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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

Altscherbitz - the Intermediate Institution

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Jan. 29, 1941 dismissed [to] ALT SCHERBITZ

Even with the war going on, rumors started to circulate that something nefarious was happening to people with disabilities. Patients from the same town happened to die on the same day, even though they were very recently perfectly healthy. One patient's family was notified that he had died of appendicitis. The family responded this was impossible since he had had his appendix removed years ago. “In some instances victims’ families received two urns instead of one.”[1] OOPS!!

“Mrs. Schmidt from Franconia visited me in my capacity as field worker of the National Socialist Peoples’ Welfare.  She submitted to me a letter of the State Mental Institution in Grafeneck in Thuringia, as well as a death certificate, showing that a daughter of Mrs. Schmidt had died there suddenly;  she also had been transferred from the institution... to Grafeneck.  Mrs. Schmidt asked me to get in touch with the institution to obtain the clothes left by the deceased.  I had the impression that Mrs. Schimdt assumed that her daughter possibly might not have died by natural causes.” 

Testimony from November 11, 1940 trial in 10th Criminal Divisional court - Translation of document No. No-839 Office of U.S. Chief of Counel [sic] for War Crimes.


Due to the slip ups, the Aktion T4 leadership implemented a plan to transfer patients first from their institution, the "surrendering" institution to an "intermediate" or "transit" institution. And from that intermediate institition, after a period of a few weeks to a few months, the patient was moved to the "liquidation asylum" which was in reality a killing center. The Nazis hoped this "shell game" would better cover their tracks and make it harder for people to track their relatives' death.

“Above all, [a detour through an ‘intermediate institution’] was intended to erase all trace of the patients.” [2]

Here are Ruth's institutions in BOLD:

(First step) Patients left the SURRENDERING institution [NEINSTEDT] to go to the ...
(Second step) TRANSIT (INTERMEDIATE) institution [ALTSCHERBITZ] and then traveled ...
(Third step) to the KILLING CENTER (LIQUIDATION ASYLUM)  [BERNBURG].

It is commonly held belief that this intermediate step served only as camouflage.  Transports no longer led directly to death but were interrupted by a stopover of several weeks at another asylum. These stopovers at an intermediate facility would have three benefits.  One, it would create flexibility to react to the families who resisted their family members being moved.  Two, it would minimize bureaucratic errors, and thirdly, it would give the directors of the institution a say in the selection of patients/victims. 


In addition, this ‘constant movement’ assured greater secrecy about the Final Destination.  And welfare agencies and health insurance paid the cost of the intermediate facilities.


Ruth was transported from Neinstedt to the Saxon Hospital Altscherbitz in Schkeuditz, Germany on January 29, 1941.  Her parents were neither notified nor asked for their consent.

Altschebitz Hosptial. Author's photo, Jan. 2020.
Photocopy of original record of Ruth Mühlmann at Altscherbitz.

The only record pertaining to Ruth that Altscherbitz could provide for me was one slip of paper with Ruth’s information on it.  However, that document, Aufnahme Nr. 18573, did verify both her arrival from Neinstedt on January 29, 1941, and her transfer to the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre on March 31, 1941.  This information is corroborated by records at both Neinstedt and Bernburg. 


Neinstedt's record:



Bernburg's record of a transport from Altscherbitz to Bernburg on March 31, 1941:



William J. Prunka and I visited Altscherbitz in January 2020. We were given a tour of the institution by Altscherbitz employee, Bärbel Voigt. The institution has attempted to be transparent about its role in the secret euthanasia programs. Ms. Voigt was open to all of our questions that we asked her about Altscherbitz and their knowledge or and participation in Aktion T4.



Ruth was at Altscherbitz for only two months and two days. The hosptial did not originally appear to have knowledge of what was happening with their patients. Although employees' doubts started to grow with so many patients being transferred and no trace being found of them afterwards. The most touching part of the tour was the memorial that Altscherbitz has established for the victims of Aktion T4 that crossed their doorstep.


Memorial to the Aktion T4 victims that were processed through Altscherbitz Hospital. Author’s photograph, Jan. 2020.

The water trickles out of the stone continously. It represents the tears shed over the loss of so many people. My translation of plaque on the stone: 


"During the National Socialist rule in Germany, more than 5,100 Altscherbitz patients were murdered in the war years.  They died in the gas chambers of Brandenburg and Bernburg, they died of hunger and abuse in Altscherbitz and other German institutions.  We remember their suffering and death with deep sympathy."


 

Sources:

  1. Knittel, The Historical Uncanny, p. 300, note 30.

  2. Aly, Chroust, and Pross, Cleansing the Fatherland, p. 22.


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