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Aktion T4 Hadamar
One of the Aktion T4 locations

Tötungsanstalt Bernburg

Location: Bernburg, Germany
The facility around 1900
The facility at Bernburg
Similar grey busses rounded up the 'patients'
The busses offloading the 'patients'
The "garage" where the busses drove in
A corridor at Bernburg
Olga Benário Prestes was a German-Brazilian communist executed in Bernburg
Irmfried Eberl
Dr. Irmfried Eberl letter before going to Treblinka

On October 1, 1875, after three years of construction, a central psychiatric sanatorium and nursing home was opened for the Duchy of Anhalt. Initially designed for only 132 patients, the number quickly more than tripled and repeatedly led to extensions. Only the years of the First World War brought a serious turning point. Low financial resources, the occurrence of smallpox and typhus epidemics and starvation towards the end of the war caused the occupancy rate to fall and the death rate to rise. It was not until the 1920s that the situation improved noticeably for patients.

Effects of Nazi dictatorship on the hospital

With the beginning of the National Socialist dictatorship, a person's performance was the most important criterion for their evaluation. Support should only be given to those who were also able to provide a benefit for the so-called national community. Sick and disabled people who could no longer or never work to the desired extent were considered “ballast existences” and therefore “unworthy of life”. The falling cost rates for their care were soon followed by forced sterilization and murder as central measures of Nazi health and race policy.

The "euthanasia" institution in Bernburg

In the summer the decision was made in the administrative headquarters of the first phase of the "euthanasia" in Berlin to relocate the Brandenburg / Havel gas murder facility to Bernburg / Saale. Thereafter, for a period of three years, the state sanatorium and nursing home in Bernburg was divided into a therapeutic area (Anhalt Psychiatric Clinic) and a “euthanasia” facility (sanatorium and nursing home).

In the basement of men's house II, a small room was lined with tiles and two stationary incinerators were installed. Between November 21, 1940 and August 1941, more than 9.000 men, women and children were murdered and their bodies burned here on the day of their arrival. The transports came from 39 psychiatric and nursing homes in the provinces of Brandenburg, Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, the states of Anhalt, Braunschweig and Mecklenburg as well as from Berlin and Hamburg.

The "special treatment 14f13"

In 1942 in Bernburg the "euthanasia" was followed by the "special treatment 14f13", which was directed against prisoners from concentration camps. A total of around 5,000 men and women from the Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Groß-Rosen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen concentration camps died in Bernburg. According to the reasons for imprisonment, the victims included Jews as well as Sinti and Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, so-called anti-socials, prisoners as "professional criminals" and homosexuals.

In early June 1942, 300 prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp were transported to Bernburg and killed immediately after arrival through the use of carbon monoxide, probably on 5 June 1942. These 300 victims (about 80 German Jewish prisoners and 220 detainees, who had either been arrested as so-called "asocials" or who were seriously ill and unable to work) are all named at the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial site.

In the late summer of 1943, the "euthanasia" facility in Bernburg was closed

American troops took the city in April 1945. On their behalf, the murder commission of the public prosecutor's office in Bernburg began an investigation into the events in the psychiatric hospital. In July 1945, Soviet armed forces followed as an occupying power. The investigation was discontinued; a process planned for November of that year no longer took place.

Tötungsanstalt Bernburg

Location of the facility
  • Bernburg, Germany

Patients murdered: ± 14.384

In operation from:

21 November 1940 - 30 July 1943

Map of the facility
Related video footage

Remember Olga Benário Prestes

Victim's personal data file
12 February 1908
Died: 23 April 23 1942
Came from: Ravensbrück
Execution reason: Political

Olga was born in Munich as Olga Gutmann Benário, to a Jewish family. Her father, Leo Benário, was a Social Democrat lawyer, and her mother, Eugenie (Gutmann), was a member of Bavarian high-society. In 1923, aged fifteen, she joined the Communist Youth International and in 1928 helped organize her lover and comrade Otto Braun's escape from Moabit prison. She went to Czechoslovakia and from there, reunited with Braun, to Moscow, where Benário attended the Lenin-School of the Comintern and then worked as an instructor of the Communist Youth International, in the Soviet Union and in France and Great Britain, where she participated in coordinating so-called “anti-fascist activities”. She parted from Otto Braun in 1931.

After her stay in Britain, where she was briefly arrested,[3] Olga attended a course in the Zhukovsky Military Academy, leading some historians to view her as an agent of Soviet military intelligence. Due to her military training, in 1934 she was given the task of helping the return to Brazil of Luís Carlos Prestes, to whom she was assigned as a bodyguard. In order to accomplish this mission, false papers were created stating that they were a Portuguese married couple. By the time they arrived at Rio de Janeiro in 1935, this cover had become a reality, as the couple had fallen in love. After a failed insurrection in November 1935, Benário and her husband went into hiding, and after barely escaping a police raid at Ipanema, they were both eventually arrested in January 1936, during the harsh anti-communist campaign declared after Getúlio Vargas had proclaimed martial law and was already plotting the 1937 coup that eventually led to the institution of the fascist-like Estado Novo régime.

