The Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Sonnenstein was a Nazi euthanasia or extermination centre located in the former fortress of Sonnenstein Castle near Pirna in eastern Germany, where a hospital had been established in 1811. Until the 1930's, the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Sonnenstein was a respectable psychiatric institution. Located in the park of Sonnenstein Castle in Pirna, East Germany, the institute had been in existence since 1811. Making it one of the oldest psychiatric institutions in the country. Under Nazi rule from 1933, attitudes in Germany towards psychiatric patients and mentally handicapped people changed. They no longer fit into a society where the weak had to disappear under the guise of eugenics and social Darwinism. In 1939, the respected long time director Hermann Paul Nitsche was at the head of the Sonnenstein state hospital.
Around 14.720 innocent people were murdered in the euthanasia or extermination centre in Pirna Sonnenstein in 1940 and 1941. It was mainly the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, and in the end there were also prisoners from concentration camps. Because of the number of victims, this extermination facility is one of the worst places of National Socialist crimes in the Saxony region. The Sonnenstein killing center also served to prepare for the Holocaust in terms of personnel, organization and technology.
As part of the so called 'Aktion T4' six killing centers were set up in the German Reich in 1940 and 1941. Under the direction of NSDAP agencies and the Reich Ministry of the Interior, as well as a specially created headquarters for the extermination Aktion at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, more than 70.000 mentally ill and mentally and physically handicapped people from psychiatric institutions, retirement and nursing homes and hospitals were gassed.
In the spring of 1940, the Berlin "euthanasia" headquarters (Also known as the T4 program or Aktion T4), under leadership of Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, set up a killing center in a secluded part of the former Pirna Sonnenstein facility. A gas chamber and crematorium were installed in the basement of a former men's hospital building. The four-house complex was separated from the rest of the site on the park side by a high wooden fence in order to conceal what was going on inside.
The extermination center began operations at the end of June 1940. Horst Schumann (1904 - 1983) a medical officer who had previously headed the Grafeneck killing center in Württemberg became head of the facility. In addition to four other euthanasia doctors (Kurt Borm, Klaus Endruweit, Curt Schmalenbach, Ewald Worthmann), he was also responsible for orderlies and nurses, drivers, registrars and clerks, about 100 people in all.
After passing through the guarded entrance gate of the killing center, the nursing staff on the ground floor of the former paralytic house brought the victims – separated into men and women – into a reception room. In another room, they were shown individually, usually to two doctors from the institution, who checked the identity of the victims and determined a fictitious cause of death. The nursing staff then led 20 to 30 people at a time under the pretext that they were going into the bathroom, into the basement and a short time later into the gas chamber, which was set up as a shower room with several shower heads on the ceiling. The windows had steel bars in front of them so the prisoners could not reach There they were murdered with carbon monoxide.
After clearing the room from the gas, the "burners" pulled out the corpses and carried them to the cremation furnaces. The two furnaces were supplied by the Berlin company Kori. Selected patients were previously dissected and existing gold teeth were broken out. The ashes of the victims were deposited by the cremators on the institutional landfill or simply poured them down the Elbe slope behind the house.
False death certificates and made up causes of death
The Sonnenstein special registry office sent the bereaved families a death certificate with a forged cause of death and a standardized "consolation letter". Men and women of all ages were murdered on the Sonnenstein, including around 700 children and young people who came from the "Katharinenhof" in Großhennersdorf in Saxony and from from the state institute Chemnitz-Altendorf. The sick people killed on the Sonnenstein came mainly from Saxony, Thuringia, Franconia, the Sudetenland, Silesia and East and West Prussia.
Selection process later used in concentration camps
When the camps for the extermination of Polish Jews were set up in eastern Poland, they fell back on the experiences of 'Aktion T4' locations. The selection process used at Sonnenstein was later applied to other concentration and extermination camps such a Sobibor and Auschwitz. Even personel that worked at Sonnenstein later took up jobs in the biggest and most brutal concentration camps and extermination centres. About a third of the employees of the Sonnenstein killing center worked in Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka during the period between 1942 and 1943 .
End of Aktion T4
Despite a decree issued by the Vatican on 2 December 1940 stating that the T4 policy was "against natural and positive Divine law" and that "The direct killing of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects is not allowed", the Catholic Church hierarchy in Germany decided to take no further Aktion. Incensed by the Nazi appropriation of Church property in Münster to accommodate people made homeless by an air raid, in July and August 1941, the Bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, gave four sermons criticising the Nazis for arresting Jesuits, confiscating church property and for the euthanasia program. Galen sent the text to Hitler by telegram, calling on the Führer to end this senseless killing. On August 24, 1941, Adolf Hitler ended 'Aktion T4' with immediate effect to calm the public but it was continued by many of the physicians involved with T4 program, until Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945. Up to this point in time, a total of 13.720 mentally ill and mentally and physically handicapped people had been gassed in Pirna-Sonnenstein as part of 'Aktion T4'.
In the summer of 1941, more than a thousand prisoners from concentration camps were murdered in Pirna-Sonnenstein as part of 'Sondertreatment 14f13' or the murder of unfit or sick concentration camp prisoners. At that time, the camps did not yet have their own gas chambers. Aktion 14f13 was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners. The combination of numbers and letters 14f13 was derived from the SS records system, 14 for the Concentration Camps Inspector, f was the German word for death (Todesfälle) and 13 for the cause of death, in this case murder by poison gas in the T4 killing centers.
