Mass murder of institutional patients

Black and white photo of the Hadamar institution from afar. In the foreground are the roofs of several buildings in Hadamar. A black smoke column is rising into the sky from the chimney of the institution.
Photograph of the Hadamar killing centre with a smoking chimney, 1941. Photo: Hadamar Memorial Museum, collection FS 4.

At the end of 1940, the building of the Hadamar State Sanatorium (Landesheilanstalt Hadamar) was converted into a killing centre. The contracting authority behind this was the organisation responsible for the centrally controlled “adult euthanasia” programme, which was later referred to as the “T4” programme (Aktion T4). The headquarters of this organization was located on the Berlin street address of Tiergartenstraße 4 – hence “T4”.

Adolf Hitler, Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich, had instructed Karl Brandt, his accompanying doctor, and Philipp Bouhler, head of the Führer’s Chancellery, to carry out the murders. Both men were at the forefront of the “T4” programme.

The psychiatric hospitals in the German Reich, often referred to as state sanatoriums or convalescent and care homes, first received registration forms, so-called “Meldebögen”, from the health administration of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, in which they had to report on patients.

On the basis of these registration forms, so-called “Gutachter”, often professors of psychiatry and heads of institutions, were called on as experts to assess the patients and then decided between life and death. Those who were no longer able to work or had been long-term institutional patients or had not heard from relatives in a long time had little chance of survival.

It was in these killing centres, which had been set up for this specific purpose, that these persons were murdered at the beginning of 1940. The Hadamar killing centre was the sixth and last murder site that was set up during the “T4” programme. The 13th of January 1941 marks the beginning of these murders. These individuals were first moved to “intermediate institutions” where they awaited transport to the Hadamar killing centre.

The “intermediate institutions” leading to Hadamar were located in Herborn, Weilmünster, Idstein (Kalmenhof), Eltville (Eichberg) in what is today the state of Hesse, Galkhausen (now North Rhine-Westphalia), Andernach, Schauen (now Rhineland-Palatinate) as well as Wiesloch and Weinsberg (now Baden-Württemberg). It was from Düsseldorf-Grafenberg (now North Rhine-Westphalia) and Heppenheim (now Hesse) in particular that patients who were considered Jews according to Nazi racial policy were forcibly taken to Hadamar.

Diagram of a map of Hesse and the surrounding federal states. The town of Hadamar is at the centre of the image; the locations of the former intermediate institutions are mapped and connected to Hadamar by lines.
Map of the intermediate institutions of Hadamar Memorial Museum. Image: Hadamar Memorial Museum

As was done in the other killing centres, a gas chamber and cremation furnaces were set up in the former Hadamar State Sanatorium. The institution was managed by two doctors. During the year of 1941, the killing centre employed a total of about 100 people, including nurses, kitchen staff and administrative personnel.

Since January 1941, patients had regularly arrived at the Hadamar killing centre on buses operated by the transport company that was in itself a subdivision of the “T4” organisation. These persons then disembarked the bus inside the wooden bus garage that had been built specifically for this purpose. They were then led inside the main building and made to undress in a large hall. Afterwards, administrative staff members checked personal information and one of the killing doctors determined the cause of death that would later appear in the falsified documents.

Colour photograph of a wooden garage with three large gates in the courtyard of Hadamar Memorial Museum
Former bus garage in the courtyard of Hadamar Memorial Museum. Photo: Hadamar Memorial Museum/Valentin Pfleger

It was in the gas chamber in the basement that the persons were then murdered using carbon monoxide. Afterwards, special staff members of the institution incinerated the bodies in the crematorium. Rising above the killing centre, the smoke that ensued from the incineration process could be seen from afar; and, as people of that time reported, one could also smell it.

The relatives of those murdered received so called “comfort letters” typed by secretaries which included false information about the circumstances of death, the time of death and, sometimes, the place of death. If relatives so requested, they were sent urns. However, these urns did not contain the ashes of their murdered family member.

By the time the “T4” programme was halted on 24 August 1941, over 10,000 patients had been murdered in Hadamar.

Literature: Georg Lilienthal, Gaskammer und Überdosis. Der Landesheilanstalt Hadamar als Mordzentrum (1941–1945), in: Uta George et al. (ed.), Hadamar. Heilstätte – Tötungsanstalt – Therapiezentrum, Marburg 2006, p. 156–175.