University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Forced sterilization and more...

    Forced sterilization and more...

    Forced sterilization, further assassinations and mass dying

    Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Disease in Posterity. dated 14th July 1933
    Official gazette of the Third Reich announcing new laws No. 86/part I.

    Discussions on the introduction of a sterilization law had already taken place before 1933, but a parliamentary majority in favor of a forced sterilization was not in sight. According to the law dated 14th July 1933, sterilization could be carried out against a person's will and in case of need with the help of the police. The applications were filed by the public health commissioners or directors and physicians of the institutions, in office since 1934, and the decisions on the applications were taken by the responsible Hereditary Health Courts. From 1934 until 1939, about 400.000 women and men were victims of the Nazi forced sterilization. The victims were said to be "hereditarily diseased", even though the hereditary character of the diseases in question was still disputed. Many of those having undergone forced sterilization, especially women, died in consequence of the surgical intervention. Others retained serious mental injuries. "Never before in history had a nation propagandized and practiced such a policy of massive contraception, never before had a country taken measures in such a large, violent and efficient manner for purposes opposing fatality." (Gisela Bock)

    The courthouse at Schlossplatz 8 in Kassel, 1939

    In 1934, the state ministers of justice decreed the establishment of an Upper Court for Hereditary Health with each Upper Court and a Court for Hereditary Health, with each bigger district court of a provincial court district. Prussia witnessed the establishment of 84 Courts for Hereditary Health and 13 Upper Courts for Hereditary Health; one Court and one Upper Court were established with the courthouse in Kassel. In addition to legal experts, physicians, psychiatrists and anthropologists exercised "jurisdiction" in these courts. The government of the Third Reich instructed the state governments to choose for the chair, deputy chair and medical board only such persons who were known to support the sterilization law. Consequently, the courts practically held a partisan position. In most of the cases, they, followed the applications; a certain reluctance was only felt when it came to decide on alcoholics.

    Invitation of the directors of the institutions and medical councilors to the conference on the effects of the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Disease in Posterity" at the Ständehaus in Kassel, 5th February 1934

    The heads of the mental hospitals and other social welfare-institutions participated in many ways in the implementation of forced sterilization. They reported the patients, foster-children and pupils of special schools to the courts, denouncing them as "hereditarily diseased"; in their function as medical experts, they had an influence on the decisions taken by the "Courts for Hereditary Health". Some even had sterilization departments in their own institutions.

    The inmates of the institutions were specifically exposed to forced sterilization. When the law was passed, they mostly had to give in and undergo surgery if they wanted to be released.

    View over the hospitals of Herborn in direction of the town, about 1920

    In the mental hospital of Herborn,founded in 1911, a total number of (.184 people said to be hereditarily diseased, underwent forced sterilization between December 1934 and July 1939. They originated even from the institution in Herborn as well as from numerous other institutions in the province of Hesse-Nassau. In the case of the 620 men, the prevailing arguments were "mental deficiency", "schizophrenia" and "alcoholism"; the 564 women were reported to have suffered from "mental deficiency" and "schizophrenia".However,"mental deficiency" that "legitimated" forced sterilization more than any other argument, had such abroad meaning that it was strongly depending on social, political or sexual standards.

    In 1941 Herborn, too, became an "interim institution" for Hadamar until August 1941, when the Wehrmächt requisitioned the building for war-hospital purposes. Only a few patients remained as workers.

    Sterilizations carried out in Herborn 1934-1939

    Medical report concerning the Haina home hospital, 1939

    Since the living-conditions of the inmates of the institutions began to deteriorate as a consequence of the world-wide economical crises, and even more so with the implementation of an austerity policy after 1933, the supply turned out to be disastrous with the beginning of World War II. Not only did the number of patients increase, military hospitals and prisoner 's camps of the Wehrmacht had to be lodged too. On the other hand, the number of both the medical and the nursing staff as well as quality and quantity of food and medicine decreased. In all the social welfare institutions of the present federal state of Hesse, the death rate was far above the pre-war situation. In Haina the highest death rate was approximately 16% of the inmates and in other institutions it almost reached 50.

    The Haina mental hospital 1943/44

    The origins of the Haina mental hospital go back to a hospital for poor men, founded in 1533 by the Hessian landgraves. This was reputed to be exemplary. In 1941 almost 600 men of the institution were first transferred to "interim institutions "and then to their death in Hadamar. The Jewish inmates had already been transported in 1940 and killed at an unknown place. The criminal patients were transferred in 1944 to the concentration camp Mauthausen near Linz.

    Cases of death in the Weilmiinster mental hospital 1936-1944

    In 1980 Walter Adlhoch, the pastor of Weilmünster, described the living-conditions within the institution of Bezirksverbandes Nassau under the Nazi period as follows: "They only got vegetable, widely died off in the wards and suffered all the time from diarrhoea. There wasn't enough linen; the beds and mattresses were rotten. Since the beds were rotten, those dying were put in the bathtub filled with water. There, I gave them the extreme unction. The water had a green colour and was filled with excrements. They were mere skin and bones, skin and bones."

    cases of death document

    The Weilmünster mental hospital in the twenties

    weilmunster mental hospitalThe Weilmünster mental hospital and nursing home was opened in 1897. The ten hospital buildings had room for 1,100 patients. From 1921-1933 the institution served children whose health was endangered or who were. in need of a rest. From 1933 Weilmünster was once again a mental hospital; from 1944-1946 it was a military hospital. With reference to its role as an "interim institution "for Hadamar, the occurrences in Weilmünster were the object of a judicial investigation which pronounced the director of the institution was free from guilt. The reports concerning mistreatment by the nurses and "hunger cures "were not the object of any further investigation.

    Complaint of a father regarding his son's treatment in Eichberg, 29th February 1944

    Between 1942 and 1945, more than half of all the sick people died in the Eichberg mental hospital. The institution that took care of 920 patients in 1936 lodged up to 1.800 individuals during the times of war. They slept on bundles of straw in halls and corridors. An unknown number of sick people were killed by injections; many also died because of undernourishment. Each peculiar and unwanted behaviour was punished by deprivation of food, confinement in a bunker, water-beds, electroshocks or injections causing nausea. In 1941 the mental hospital was also an "interim institution" for Hadamar.

    Haus Snell, in the twenties

    Since the end of the thirties, this building of the institution contained "bunkers "that had been constructed under the direction of Mennecke and Schmidt. They were designed as penalty-dungeons used for all kinds of "sorts".The bunkers for women were dark and narrow cellar-rooms with high light wells. The bunkers for men included two dull narrow, and barred cellar-rooms. "To get caught while playing with Schmidt's medical appliances or while receiving another patient 's harmless "love-letter "could lead to confinement in the bunker, sometimes for days or even weeks, with only very little food:" (Horst Dickel)

    The mental hospital was founded in 1849 as an offspring of a department for mentally sick people of the Eberbach monastery. In the twenties, the institution was renowned outside its walls for its progressive approaches concerning therapies and welfare services.