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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

Bernburg Killing Center - the employees

None of Hitler's plan would have come to fruition if he did not have willing minions to carry it out. Below are the people we know of who were paid to eliminate "useless eaters" from the Third Reich.


Killing Center Director


Irmfried Georg Rolf Eberl was born on September 8, 1910, in Bregenz, Austria.  His parents were adherents to the racist theories of Georg Ritter von Schonerer, leader of the German nationalist movement in Austria who even merited a mention by Hitler in Mein Kampf.  Eberl’s two older brothers were ardent supporters of NSDAP (the Nazi Party, known by the initials which stood for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei).


In 1928, Eberl started his medical studies in Innsbruck, Austria, and in December 1931, he joined the NSDAP.  In 1935, he graduated after repeating his final medical examinations, and in 1936 he moved to Germany, first to Dresden, then to Dessau where he served as the head of public health after which he transferred to the main health office in Berlin.  


Irmfried Eberl - Photo in the Public Domain.


In 1939, Eberl was appointed head of the Brandenburg Facility and it was there, on February 1, 1940, at the age of 30, Eberl began to coordinate the Aktion T4 program.  In June 1940, Eberl weighed in on the draft law on ‘extermination of those incapable of living’ to the Reich Commissioner:

“Every inmate of an asylum who has been institutionalized for more than three … years and for whom discharge is not imminent must be reported to the Reich Commissioner on a prescribed form.”

When the Brandenburg operation was moved to Bernburg as described in my last post, Eberl also moved and continued his role as medical director. The 1940 pocket diary of Irmfried Eberl survived the war.  All killings and transports were neatly and obsessively recorded in Eberl’s pocket diary. 



Unfortunately for my research, Eberl’s diary ends on January 21, 1941, so it does not list Ruth’s transport on March 31, 1941, but many other transports are listed, including others from Altscherbitz (written with the alternative spacing of ‘Alt Scherbitz’), Uchtspringe, Neuruppin, and Jerichow.  Besides these four intermediate hospitals, Bernburg also received patients from Görden and Teupitz in the Brandenburg Province and Königslutter in the Braunschweig Province.  


Pages from Eberl’s diary noting arrival of "transports".


Eberl noted the arrival of transports for gassing, often listed the number of victims and usually listing the composition by using the capital letter “M” for men (Mӓnner), “F” for women (Frauen), and “J” for Jews.



Following his ‘extraordinary’ success in Brandenburg, in 1940 Eberl was appointed head of the psychiatric hospital in Bernburg with the task of implementing and managing a similar gassing operation.  On 21 November 1940 the gassing of the mentally ill in the Bernburg hospital commenced under his direction.  … During the course of the T4 euthanasia program, 9,772 patients at Brandenburg and 8,601 [the number now stands at 9,385 patients] at Bernburg were killed.


Eberl would be promoted in April 1942 for the job of establishing Treblinka Killing Center for the sole purpose of exterminating Jews.  His experiences at Brandenburg and Bernburg made him sought-after for the role. 

The ‘euthanasia’ program had initiated systematic mass murder by the Nazis.  Aktion T4 had selected the personnel and developed the techniques for the murder of thousands of human beings with maximum efficiency.  Many of those personnel and their techniques were transferred to deal with an even larger problem:  the murder not of thousands but of millions – the ‘final solution' of the Jewish question.

Eberl killed so many people so quickly starting on July 23, 1942, that the cremation ovens could not keep up and the stench of Treblinka is documented, even by Nazi personnel, as being able to be smelled from six miles away. 

“Within the approximately 6 weeks of Eberl’s command, it is believed that up to 280,000 people were murdered” at Treblinka. This was “the ‘highest killing rate’ of any site in the Holocaust.” 