Pregnant and separated from Prestes, Benário clung to her alias, only to have her real identity disclosed by Brazilian diplomats, working hand-in-hand with the Gestapo. Her lawyers attempted to avoid extradition by means of a habeas corpus at the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court based on her pregnancy, because extradition would have left a newborn Brazilian national in the power of a foreign government. As Brazilian law forbids the extradition of nationals, Olga's lawyers expected to win time until Olga gave birth on Brazilian soil to an ipso facto Brazilian citizen - irrespective of the child's paternity, which remained legally doubtful in the absence of evidence for Olga's and Prestes' marriage  - something that would have rendered extradition quite unlikely. The plea, however, was speedily quashed, the rapporteur-justice alleging that habeas corpus was superseded by martial law and that Olga's deportation was justified as "an alien noxious to public order".

After the Brazilian supreme court's decision, and despite an international campaign, Olga was forcibly returned to Germany in September 1936. The captain of the German liner that took her cancelled scheduled stops in non-German European ports, foiling communist attempts at rescuing her. On arrival, she was put in prison in Berlin, where on November 27 she gave birth to a daughter, Anita Leocádia. At the age of fourteen months, the child was released into the care of her paternal grandmother, Leocádia Prestes.

After the birth of her child, Olga was sent to Lichtenburg concentration camp in 1938, transferred to Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1939, and finally to Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in 1942, where she was gassed alongside hundreds of other female political prisoners.

A letter of Irmfried Eberl to the Commissioner of the Warsaw Ghetto Heinz Auerswald dated 19 June 1942 concerning the delivery of materials and equipment for the camp

Irmfried Eberl

Irmfried Eberl (8 September 1910 – 16 February 1948) was an Austrian psychiatrist and medical director. On 1 February 1940, at 29 years old, Eberl became the medical director of the euthanasia killing facilities at Brandenburg and Bernburg. Later he was transfered to Treblinka and became the first commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp where he worked as SS-Obersturmführer from 11 July 1942 until his dismissal on 26 August 1942. When the T-4 Euthanasia Program commenced, Eberl was a willing participant. Despite not being formally ordered to take part, psychiatrists such as Eberl were at the center of each stage of justifying, planning and carrying out the mass murder of those with mental disorders, and constituted the connection to the later annihilation of Jews and other "undesirables" in the Holocaust.

He was arrested after the end of the war in January 1948. Eberl hanged himself the following month to avoid trial.

Kurt Borm

After the war ended, Kurt Borm and his wife moved to Uetersen. He received another internist training and then worked as an assistant doctor in the Uetersen City Hospital. Soon he took over the management of the internal department and became a medical advisor. According to contemporary witness reports, Kurt Borm was a popular and respected doctor in Uetersen. In 1962, Borm's Nazi past was revealed by the Frankfurt judiciary. The Uetersen magistrate then initiated official proceedings against Borm and forbade him to carry out official business. After Borms' involvement in the mass murder could no longer be denied, he was finally dismissed from the service of the hospital. After Kurt Borm was released from short pre-trial detention, he settled as a general practitioner in Uetersen and, according to contemporary witness reports, continued to have a "large influx" of patients who, despite Kurt Borm's apparent involvement in the mass murder, could not really believe in it.

After the investigation against Borm was concluded, the Frankfurt jury court opened the trial against him in 1971. The subject of the court hearing was Borm's participation in the mass murder in the killing centers Sonnenstein / Pirna and Bernburg / Saale in 1940/41. His subsequent work in the “Euthanasia Central” until the end of the war was not punished. The reason why this did not happen cannot be found in the verdict of the Frankfurt jury court.

Letter by Adolf Hitler authorising the killing of the "incurably sick" by means of a "mercy death".
More related images
Dr. Irmfried Eberl letter before going to Treblinka
Special images of this institution
Dark corridor at Bernburg
Gaschamber disguised as a bathroom
Gas regulating room next to the bathroom
The autopsy room with the body table
The autopsy room
Jars to send brains removed from the deceased
Location of the two former crematorium ovens
    Gedenkstätte Tötungsanstalt Bernburg

    Although in 1951 the central board of the Association of Victims of National Socialism (VVN) wanted to see the former concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Ravensbrück as well as the "former Bernburg gassing facility" as a worthy memorial, no memorial site was created here. So for decades the memory of the victims of Nazi "euthanasia" played no role.

    It was not until the late 1970's and early 1980's that the hospital staff began, on their own initiative, to save the history of the years 1940 to 1943 from being forgotten. Against this background, the then council of the Halle district supported the establishment of a memorial in the late 1980s, which was opened in September 1989 with a general loan exhibition. Since then, three new permanent exhibitions exclusively related to Bernburg have been developed.

    The fundamental changes that went hand in hand with the collapse of the state system in the GDR inevitably led to major problems for the memorial that had just opened. Only the commitment of institutions and interest groups from home and abroad made the preservation possible. In 1994 the state of Saxony-Anhalt took over the sponsorship, and since 2007 the memorial has been part of the Sachsen-Anhalt Memorials Foundation.

    The perpetrators of the facility

    Dr. Irmfried Eberl

    Died: 16 February 1948

    Dr. Kurt Borm

    Died: 2001