The ten biographies on the exhibition boards in the Starnberg district office are representative of the 50 documented victims in the district who were killed in the Third Reich because they were disabled or ill. And they also stand for the 300 men and women stigmatized as “hereditary diseases” who were forcibly sterilized or mistreated.
“After I dealt with the Nazi perpetrators in my dissertation, I have now turned to the victims,” explained district archivist Friedrike Hellerer at the opening of the traveling exhibition “Euthanasia in the Starnberg District”.
Hellerer would like to give names and faces to the anonymous number of victims. On the boards you can see photos, letters and CVs, but you can also see an “institutional regulation” that threatens the “inmates” with draconian punishments such as “reduction of the diet” or “temporary isolation” if they misbehave.
Hellerer spent four years researching the exhibition. She has visited countless archives, memorial sites, care facilities, registration offices and parish offices throughout Germany. According to Hellerer, the files of the victims from the former sanatorium and nursing homes were stored decentrally and could often no longer be found. In addition, many relatives did not want their disabled relatives to be remembered.
His chart read: “No longer needed for anything”
On the information boards, visitors learn something about Georg Birk, for example, who entered the Benedictine monastery of St. Bonifaz in 1931 as lay brother Magnus. In the Andechs monastery he was praised as “an exemplary brave, hard-working person”. Because of “severe mental depression” he was taken to the Eglfing-Haar sanatorium and nursing home. His chart read: “No longer needed for anything.” He is said to have died of a “neck furuncle”, according to Hellerer.
In the case of Georg Bichler, who had been in need of nursing care since an accident, the cause of death was “pulmonary tuberculosis”. Maria Mader from Herrsching was dismissed as “uneducable” after a “head flu” and killed in the Hartheim killing center near Linz. Johann Bader, the deaf “Pepi” Schwarz, the painter and violin teacher Otto Vollmann, who was diagnosed with “paralysis”, and Katharina Ippenberger, who was discredited as “work-shy”, also died there.
Friedrich Schuster from Etterschlag, who was “clear in the head” but could only “speak with difficulty”, also had to die, as did the “mentally weak” and “crippled” Max Michael Huber from Starnberg. And then there was 22-year-old Maximilian Erhardt, who was told he would have to undergo forced sterilization after being diagnosed with “moderate dementia”. Hellerer said he threw himself in front of the train out of desperation.
A work on racial hygiene names Herrschinger Fritz Lenz as a co-author
In 1933 the “law for the prevention of offspring with hereditary diseases” was enacted, but decades earlier scientists had discussed whether the “purity of the race” could be maintained through a kind of “breeding”. Hellerer quoted a text from 1895 by the physician Alfred Ploetz, who had been living in Herrsching since 1919: “Procreation is not left to some random coincidence, a drunken hour, but regulated according to the principles that science has established (…). Put it if the newborn turns out to be a frail or misshapen child, the medical college prepares a gentle death for him (…) The parents, brought up to respect the welfare of the race, do not succumb to rebellious feelings, but try fresh and cheerful a second time, if permitted by their certificate of reproductive fitness.” And in a work on racial hygiene and forced sterilization, which Herrschinger named Fritz Lenz as a co-author, it said: “…that the procreation of the mentally ill, severe psychopaths, drunkards, consumptives, deaf, blind, diabetics, etc., predominantly brings misfortune “.
Since the mid-1930s, the principle “treat as little as possible, let as many as possible die” has applied in the state sanatoriums and nursing homes,” says Hellerer. Between 1940 and 1941, the Gekrat (non-profit patient transport company) brought patients to killing centers for this purpose. A doctor had previously decided on their fate based on the documents. After that, euthanasia continued in the sanatoriums and nursing homes. “By the end of the Second World War, around 300,000 people had died,” said Hellerer. Patients were injected to death, starved to death, or died from lack of care and attention. The bereaved received stereotyped messages, almost always the same, reporting unexpected deaths.
The euthanasia exhibition is set up in front of the meeting room of the district office. It then migrates to schools or town halls.