The extent of the prisoner transports to the Sonnenstein is not yet fully known. Transports from the Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps are documented. Most of the victims were sick and unable to work, but there were also Jewish and political prisoners. The mass gassing of 575 Auschwitz prisoners, almost all of them Polish, at the end of July 1941 shows the transition to a new dimension of crime.
Location of the facility
Schlosspark 11, Pirna, Germany
Patients murdered: ± 14.751
In operation from:
June 1940 - August 1941
Map of the facility
Mönchberg 8, 65589 Hadamar
Tel +49 6433 917 172
Related video footage
|Victim's personal data file|
22 december 1906
Died: 27 november 1940
Came from: Bad Kudowa
Execution reason: Schizophrenia
Marie Lange-Stephan was born on December 22, 1906 in Bad Kudowa (Silesia) and grew up with five siblings. After finishing school, she worked as a saleswoman in a flower shop, then in a bookstore. At the end of the 1920s she came to Dresden, where she met her future husband Alfred Lange and married them in 1931. They had two daughters, born in 1931 and 1932. After that, the marriage developed unhappily. In 1934, Marie Lange showed the first signs of mental illness. She was admitted to the Pirna-Sonnenstein state institution in October 1935 with the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
A few months later, the management of the institution applied for the sterilization of their patient. Marie Lange agreed to the sterilization because she hoped not to return to the sanatorium and nursing home afterwards. On March 20, 1936, the hereditary health court in Dresden decreed that Marie Lange “had the prerequisites for sterilization”. The operation took place on April 8, 1936 in the city hospital of Pirna. After almost two weeks in hospital, Marie Lange was discharged home. Six weeks later, however, she was returned to the Sonnenstein.
Her illness did not improve, but she was put to work anyway. Her husband divorced her in 1936. After the Sonnenstein sanatorium and nursing home was closed, Marie Lange came to the Saxon State Institute for Psychiatry in Leipzig-Dösen in November. In August 1940 she was transferred to the Arnsdorf asylum. The National Socialist 'Aktion T4' used this and other institutions as a stopover before being transported to the Pirna-Sonnenstein killing center again.
On November 27, 1940, Marie Lange was brought to Sonnenstein by employees of the killing center. On the same day she was murdered in the gas chamber.
Erasing the evidence
During the summer of 1942, the Sonnenstein euthanasia facility was closed. The gas chamber and the crematorium were dismantled. After the traces of the crime had been carefully erased, the buildings were used as a Wehrmacht hospital from the end of 1942.
Immediately after the war, a number of Sonnenstein criminals were arrested. In the so-called Dresden Doctors' Trial in the summer of 1947, some of those involved in the murder operation were held accountable. One of them was former director and T4 leader Nitsche. In the spring of 1945 Nitsche was arrested in Sebnitz. The results of the investigations carried out by Soviet authorities were handed over to the German judicial authorities in Saxony on June 20, 1946. On January 7, 1947, the Dresden Regional Court brought charges against Nitsche and 14 other perpetrators. Nitsche and the nurses Felfe and Gäbler were sentenced to death. The third nurse, Räpke, was sentenced to life imprisonment and all other staff members received shorter prison terms. Nitsche referred to his position that the killing of the terminally ill was scientifically and socially justified, and protested against the murder charge. However on July 7, 1947, he was sentenced to death. After the appeal was rejected by the Dresden Higher Regional Court, the verdict was carried out on March 25, 1948 by the guillotine and his body was handed over to the anatomy department in Leipzig.
Not a single doctor from Sonnenstein was tried in Dresden. Most of them had fled to the western zones of Germany, far from Pirna, immediately after the war. One of them was Horst Schumann. After the war, Schumann worked undisturbed as a sports doctor in Gladbeck, West Germany, under his own name. Things only went wrong when he applied for his hunting and fishing license in January 1951. Before that, his criminal record was checked, which stated that he had been wanted for years as the main perpetrator of the crimes at Sonnenstein. When the police tried to arrest him, he had disappeared. It turned out that he had fled to Ghana, where he continued his work as a doctor in safe seclusion. In April 1959 he was recognized from a photo in the mission magazine Christ und Welt, which eventually led to his arrest in Ghana. In 1966 he was extradited to West Germany, where his trial began in Frankfurt in 1970. However, it was terminated prematurely: Schumann was released in 1972 due to high blood pressure. He died in Frankfurt in 1983.
Bury the past
After the doctors' trial in Pirna, the crimes committed here were hardly talked about. These were suppressed for four decades and largely kept secret. On the Sonnenstein site, a large operation shielded from the public was built, which also used the parts of the building of the killing center.
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As a result, a citizens' initiative emerged to create a worthy memorial for the victims of the "euthanasia" crimes on the Sonnenstein. In June 1991, the Board of Trustees of the Sonnenstein Memorial was formed. After archival research and building archeological investigations in the years 1992 to 1994, the basement rooms used for killing have been reconstructed since 1995 and prepared as a memorial.
In June 2000, the permanent exhibition on the history of the historic site, commissioned by the Saxon Memorials Foundation, was inaugurated. It documents the crimes and fates of the victims of the Sonnenstein killing center during National Socialism and is housed together with a workshop for people with disabilities run by the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) at the site of the mass murder.