Memorial stone and Stolperschwelle for ‘euthanasia’ victims at the Alsterdorf Institution
The former Alsterdorf Institution (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) actively participated in the National Socialists’ ‘hereditary and racial welfare’ programme during the ‘Third Reich’. Even before 1933, the institution had started surveying the ‘hereditary biology’ of its residents and their families and recording this information in a ‘hereditary health’ card file. Immediately after the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring was enacted on 14 July 1933, hundreds of the institution’s residents were reported to the authorities for sterilisation.
The directors of the institution were also involved in the increasingly aggressive propaganda against frail, sick and disabled people, as well as the pervasive institutionalisation of people considered ‘aberrant’ or ‘unuseful’, who were placed in asylums and institutions for reasons of ‘racial hygiene’.
In August 1937, the Jewish residents of the Alsterdorf Institution began to be systematically removed from the facility. When patient registration forms arrived from the ‘euthanasia’ headquarters in Berlin in July 1940, the Alsterdorf Institution knew exactly why this information was being collected. Nonetheless, the staff filled out 465 forms and returned them, along with a memo asserting that the institution was providing the data solely for the officially stated ‘economic purposes’ and was not responsible for any ‘other use’ of the information.
In July 1941, 70 residents of the Alsterdorf Institution were selected by the ‘euthanasia’ headquarters in Berlin on the basis of these forms. They were taken on the ‘grey buses’ via the Langenhorn Sanatorium and Nursing Home to the Tiegenhof (Dziekanka) facility near Gniezno. In the following months, 69 of them were killed through starvation or with drugs.
Following the heavy bombing of Hamburg in August 1943, more residents were transported from the Alsterdorf Institution, this time on the initiative of the institution’s own administrators. Physicians at the institution chose the ‘weakest of the weak’ - 469 children, women and men – to be deported to killing facilities.
A total of 630 residents of the Alsterdorf Institution were deported to intermediate facilities or killing installations. They included many children, nine of whom were sent directly to what were referred to as ‘special children’s wards’. 513 of the deported residents are known to have been murdered.
Commemorating the ‘euthanasia’ victims
It was not until the 1980s that the Alsterdorf Evangelical Foundation (Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf) started critically examining its own history. In April 1984, a monument was dedicated to the Alsterdorf ‘euthanasia’ victims as an acknowledgement of guilt and acceptance of responsibility. The names of the victims are recorded in a book of remembrance displayed at the entrance to St Nicolaus Church in Alsterdorf.
The first edition of the book Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr (‘There can be no stopping once one starts down this slope’), which covers the history of the Alsterdorf Institution under the Nazis, was published in 1987. In 1993, on the 50th anniversary of a ‘euthanasia’ transport that took more than 200 girls and women to the Steinhof psychiatric hospital in Vienna, the road leading to the Alsterdorf Evangelical Foundation was renamed after Dorothea Kasten in remembrance of one of victims of this transport.
In 1996, the remains of ten Alsterdorf ‘euthanasia’ victims who had been killed in Vienna were interred in the burial ground of the Scholl Foundation at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery. The remains were part of a large collection of brains and brain slices from ‘euthanasia’ victims that had been stored at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in the grounds of the former Steinhof facility in Vienna. These specimens were used for research purposes even after 1945.
In 2006, the artist Gunter Demnig installed a Stolperstelle (stumbling threshold) in the footpath on Dorothea-Kasten-Strasse where the gate to the Alsterdorf Institution once stood. This was the departure point for the deportation buses in 1941 and 1943. The numbers of people who were deported from here and murdered are inscribed in the monument.
In 2022, an educational and commemorative site will open in front of St Nicolaus Church in Alsterdorf. A sgraffito altarpiece taken from the apse of the church will be erected in the centre of it. The altarpiece was created in 1938 and is an example of Nazi religious art. It depicts a group of 12 haloed Biblical and contemporary figures gathered around the cross, as well as three additional people with disabilities. These three people have no haloes and are being carried by the others, and their presence exceeds the holy number of 12. The church congregation refused to hold services in front of the altarpiece, which is now considered a symbol of discrimination against people with disabilities and their exclusion from the community.
Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf