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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

Ruth's Falsified Death

Updated: Mar 7

Nothing was accurate:  neither the place of death, nor the date of death nor the manner of death.”

One of the ladies employed as a typist by the Bernburg Killing Center created the consolation letter using the approved template, either Edith or Erna Fisher (mother and daughter), Hedwig Hackel, Mathilde Hartmann, Anneliese Jӓckel, Ilse Loffler, Charlotte Rothmann, or Erika Schröder, to inform Emma and Paul Mühlmann of the ‘unexpected and sudden’ death of their daughter. 

Imagine the dismay and shock when the unexpected letter with the black rimmed envelope was received in their second-floor apartment in the block building on the outskirts of Magdeburg, Germany. Sent by typists who processed dozens of these letters a day, the receivers of the letter undoubtedly reacted with more emotion.  

Traditionally in Germany, a letter announcing a death arrived in a black rimmed envelope.

No copy of Ruth’s death notification letter is known to still exist. However, there is the letter that was written to patient Marie Lieschen’s parents ostensibly from Hadamar Institute. Since these two young women died in the gas chamber the day they arrived together at Bernburg, the letter sent to Marie Lieschen’s parents is probably the closest we will ever get to knowing what the letter looked like that Emma and Paul received informing them of their daughter’s death.

Explanatory panel at Gedenkstätte für Opfer der NS-”Euthanasie” Bernburg in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany. Author’s photograph.


[Stamp - In red: ] Visits are to be reported in writing to the institution 8 days in advance.

Dear Mr. K. 

On April 4, 1941, your daughter, Fraulein Marie Lieschen K, was transferred to our institution on the basis of a ministerial decree in accordance with the instructions of the Reich Defense Commissioner. This measure is related to the current military events.

We regret to inform you that the patient died suddenly and unexpectedly at 5.30 am this morning from the flu and subsequent poor circulation. Because your daughter was suffering from a serious, incurable mental illness, you must see her death as a release.

Since our institution is only to be regarded as an interim institution and the stay serves, among other things, to determine whether there are bacilli carriers among the patients, which, as experience has shown, occur again and again in the mentally ill, the health police ordered the immediate cremation of the patient’s corpse to prevent communicable diseases. In this case, no special consent was required on your part.

If you wish to have the urn with the mortal remains buried in your home cemetery or in another family grave, please send us a certificate of purchase of a grave. A transfer of the urn without this certificate is not possible. The urn will be sent free of charge. If we have no news after 14 days, we will have the urn buried elsewhere.

The clothes of the deceased would have to be disinfected for the reasons mentioned above, which has made them less valuable. If you provide us with proof of entitlement to inheritance, we will be happy to send you the clothes, provided the previous cost bearer has not claimed it. If we have no news from you after two weeks, we will, with your consent, distribute the clothes to the poor and needy patients in the institution.

Since we are missing further addresses, we ask you to also inform other relatives of the deceased. We are enclosing two death certificates that you want to keep carefully for possible submission to the authorities.

Ruth’s family was told that she died from a severe reaction to a flu shot, known as anaphylactic shock.  We do know the following from a small cramped inscription written in the lower right hand corner of her birth certificate where deaths were typically recorded that Ruth was officially listed as dying at Hadamar Hospital on April 19, 1941. Twenty days and 243 miles away from when and where she actually died. Her true death occurred at Bernburg Hospital on March 31, 1941.    

Ruth's Birth Certificate


Death recorded Nr. 55 1941
19/4 Hadamar - Mönchberg

Ruth's falsified death certificate had her dying at the Hadamar Hospital on April 19, 1941, 20 days after her actual death at Bernburg.  This falsification is very similar to Marie Lieschen’s situation.

During the Hadamar nurses’ testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, it was documented that “dates of death were falsified by as much as a month.” In addition, deaths were recorded as being further away in distance from the family to prevent them from visiting and asking questions after the death.  A distant place of death would make it harder for relatives to investigate. Family members often could not travel far due to the war situation and the corresponding shortage of resources.  The false reporting of deaths in distant facilities were done on purpose “in order to thwart investigation attempts by family members.” There is no evidence that Emma and Paul owned a car.  Even if they did, would traveling 243 miles to the ‘place’ of their daughter’s death during wartime have been an option? 

This is how Adolph Merkel, the bookkeeper at Hadamar Hospital, testified that he processed the deaths:  

“Mr. Merkle felt it would arouse suspicions if a large number of patients died on the same day.  Therefore, he took to spacing out the dates of deaths on the certificates so that instead of reporting a great number of deaths over a short period of time, the institution reported a steady number, spread over a lengthy period.  Mr. Merkle, however, was an orderly man.  He kept his patient lists in alphabetical fashion.  This meant that Merkle had his Hadamar patients dying in the order of the alphabet – A’s and B’s today, C’s and D’s tomorrow, and so forth.”

A page of the Hadamar Institute’s death register in which causes of death were faked to conceal the euthanasia killings that took place there.  The photograph was taken by an American military photographer soon after liberation.  Pages purposely blurred to protect the names of those killed.