(Saul Friedlӓnder sets the total at 312,000 Jews.) Eberl was replaced in his Treblinka position by Franz Stangl from Hartheim.  Stangl was brought in at Treblinka to put a stop to such practices as "having naked Jewesses dancing on tables for  the delectation of Eberl and his men."  Eberl’s ‘incompetence’ was compounded by widespread corruption:  the money and valuables carried by the victims found their way into the camp staff’s pockets and also into those of the commandant’s euthanasia colleagues in Berlin. 


Because of his sloppiness and overall mismanagement of the killing of thousands of Jews, Eberl was demoted back to Bernburg until it closed its killing center in 1943.  Eberl was captured by the U.S. Army in 1944, but they did not realize who he was and, so, he was released from prisoner of war status on July 6, 1945.  He did not bother to hide his identity after the war, even renewing his medical license.  Karma caught up to him on January 8, 1948 when he was arrested.  He hung himself in his jail cell on February 15, 1948, never facing justice for his crimes, at least not in this world.


Eberl holds a particularly egregious place in WWII history.  Among the hundreds of thousands of people he was responsible for killing was my great aunt; and he most probably never even knew her name.  Her name was Ruth Rosa Luise Mühlmann.  He did not succeed in killing the memory of her. 

This blog is testament to Ruth's existence.  

Eberl obviously didn’t carry out Aktion T4 by himself at Bernburg.  The role of Bernburg employees may have been hidden for decades but their employment history by one of the six euthanasia centers in Germany during WWII has slowly been revealed and is in the public domain.   


How did they justify their actions to themselves?  According to Olga Ulrich’s testimony at the doctors’ trial, she was content working at Bernburg.  The pay was good and the work was not hard;  after all, patients were dispatched the day they arrived.  Oftentimes, Bernburg employees stayed up nights until 3 am drinking and singing the popular song, Kornblumenblau.  Employees included four married couples working together there and a mother and daughter team. 

And Olga had no moral qualms about her employment at Bernburg.  By her own admission after the war, “I never gave another thought to the people killed there.”  

And they cannot act as if they were unaware of what was taking place. 


Albert Geis, a Bernburg employee, stated the following in his postwar testimony: “Dr. Eberl asked if I was an allotment gardener and when I said that I understood some of it, he said that I knew then that weeds had to be destroyed.  The same thing happens to them, unworthy of life should disappear.  We had to watch the first gassing that took place when we arrived.” 


At the end of this blog post there is a list of names that I've been able to reconstruct of the employees at Bernburg at the time of Ruth’s death in the gas chamber.  But here are four employees for which I have found greater documentation:


Kurt Arndt


Kurt Arndt was a mental hospital nurse in Neuruppin.  The hospital loaned “at least three members of the local nursing staff (Erwin Braatz, Heinz Unverhau, and Kurt Arndt)…[for] Aktion T4.  They organized the ambulance transports (Gekrat Buses) to the southwestern German gasification centers of Grafeneck and Hadamar.”  Arndt would be a transport attendant in Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadamar, and possibly Treblinka.  When Arndt was at Hadamar, he was arrested along with two other male nurses for openly discussing at a pub in town what was going on at that Euthanasia Centre.  Arndt was sent to a concentration camp for a time for this infraction of disobeying orders.  His whereabouts after the war are unknown.  


Hans and Margot Räder-Grossman


Hans and Margot Räder-Grossman, a husband and wife team, were administrators of the gassing facility at Bernburg. Hans and Margot may have had Black Market connections as well.  On June 19, 1943, Friedrich Mennecke, an Aktion T4 "consultant" doctor mentioned in the Dec. 15, 2023, blog post, wrote to his wife, “My dearest Mommy! … Cigarettes are gradually becoming scarce; I hope Räder-Grossman sends some more.”


Christian Wirth


Christian Wirth made his reputation among the ruthless at Grafeneck Killing Center for being exceptionally ruthless in his support of the killing program and in his enforcement of the rules.  He was selected to be the main inspector (something akin to a crisis manager) at all six euthanasia killing sites.  After Aktion T4 was completed, Wirth would reemploy many of the euthanasia staff to work at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor.  Wirth was killed by partisans in Trieste, Italy in 1944.


