Bodies Found in Austria may be Victims of Nazi “Euthanasia Program”

Construction workers in Tyrol, Austria have uncovered 220 decomposed bodies near Hall hospital, a psychiatric institute, in Tyrol, Austria. The bodies were found in the former hospital cemetery, abandoned after the Second World War. It has been determined that the bodies were likely buried between 1942 and 1945. Christian Haring, the deputy hospital director has said that suspicion regarding the bodies developed in part due to the fact that there was a “noticeable increase in the deaths at Hall institute” throughout the later part of World War II.

The bodies are believed to be part of a mass grave partially containing the bodies of victims of the Nazis’ euthanasia “program.”  One may instinctively think of the Nazi death camps when reading the term “euthanasia program,” however, the murder of disabled babies in Nazi Germany began around 1939.   Doctors and nurses were required to report to authorities all incidents of newborn babies displaying symptoms of severe disability or disease;  such babies were routinely euthanized. Disabled children and adults were sent to psychiatric facilities where they were later murdered.

An estimated 275,000 men, women, and children with mental and physical disabilities were systematically murdered during the World War II time period.  Most victims were poisoned, overdosed, neglected, or starved.  The so-called “secret operation” was masked with phony death certificates and phony urns containing patients’ ashes, along with letters of condolence.  Several of the euthanasia practitioners went on to run the Nazi death camps.

The governor of Tyrol has stated, “[t]here can be no cover-up. This dark chapter in our history must now be thoroughly examined,” and has plans to appoint a Commission to study the remains and determine the cause of death of the bodies.  Austrian officials are planning to begin exhuming the bodies in March. According to historian Oliver Seifert, the investigators will seek to determine if the Hall psychiatric institute was involved in the killings. The hospital is asking anyone who feels that a relative may be among the remains to come forward.

What does this mean for possible family members . . . closure, or more anger? Was it proper for Austria to be so open about this discovery without further investigation?  Should the bodies be exhumed and examined after all these years? If it is determined that the Hall institute did in fact take a part in the killings what should be done?

2 comments

  1. This week, the people of southern Sudan will vote to determine if they will separate from the north and form their own nation.

    Many speculate that the conflicts that claimed the lives of thousands of Sudanese earlier this decade will be reignited if the south decides to separate. President Obama has called on the international community to pay close attention to the election in order to ensure that it is fair and reflects the will of the Sudanese people (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/opinion/09obama.html?hp).

    Perhaps this news from Austria serves as reminder of the atrocities that can take place when the world isn’t watching. Hopefully the world turns in to the election in Sudan.

  2. A number of options are available if it is determined that the Hall institute did in fact take a part in the killings. For instance, the perpetrators of the crimes could be prosecuted. I understand the desire to bring the Nazis from World War II to justice. In fact, these men should have been pursued and convicted years ago. However, as the last remaining Nazis approach the end of their lives, I would argue that criminal prosecution is not worthwhile. The crimes took place more than 60 years ago, it is often hard to gather evidence that will secure a conviction, and the defendants could die before the legal process is complete. Further, it costs a lot of money and involves a lot of resources. As an alternative, the money could be spent on holocaust education. The survivors should be interviewed and their stories recorded. Future generations should not be given the opportunity to forget the atrocities that occurred during World War II.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.