Cause of death would be one of 61 unverifiable medical reasons from the list devised for the Aktion T4 program.  Pneumonia and tuberculosis were examples of two common diagnoses used, but there was also meningitis, dysentery, and strokes.  “[T]hey matched [the cause of death] with the age, sex and physical condition of the patients before they gassed them.” 

The delay in death notification by several weeks or a month was a decision made firstly so the timing of a number of “sudden” deaths of patients, some who were from the same towns, would not arouse suspicion.  Secondly, the delay in the death date gave the added financial incentive of prolonging families paying medical costs. 

In the case of the death of one patient, Emilie Rau at Hadamar:

The family was informed that Emilie Rau "died unexpectedly from complications of a boil on her lip, with resulting meningeal infection." In fact the cause of death was asphyxiation from carbon monoxide gas. To erase the traces, she was immediately cremated. … The falsification of the date served to keep the secret, but also prolonged the [family's] payment of medical treatment costs. This falsification secured significant profits for the Central Clearinghouse for Sanatoria and Nursing Homes, a department of the T4 program. Those paying the bills continued to pay care-giving expenses; in Emilie Rau's case, for an additional eight days: she was murdered on February 21,1941, but her death certificate shows March 1, 1941 as the date of death.

Despite the government’s best attempts at secrecy, suspicions grew.  “Rumors about the extermination of patients spread across Germany as early as 1940.”  These sudden deaths often occurred to healthy patients and deaths happened in clusters.  I do know my own grandmother suspected something was amiss.  The first time she ever mentioned her sister Ruth to me she told me bluntly, “The Nazis killed Ruth.”  As is always the case when people attempt to deceive, mistakes were made, and people talked.  Occurrences that caused suspicious gossip included:  

“A family received two urns by mistake.
A death notice gave the cause of death as appendicitis.  But the appendix had been removed ten years before.
Another cause of death was spinal disease.  But the relatives had visited the man only eight days earlier when he was completely healthy.
A family received a death notice when the woman is still living in the asylum and is in the best of health.”

“Deaths … were announced to relatives, on some occasions shortly after these relatives had visited a seemingly healthy individual.”  In Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre, there were two sisters, previously healthy, who died there within two days of each other.  This resulted in a new rule that prohibited brothers and sisters from being together on the same shipment to the killing hospitals.  The new directive stated:  “Their killing was supposed to be spaced out over a period of time – kill one and then, after a month or two had passed, kill the other.”

During the April 23, 1941, meeting in Berlin, Victor Brack and Werner Heyde informed the Higher Regional Court President and Prosecutors General of Berlin about the status of the murders. This meeting took place 23 days after Ruth’s death.  Alexander Bergmann, the President of the Cologne Higher Regional Court, took notes during the lecture:  

“Patient stirbt an fingierter Todesursache; Grund, Geheimhaltungsgebot des Führers. Sterbeurkunde.  Datum und Todesursache stimmen nicht.  Daneben wird aber ein wahres Standesregister geführt.”

Patient dies of a fake cause of death, reason; secrecy requirement of the leader.  Death certificate.  The date and cause of death are not correct. In addition, however, a true registry is kept. [Emphasis added]

It is from this true registry that 78 years after Ruth’s death, her sister’s descendants finally learned the true cause and location of her death.  

“By comparing letters with the parents of other retarded children in the same village, they would find that they were identical; all their children had died in the same place, often on the same day.  They were puzzled at first, and then angry as they concluded that their children had been killed.”  

Did the families of the deceased object publicly to the government? This was a problematic and possibly perilous situation:  “The Nazi state was a tyranny, and it was dangerous for a citizen to complain.”

“Auch die Eltern meiner Tante, zermürbt von Bombenangriffen und der Sorge um die depressive Tochter, wollten (soviel ich weiß) keine Untersuchungen des plötzlichen Todes in die Wege leiten – aus einem Gefühl der Schande heraus, aus Überforderung oder aus berechtigter Angst?  Das wissen wir nicht.”

“The parents of my aunt, exhausted by bombings and worried about their depressed daughter, did not want (as far as I know) to initiate an investigation into her sudden death – out of shame, out of overwork, or out of justifiable fear?  We do not know.”

Indeed, historian Götz Aly notes: 

“Die frei erfundenen Angaben über die Todesursachen machen es Eltern, Geschwistern, Ehegatten und anderen Anverwandten einerseits leichter, den plötzlichen Tod eines Familienmitglieds al natürlich oder gottgegeben zu akzeptieren.”

“The fictitious information about causes of death made it easier for parents, siblings, spouses and other relatives to accept the sudden death of a family member as natural or God-given.”



Burleigh, Michael, Death and Deliverance, p. 150.

Noack, Thorsten, and Heiner Fangerau. “Eugenics, Euthanasia, and Aftermath.” International Journal of Mental Health 36, no. 1 (2007): 112–24.,. p. 117

Noakes and Pridham, “The ‘Euthanasia Programme 1939-1945”, p. 1029.

Ericksen, Robert, P.  Complicity in the Holocaust:  Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany.  Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2012, p. 110.

Aly, Götz, Die Belasteten, p. 33.

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1 Comment

Mar 10

Incredible revelation of the demented minds of individuals and their actions to cover up the heinous murder of so many special needs people by the Nazi regime. May God protect todays and all future generations from this terrible evil ever happening again!

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