Henry Friedlander explained the connection between the euthanasia centers and the killing centers:

The killers who learned their trade in the euthanasia killing centers of:
Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg, and Hadamar
also staffed the killing centers of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.”

After the war, during questioning, Aktion T4 employees would tearfully describe how they suffered at the time.  They recounted talks of nervous breakdowns and of suicide attempts. However, Holocaust Researcher Ernst Klee recounts how the daughter of a doctor at Bernburg Euthanasia Center documented the everyday life of the T4 personnel from her personal experience:


[We had an] Official apartment on an institutional level. About us originally a closed men's department. There were the offices of the T4 company. At certain intervals there were parties with music and singing until late at night. Bottles were later thrown against radiators. Around three in the morning, they came down the stairs and moved into the separated part. Certain [song] hits were always played, e.g. Cornflower Blue. The T4 staff seemed to be more urban, brisker than the Bernburg staff. Secretaries with manicured fingernails. Joyful!” 

[Author’s translation]


List of Employees At Bernburg

NAME

JOB

BIRTH YEAR

NOTES

Apel, Edith




Arndt, Kurt

Transport Attendant

1912

Mental hospital nurse in Neuruppin. Worked as transport attendant in Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadamar, and possibly

Treblinka. 1

Baer, Rudi

Corpse Burner

1906


Bastanier, Käthe

Administration

1917

Married to Paul Weber.

Bauch, Johannes

Corpse Burner

1908


Beelitz, Willi




Bischkopf, Erich




Borm, Kurt

Assistant Physician


Acquitted by West German Court on June 6, 1972.

Borowski, Günter

Cook

1919


Borowski, Werner

Administrative Manager

1913


Braatz, Erwin

Transport Attendant

1911

Grafeneck and Bernburg SA Rottenführer

Bunke, Heinrich

Assistant Physician

1914


Dalades, Christel



Married to fellow employee, Edith Dalades

Dalades, Edith



Married to fellow employee, Christel Dalades

Dittmann, Ursula

Administration

1888


Drehmel, Karl




Dubois, Werner

Corpse Burner and Bus Driver

1913

Married fellow employee Edith Fischer.  Would go on to be supervisor of Jewish Work Units at Belzer and Sobibor.2

Eberl, Irmfried

Director

1910

Committed suicide in 1948.

Eberle, Lydia

Kitchen Help

1919


Eckardt, Lydia

Administration

1890


Falkowski, Kurt

Photographer

1908


Fischer, Edith

Typist

1920

Married fellow employee Werner Dupois. Her mother

worked with her as well.

Fischer, Erna

Typist

1890

Edith Fischer’s mother.

Floss, Herbert

Corpse Burner

1912


Frenzel, Karl

Corpse Burner

1911

Would go on to be the supervisor of the killing process at

Sobibor.3

Freudenberg, Elise

Office Management

1900


Fromm, Franz

Head Nurse

1895

Grafeneck and Hadamar

Fuchs, Erich

Driver

1902


Gäbler, Fritz

Corpse Burner, Transport

1900


Geis, Albert

Facility Manager

1900


Godenschweig, Gerhard

Legal Assistant and Registry Office

1901


Graetschus, Siegfried

Corpse Burner

1916


Hackbarth, Käthe

Waitress

1896

She was employed during the time of liquidation of the

“Euthanasia”-Inst. Bernburg

Hackel, Hedwig

Typist

1916

Married to Emil Hackel, corpse burner at Sonnenstein

Hartmann, Mathilde

Consolation Letter Writer

1909


Hebold, Otto

Doctor

1896


Heck, Franz

Oberscharführer/Guard

1914


Heinrich, Hedwig

Nurse

1896


Hengst, August

Cook

1905


Hering, Gottlieb

Administration

1887


Hirche, Fritz

Office Manager

1893

Later was Kripo, committed suicide.

