University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Ignorance and Inhibition

    Ignorance and Inhibition

    Ignorance and inhibition

    Incorporation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for brain research into the Marburg mental hospital, 5th January 1947

    During the Nazi period, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for brain research was in close contact with the heads of "Operation T-4" and, for purposes of research, was supplied with brains of those assassinated. Despite these occurrences, the institute saw public support after 1945.

    Its personnel, among them the head of the department for brain tissue pathology in Berlin-Buch, Julius Hallervorden, continued scientific research in central positions, even when the institute changed its name to the `Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung". The district municipal agency of Kassel, obviously ignorant of the occurrences, on recommendation of the medical director of the Marburg mental home hospital, tried hard to provide the institute, which had moved to Dillenburg, with premises. The department for clinical psychiatry and constitutional research came to Marburg. In 1948, the institute was first moved to the physiological institute of the university Giessen and finally to Frankfurt am Main. Until 1957, Hallervorden was head of the department for neuropathology.

    Julius Hallervorden, before 1945

    Prof. Dr. Julius Hallervorden (1882-1965) said in the Nuremberg Trials: "...those brains offered wonderful material, of mentally poor, deformities and early children's diseases. Of course 1 accepted the brains. It really wasn't my concern where they came from and how they were brought to me:'

    Clemency plea submitted by the inhabitants of Wörsdorf near Idstein concerning the physician Mathilde Weber, (1948)

    Both the physician and the director, of the Kalmenhof institution met with strong support from the population even though everybody knew of the crimes they committed during the Nazi period. Nevertheless, the population called for the revision of the judgments. In 1948, the mayor of Idstein described Dr. Weber as "benefactress without fail" for the benefit of soldiers and war-prisoners. ln 1954, the town of Idstein once again submitted a clemency plea for the physician who was not yet serving her sentence. She was finally released with, two thirds of her sentence served. In 1960, she began practicing medicine again.

    pleas for clemency
    (click for a larger image)

    A physician in confinement: therefor thousands are dying, 1952

    Following numerous clemency pleas and a wave of newspaper articles for Dr. Walter Schmidt, the former head of the Eichberg "children's' specialty department" and deputy head of the mental hospital, Schmidt was reprieved by the Hessian state governor and Minister of justice, Dr. Georg August Zinn, and released from prison in 1953. In 1958, Zinn justified his decision vis-à-vis the Society for Christian-Jewish Co-operation: "Judges and public prosecutors, involved in the proceedings (against Schmidt) expressed their opinion, too, that their sentence contributed to sufficiently obtain justice since their judgment had clearly expressed that the acts of the convict were neither an act of true euthanasia nor the execution of legal measures of the government of those days, but criminal injustice:" Zinn also referred to the essentially milder jurisdictions outside of Hesse.