until April 1945. The following year, he was publicly hanged for his crimes.
- Heinrich Gross, who was trained by Hans Heinze, became the director of the Children's Ward in Pavilion 15 in 1940. At least half of all Spiegelgrund victims died under Gross' care. From July 1942 to the end of March 1943, he shared the responsibilities of the Children's Ward with Marianne Türk. He was enlisted around then, but records indicate he had returned to the clinic by the summer of 1944. Gross experimented on both the living and the dead. He monitored behavior after "treatments" were administered and experimented on his victims' brains and spinal tissue, which were stored in formaldehyde in the basement. Gross would go on to become a highly successful speaker, expert witness, and researcher, publishing 34 works between 1954 and 1978 based upon the experiments. He received an Honorary Cross for Science and Art in 1975, which was stripped in 2003. Nazi-era files uncovered in the mid-1990s reopened the case against Gross. The ensuing investigation provided compelling evidence of his involvement in the deaths of 9 children, whose preserved remains contained traces of poison; however, by then, he was seen unfit to stand trial.
- Margarethe Hübsch was tried for murder alongside Ernst Illing and Marianne Türk between July 15 and 18, 1946. Unlike Illing and Türk, Hübsch was acquitted and released for lack of evidence. The national newspaper article detailing the trial claims that further testimony strongly suggested that she at least was aware of the killings, even if she did not commit them herself.
- During the same trial, Marianne Türk confessed to "sometimes" giving injections, but she did not know the number of victims. She was sentenced to ten years in prison but initially served only two. She was granted probation for poor health in 1948 but resumed her sentence in 1952. After her release, she did not return to the medical field.
Experimentation and Child Euthanasia
Many patients who had been deemed seriously handicapped died in mysterious circumstances. Upon inquiry, the hospital staff would blame pneumonia or a fatal muscle conniption caused by the mental state of the patient. In reality, the children were being killed via lethal injection, neglect and disease.
Spiegelgrund children were subjected to torture-like experimental treatments as well as to punishments for a variety of offenses. Survivors Johann Gross, Alois Kaufmann, and Friedrich Zawrel described and testified to several of the "treatments", which included electroshock therapy, a so-called "cold water cure" in which Zawrel and Kaufmann recall being repeatedly submerged into freezing bath water until they were blue and barely conscious and had lost control of their bowels; a "sulfur cure", which was an injection that caused severe pain in the legs, limiting mobility and ensuring that escape was impossible; spinal injections of Apomorphine; injections of Phenobarbital; overdoses of sedatives, which would often lead to death when the children were exposed to extreme cold or disease; observed starvation; and efficacy testing of tuberculosis vaccines, for which children were infected with tuberculosis pathogens.
After death, the bodies were subjected to medical experiments. Brains and other body parts were removed, placed in formaldehyde jars or sealed in paraffin wax, to be stored secretly in the basement for "research".
Burial Site and Memorial
In April 2002, 600 urns containing the remains of children killed at Spiegelgrund were interred at Vienna's Central Cemetery in the section reserved for victims of the Nazi regime. Approximately 300 mourners came to pay their respects at the funeral, and the names of all the children are inscribed onto eight stone slabs, accompanied by a stone bench and bowl of flowers. Detailed coverage of the burial ceremony, as well as full background are told in the 2004 documentary film Gray Matter.
Among those laid here were the following: Gerhard Zehetner, 18 months old; Irma Sperling, aged 3, from Hamburg; Annemarie Danner, aged 4, who was admitted for rickets in 1941 and lost 25% of her body weight within six months. A photo of the child, taken by Dr. Gross, shows her naked on a sheet. Danner's older sister, Waltraud Häupl, became an outspoken supporter of a memorial when she discovered her sister's remains in 1999; Felix Janauschek, aged 16, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He came down with the flu in March 1943 and was left outside on the balcony of the ward until his condition worsened. His official cause of death was pneumonia.
The site now contains multiple exhibits about the euthanasia program and memorials to the victims. A permanent memorial was erected on the site in 2002, and since November 2003, has included 772 lighted poles, whose arrangement was designed by Tanja Walter. A plaque nearby states that the strict arrangement of the lighted stelae reflects the "situation of the children, held hostage and deprived of their freedom."
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