Holten, Elfriede von

Consolation Letter Writer

1917

She wrote on selection trips for Dr. Steinmeyer. 1942 –

Jan. She married fellow employee Oberhauser, May. Got

an abortion. 1949 – divorced and became a teacher.

Holzschuh, Hermann

Office Manager

1907

Chief Registrar from Feb. – April 1941.4

Ittner, Alfred

Administration

1907


Jäckel, Anneliese

Main Typist

1920

Office was located directly over the gas chamber.

Kainer, Erwin

Nurse, Transport

1910


Kalisch, Herbert

Electrician

1914

Installer and maintenance of the gas chamber and

crematorium at Bernburg and Sonnenstein.5

Kneissler, Pauline

Nurse

1900

Also worked at Kaufbeuren-Irsee where they killed

children.

Kobuch, Rudolf

Nurse

1910


Kochan, Bruno


1907

Male nurse for dissections

Kōhler, August

Driver and Corpse Burner

1906


Kohnert, Lothar

Corpse Burner

1908


Kolanowski, Wanda von

Head Nurse

unknown

Committed suicide 1945.

Kollruss, Paul

Corpse Burner

1912


Kreischer, Oskar

Transport Attendant

1910


Kroll, Herbert

Corpse Burner

1906


Küpper, Egmont

Transport Manager

1906


Kurth, Erwin

Transport Attendant

1908


Lambert, Erwin

Construction Worker

199

Built the gas chambers at the 6 euthanasia centers including Bernburg. Died Oct. 15, 1976.6

Laudert, Hedwig

Transport

1905


Lehmann, Paul

Gatekeeper

1906


Lichtenstein, Frieda

Nurse and Transport Attendant

1913


Liedtke, Annemarie

Administration

1911

Worked there after Ruth’s time. Married to

fellow employee, Arthur Liedtke.

Liedtke, Arthur

Security Guard

Gatekeeper and Driver

1910

Married to fellow employee Annemarie Liedtke.

Lōffler, Ilse

Consultation Letter Writer and keeper of Urn Book

1918


Lokatis, Wilhelm

Nurse

1903


Mätzig, Willi

Watchman and Security Guard

1910


Mennecke, Friedrich

Assessor

1904


Michel, Hermann

Corpse Cremator and Dissector of Bodies

1909


Mielke, Hildegard

Office

1921


Mietzner, Dorothea

Bus office

1918

Sister of Helga.

Mietzner, Helga

Office worker


Sister of Dorothea. Eliminated in early summer 1942.

Nickel, Richard

Civil Registry Officeand deputy office mgr

1879

Called Papa Nickel.

Niemann, Johann (Jonny)

Corpse Burner

1913

Killed by an axe to the head at Sobibor ‘43.

Oberhauser, Josef

Corpse Burner

1915


Peters, Irmgard

Office

1919

Wrote brain research report for Bunke

Pōtzinger, Karl

Corpse Burner

1908


Räder-Großmann, Hans

Business Manager

1905

Married to fellow employee Margot Räder- Großmann

Räder-Großmann, Margot

Mental Hospital Nurse

1904

Married to fellow employee Hans Räder-Großmann

Rank, Hildegard

Research

1911


Rapp, Martha

Typist

1913


Rost, Karl Paul

Transport

1904


Rothmann, Charlotte

Typist

1917

Married to fellow employee Franz Heck.

Rehwald, Wenzel

Corpse Burner

unknown


Reuter, Otto

Mental Hospital Nurse

1909


Richter, Edith

Transport Assistant

1914


Rittler, Albert

Office worker

1910

Married to fellow employee Olga Ullrich.

Sauer, Hildegard

Transport Assistant

1921


Schmalz, Hermann

Mental Hospital Nurse

1909


Schmidt, Fritz

Transport Assistant

1906


Schmidt, Otto

Transport Assistant and Corpse Burner

1903


Schmieder, Friedrich, Dr.

Photographer


Scientific photographer of euthanasia victims.





