Schloss Hartheim (or Hartheim Castle) was built by Jakob von Aspen around 1600 and is considered one of Upper Austria's most beautiful and most significant Renaissance buildings. The castle went through several ownerships until 1799, when it was acquired by the Starhemberg family. That family gave it to the Oberösterreichischen Landeswohltätigkeitsverein (Upper Austrian State Welfare Society) in order to establish an institution for the "mentally'' disabled. The institution was opened in 1898 on the 50th anniversary ofEmperor Franz Joseph I's accession to the throne. Care of the patients became the responsibility of the Merciful Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. Around 200 disabled people, mostly from Upper Austria, lived in the castle. Some worked on the farm that belonged to the castle. Schloss Hartheim notorious as one of the Aktion T4 locations. Aktion T4 was a Nazi killing program in which German citizens deemed mentally or physically unfit were systematically killed with poison gas. After 1942, these killings were extended to include Jews, Communists and others considered undesirable by the state. In this capacity it was known as the Hartheim Euthanasia Centre.
After the "Anschluss" (annexation) of Austria to the German Reich in 1938, the Upper Austrian State Welfare Society was dissolved. lts assets, the castIe and the farm were transferred to the government administration district, the Reichsgau Oberdonau. In 1939, the Reichsgau also took over the management of the care facility. In March 1940 the patients were transferred to other care facilities in Upper Austria. By that time the decision had already been made to use Schloss Hartheim as a killing institution under the Nazi euthanasia program, which was referred to after 1945 as "Aktion T4." One can no longer completely reconstruct the route that led to the decision to turn Hartheim into a killing institution serving the territory of today's Republic of Austria, a large part of Bavaria, and the German speaking portions of Czechoslovakia. It is assumed that old networks between leading Nazi functionaries in Linz and in Berlin played an important role.
The geographic location of Hartheim, the building's remoteness, and the property situation probably also contributed to the decision. Immediately after the castle was vacated in March 1940, alterations began and the killing facilities were installed. This took about four or five weeks.
The murders at Schloss Hartheirn began in May 1940. As in the other five T4 killing institutions-T4 was named after the Nazi euthanasia program's headquarters at TiergartenstraBe 4 in Berlin-carbon monoxide was used for extermination. The gas chamber at Hartheim was camouflaged as a shower room, and the other rooms used for killing and incinerating the bodies were on the ground floor of the castle. The rooms were arranged in the order of the admission and killing process. After the buses arrived in the garage conveniently attached to the castle, the people intended for killing would be taken toa room inside the castle for undressing. There, all personal belongings and possessions would be taken from them.
Next, the incoming people would be taken to the so-called admission room, where the physician on duty would examine them. Here, an unsuspicious admission process was staged. Under the pretext of physical cleansing, victims would be taken to the gas chamber, which was camouflaged as a shower room. As a rule, the chief medical officer, Dr. Rudolf Lonauer or his deputy, Dr. Georg Renno, would introduce the carbon monoxide from gas cylinders in a neighboring room. An adjoining room served to temporarily accommodate the bodies (the "morgue"). At the end of this line of rooms was the crematorium room. The oven in it was probably supplied by the Berlin firm of Kori. The other floors of the castle housed offices and accommodation for the perpetrators.
|Victim's personal data file|
December 2, 1929
Died: The end of 1940
Came from: Alberschwende, Austria
Execution reason: Recurring epileptic seizures
Ilse Geuze was born on December 2, 1929 in Alberschwende (Vorarlberg). When she was about six months old, she was thought to have contracted meningitis, as a result of which she had great difficulty learning to speak. In the years that followed, however, she helped out in her parents' house with agricultural work, washing the clothes and cooking. Her brothers reported that Use was very sensitive. A surviving photo from 1937 shows her with her brothers Alfons and Othmar.
In 1937 and again, from 1939 to 1940, Ilse Geuze was in the auxiliary school in Bludenz. She had to break off her first stay in November 1937 due to illness. A relevant letter from the auxiliary school in Bludenz states, among other things: “It would be a pity for Ilse if she had to grow up without any schooling due to illness, because something can really be made of this child.”
On February 20, 1940, Ilse Geuze had to leave the school in Bludenz because she was transferred to a children's home in Scharnitz (Tyrol) for unknown reasons. During the last visit from her mother and her brother, Ilse clung to her mother and didn't want to let go. Shortly after being admitted to Scharnitz, on February 29, 1940, Ilse Geuze was taken to the St. Josefs Institute in Mils (Tyrol). This institution, like numerous other homes and institutions in Tyrol, was included in the "Aktion T4" program.
