Archive/File: places/austria/vienna/steinhof/eugenics-and-dr_gross Last-Modified: 1997/12/07 Source: (c) The Globe and Mail, Saturday, December 6, 1997 (D1, D4) [Page D1] By Jonathan Silvers and Tom Hagler, The Sunday Times, Vienna EUGENICS The children's executioner In Nazi Austria, parents were encouraged to leave their disabled children in the care of people like Dr. Heinrich Gross. If the youngsters had been born with defects, wet their beds, or were deemed unsociable, the neurobiologist killed them and removed their brains for examination. Not only was he never punished for the deaths, he was given Austria's highest medical award. [...] There are 417 brains here, deep in an underground vault of the Steinhof psychiatric hospital in Vienna. All were removed from the corpses of children deemed handicapped or antisocial, the victims of a Nazi euthanasia program that began in 1940 and ended with the war in 1945. [...] In most cases, the cause of death is the same: pneumonia. ["Meticulous records" described, autopsy reports, photographs, etc.] The death toll at the Steinhof children's wing, called the Spiegelgrund hospital, exceeded 1,000, which made it one of the largest Nazi euthanasia centres ridding the Aryan race of "defective genes" and the Reich of "useless eaters." The wartime staff of the Spiegelgrund hospital were almost all Nazi Party members, and the case histories in the Steinhof vault indicate they took a liberal view of what Hitler called lebensunwertes Leben, or life unworthy of life. Children were killed because they stuttered, had a harelip, had eyes too far apart. They died by injection or were left outdoors to freeze or were simply starved. For more than two years, the second-in-command was a young Austrian named Dr. Heinrich Gross. According to one witness, Dr. Gross patrolled the wards in the brown uniform of the Sturm Abteilungen, the Nazi Party's militia. [...] For years Dr. Gross has lived in untroubled prosperity, maintaining his innocence while consolidating his position as a leading neurobiologist and expert on mental illness. [Page D4] All but one of his fellow doctors at the Spiegelgrund were convicted of war crimes, and his immediate boss, Dr. Ernst Illing, was hanged. Dr. Gross, however, avoided a warrant for his arrest on charges of complicity in mass murder and later successfully appealed a conviction for being an accomplice to the manslaughter of just one victim. There was no further attempt to bring him to justice. Instead, Austria awarded him its top medical prize. But the past may finally be catching up with him. Newly discovered archives of the Communist German secret police, the Stasi, add to evidence that this eminent scientist was directly involved in the killing of a large number of handicapped children during the war, and of removing their brains for research. As a result, Austria's justice ministry has reopened its investigation into his war record. Almost as disturbing, Dr. Gross apparently continued to use the brains for research after the war ended. [...] He maintained his innocence. "I've done nothing," he began. "Even though I was employed at Spiegelgrund, I had nothing to do with the killing of those children. The court in 1951 cleared me of the charges. ... "I knew about the killings, but I wan't involved with them. Everybody who worked there knew about it. It was called `killing of people whose lives were not worth living.' It was called `euthanasia.' I didn't agree with it, I didn't want to get involved, so I left to work in the Wehrmacht. My colleague, the one who went to jail, carried out the killings. Children were simply killed with sleeping pills. There were children so mentally backward that they were physically paralyzed. After the war I didn't use the brains for experiments, I just examined them. they were just like the other brains I worked on. "Do I feel remorse? Yes, of course. It was terrible, a terrible crime." [...] Spiegelgrund was one of 31 institutes that the health ministry converted into euthanasia centres. A total of 6,000 children died at the centres between 1940 and 1945. At its peak, Spiegelgrund was "accelaerating the deaths" of more than 12 children a month. Alois Kaufmann was sent to Spiegelgrund in 1943, when he was nine, after a school psychiatrist diagnosed him as "unreceptive" to National Socialism. " [...] [...] Twenty years ago Mr. Kaufmann, now 63, wrote a book on the hospital's secret operations. The brains had not yet been discovedred; the book was ignored. For this article he accompanied us to the Steinhof's vault for the first time. After recognizing two or three names on the specimen jars, he vomited. [...] "There was a selection every 14 days or three weeks. We'd been intentionally starved -- I think we were given only 800 calories a day. And there was Dr. Gross. I remember him distinctly as a diligent, quiet young man. And he came up and pointed at some of us; he said, `You, you, you and you.' These children were taken from the group. "The first children they selected were the bed-wetters or the harelips or the slow thinkers. That was the Nazi ideology; the doctors' instinct was that of an animal of prey. They selected the weakest out of a large herd. We didn't dare ask where they were taken. We never saw them again. But we learned they were taken to Pavilion 15. That was where the killing was done.
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