Schrōder, Erika

Consolation Letter Writer

1912


Schütt, Karl Heinz

Administration

1908


Schwarz, Erna

Transport Assistant

1917

Married to fellow employee Gottfried Schwarz.7

Schwarz, Gottfried

Corpse Burner

1913

Married to fellow employee Erna Schwarz.

Seibert, Inge

Administration

1911


Simon, Gerhard

Administration

1904

Married to Gertrud Heimann.

Spengler, Karl

Office Manager

1907


Sporleder, Erich

Security Guard

1908


Stadie, Otto

Dissector

1887


Stangl, Franz

Office Manager

1908

8

Steinhardt, Emil

Administration

1889


Stephan, Walter

Bus Driver

1914


Stōrmer, Frieda

Transport Attendant

1916


Stoffel, Heinrich

Card Indexing

1909


Stuhl, Lothar

Head Nurse

1894


Thiel, Erich

Chief Police Officer and Driver

1907


Trautwein, Heinrich

Management

1903


Ulrich, Olga

Transport Attendant

1901

Married to fellow employee Albert Rittler.9

Wagner, Klara

Transport


Married to fellow employee Walter Wanka.

Wanka, Walter

Management


Married to fellow employee Klara Wagner.

Weber, Paul

Management

1904

Married to fellow employee Käthe Bastanier

Weiland, Christel

Transport Attendant

1888


Wuttke, Willi

Transport Attendant

1908


Zachow, Minna

Mental Hospital Nurse

1895


Zielinski, Gustav

Courier

1906


Zielke, Christel

Nurse

1913


1 Aly, p. 70 and Klee, p. 544, 2 Friedlander, p. 241 and Knittel, p. 305, 3 Knittel, p. 305. 4 Evans, p. 130. 7 Klee, Euthanasie, p. 517. 8 Evans, p. 103.


Quotes from ‘Nurses Writing about Psychiatric Nurses’ Involvement in Killings during the Nazi Era:  A Preliminary Discourse Analysis’.  These are great quotes on nurses and reasons they participated in the killings.


There are a variety of reasons that nurses participated in the killings, including:

  • “they were afraid of being punished by the Nazi authorities (e.g. being sent to a prison camp, being de-registered as a nurse, or losing career prospects);

  • they were simply obeying doctors’ orders in a culture in which strict obedience was an inculcated virtue;

  • they were simply obeying the Nazi authorities, and the Führer himself;

  • it was the ultimate expression of care for incurable patients, and nurses could at least provide a caring hand when the end was near, and help minimize distress - it was done to relieve patients’ suffering;

  • they did it for extra pay and the expectation of rewards from the regime;

  • they were committed to, and believed in, a psychiatric ideology which, as part of a biopolitical system, subsumes the notion that ‘euthanasia’ is the last treatment option for incurable and unresponsive patients; 

  • nursing was too poorly organized and lacked a professional body to regulate practice and enforce standards, so nurses made ethical decisions in isolation;

  • they believed that mental disorders were incurable, accepted eugenical arguments and believed they were helping to protect the Aryan gene pool;

  • they accepted the argument that the country simply could not afford to continue paying for care for ‘useless eaters’, a view that was exacerbated when the war created fresh demands on dwindling resources;

  • they saw themselves as good servants of a country at war who strove to contribute to the national war efforts; and,

  • nursing’s concern became oriented towards the health of the community, rather than caring for individuals.”

 

SOURCES:


Strous, Rael. “Dr. Irmfried Eberl (1910-1948): mass murdering MD.” Isr Med Assoc J. 2009 Apr;11(4):216-8. PMID: 19603594, p. 216.


Friedlander, Henry, The Origins of Nazi Genocide, p. 278.


Noakes and Pridham, “The ‘Euthanasia Programme 1939-1945”, p. 1048.


Robertson, Ley, and Light, The First Into the Dark, p. 87.


Friedländer, Saul. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, p. 433



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