On December 10, 1940, at six in the morning, two buses with a total of 67 people left the home in Mils. One of the occupants of the buses was Ilse Geuze. The residents of the St. Josef Institute were taken by bus to the train station in Hall, where they were integrated into a transport from the local sanatorium and nursing home to Hartheim.
On December 17, 1940, Ilse's father received a letter from the "Landesanstalt Hartheim" in which he was informed that his daughter had been transferred there. However, it can be assumed that Ilse Geuze was no longer alive at that time. In January 1941, an urn containing the alleged ashes of Ilse Geuze was finally sent to the relatives.
When "Aktion T4" was halted by Hitler's order on August 24, 1941, about 18.000 people already had been murdered at Hartheim. After the "Euthanasia Action" was stopped, inmates from the Mauthausen, Gusen, Dachau, and Ravensbrück concentration camps were murdered at Hartheim as part of Sonderbehandlung 14f13 from August 1941 to the fall of 1944.
Action 14f13 (August 1941 to November 1944), also called Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) 14f13 and Aktion 14f13, was a campaign to murder concentration camp prisoners. Also called invalid or prisoner euthanasia, the sick, elderly and those deemed no longer fit for work were separated from the rest of the prisoners in a selection process, after which they were murdered. This gruesome campaign carried out by the Nazis was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners.
They were selected in the concentration camps and killed in Hartheim Castle in the same manner as in the "Aktion T4" murders, with carbon monoxide in the gas chamber. In the fall of 1944, forced laborers who were ill and unable to work were included in the Nazi euthanasia program in Hartheim. In total, it is estimated that around 10.000 people were murdered in this manner in Schloss Hartheim.
According to the present state of research, the murders in Hartheim ceased in November 1944 and in December and January the killing facilities were dismantled. Attempts were now made to remove all traces. As camouflage, a childcare facility was established in the castle early in 1945 by the regional welfare service. However, this "appearance of normality'' could only be maintained for a few months. As early as June 1945, the War Crimes Investigating Team No. 6824 of the U.S. Army under Major Charles Dameron arrived at Hartheim and began an extensive investigation. This investigation ended in a detailed report, the annex included numerous photos and witness statements of perpetrators and participants.
After the childcare facility had been moved elsewhere at the end of 1945, the castle was used as a residence. The first to live there were refugees and displaced persons, so-called "ethnic Germans." In 1954, people who had been displaced due to flooding in the community of Alkoven moved in. Although the confiscated assets and buildings had been returned to their owners after 1945, the Upper Austrian State Welfare Society was unable to resume using the castle as an institution to care for people with disabilities due to administrative and social law restrictions. The use of the castle as a refugee accommodation and as a residence seriously limited commemoration of the victims. Furthermore, the victims of"Aktion T4" belonged to social groups that remained on the sidelines of society after 1945. Most of the concentration camp inmates murdered at Hartheim had come from various European countries, while only few had come from Austria.
Thus, early initiatives advocating a dignified commemoration ofHartheim victims carne from abroad. As early as the late 1940s, foreign -mainly French- organizations conducted commemorative trips to Austria and also to Hartheim. At Hartheim as well as in other locations of Nazi crimes in Upper Austria, these organizations played a major role in developing a culture of commemoration. Finally, in 1950, the French association of former inmates and their relatives, the Amicale de Mauthausen, placed the first visible sign of commemoration and remembrance in the form of a stone memorial, which was set up outdoors, at the north side of the castle. The inside of the castle was not touched by this initiative. To the great consternation of visitors and relatives of victims, castle residents continued to use the former killing rooms as storage rooms.
The Schloss Hartheim Society, founded in 1995, had the goal of turning Schloss Hartheim exclusively into a place of commemoration and exhibition. Almost from the start, this included the intention of establishing an educational and instructional facility on site. The three basic objectives of the site were identified as commemoration, documentation, and education. Tuis close relationship and the constant exchange were already reflected when the Learning and Memorial Centre was established and opened in 2003.
From the beginning, the building included administrative and educational sections as well as the Documentation Centre, which initiated and accompanied the scientific research. The research findings not only form the basis for establishing commemorative processes, but also are "essential for strengthening and further developing educational work."
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A big THANK YOU to the United States Army Center of Military History for their help in providing the input for these pages. All pages on this website are constantly being refitted with acurate data and texts and it is an ongoing process.