In 1790, a home for paupers was founded in Brandenburg, near Berlin. In 1820, the complex of buildings was extended and subsequently used as a prison until 1932, when the prison was closed, following the building of a prison in Brandenburg - Gorden. From August 24, 1933, until February 2, 1934, the Nazis used the city -centre buildings of the former prison at 90-C Neuendorfer Strasse as a concentration camp and police barracks.

Up to 1,200 prisoners were incarcerated in the cells, and in 1939, some of the buildings were converted into a euthanasia killing centre named, 'Brandenburg State Hospital and Nursing Home.' (Heil -und Pflegeanstatt Brandenburg).

The site was probably chosen for its convenient location. A gas chamber of 3 by 5 meters was installed in a former brick barn, although the exact location of the gas chamber within the barn is unknown, since only the foundations of the barn remain. The gas chamber was disguised as a shower room, but at first no shower heads were installed and patients were therefore told that they were entering an 'inhalation room' for therapeutic reasons. Later shower heads were added. Only the floor of the adjacent former storage building is now visible. The cells no longer exist; it was not until 1996, that their foundations were uncovered.

The killings in Brandenburg took place in a similar fashion to all the other T4 institutes: buses brought the victims to the site, where they were registered, undressed, examined and then gassed. Bodies were cremated at night in two mobile cremation ovens attached to the chimney of the building and heated with oil. There were seven stokers, all members of the SS, and ten further SS guards, who sometimes also worked as stokers. Flames often escaped from the chimney, which added to the unpleasant smell of burning flesh. In July 1940, the crematory ovens were moved to an isolated house, surrounded by a high wooden fence, located about three miles outside the town at Paterdamm Street. The site was known as the Chemisch-Technische Versuchsanstalt (Chemical and Technical Research Institute). The corpses were driven there at night, in the back of a post office van.

The first killings took place on January 4, 1940, when between 18 and 20 handicapped patients were gassed in a test gassing, which was decisive in arriving at the decision to use carbon monoxide gas as the killing agent for the euthanasia programme, and was later used in the three death camps, which were part of the Aktion Reinhardt mass murder programme in Poland. This test gassing was carried out by Christian Wirth, was witnessed by Viktor Brack, Chief of Section II in the Fuhrer's Chancellery responsible for the T4 euthanasia programme, who declared that Philipp Bouhler, Chief of the Fuhrer's Chancellery , Leonardo Conti, Head of the Department of Health in the Ministry of the Interior, Dr. Herbert Linden who worked for Leonardo Conti,  witnessed this test gassing. It was Bouhler who had the inspiration of disguising the gas chamber as a shower-bath with seats and douches. Another of those present was Dr. August Becker, who was a chemist and supplier of gas cylinders, and he recalled the test gassing as well:

'I was ordered by Brack to attend the first euthanasia experiment in the Brandenburg asylum near Berlin. I went to the asylum in the first half of January 1940. Additional building work had been carried out especially for the purpose. There was a room similar to a shower room which was approximately 3 metres by 5 metres and 3 metres high and tiled. There were benches round the room and a water pipe about I inch in diameter ran along the wall about 10cm off the floor. There were small holes in this pipe from which the carbon monoxide gas poured out. The gas cylinders stood outside this room and were already connected up to the pipe. The work on this installation had been carried out by the SS Main Building Office in Berlin.  

There were already two mobile crematoria in the asylum with which to burn the corpses. There was a rectangular peephole in the entrance door, which was constructed like an air raid shelter door, through which the delinquents could be observed. The first gassing was carried out by Dr. Widmann personally. He turned the gas tap and regulated the amount of gas. As far as I can remember among the prominent personalities who were there were the doctors already mentioned, Professor Dr. Brandt, the Fuhrer's personal physician and a detective Wirth, at that time head of the homicide branch in the Stuttgart police department and later head of the Hartheim asylum near Linz.

For the first gassing about 18-20 people were led into this 'shower room' by the nursing staff. These men had to undress in an anteroom, until they were completely naked. The doors were shut behind them. These people went quietly into the room and showed no signs of being upset. Dr. Widmann operated the gas. I could see through the peephole that after about a minute the people had collapsed or lay on the benches. There were no scenes and no disorder.

After a further five minutes the room was ventilated. Specially assigned SS people collected the dead on special stretchers and took them to the crematoria. When I say special stretchers, I mean stretchers specially constructed for this purpose. They could be placed directly on the ovens and the corpses could be pushed into the oven mechanically by means of a device - without the people carrying them coming into contact with the corpse. These ovens and the stretchers were also constructed in Brack's department.

Following this successful test, Brack - who was naturally also present and whom I forgot to mention - said a few words. He expressed satisfaction with the test and emphasised once again that this action must only be carried out by doctors, according to the motto, 'syringes are a matter for doctors.' Finally Dr. Brandt spoke and reiterated that doctors alone should carry out this gassing.'

In his 1940 pocket diary, Irmfried Eberl, the physician -in-charge at Brandenburg, and later the first commandant of the Treblinka death camp in Poland, noted the arrival of transports for gassing, often listing the number of victims and usually indicating the composition by using the capita; letter 'M' for men and 'F' for women and 'J' for Jews (Manner, Frauen, Juden). The diary contains a relatively large number of 'J' entries.

The final killings took place on October 29, 1940, when children from the mental home in Brandenburg- Goerden were murdered. The T4 euthanasia mass murder programme saw at least 9,772 individuals lose their life at Brandenburg, within a nine month period. Among the victims were some 400 Jews. After the cessation of the euthanasia programme the buildings served as a prison for forced labourers and a barracks for the police. During the Second World War some of the buildings were destroyed; others were demolished after 1945. Further traces of the crimes committed there were lost were constructed on the site.

On April 27, 1997, a Memorial to the murder victims at Brandenburg was dedicated on the site of the former euthanasia centre.




G. Reitlinger, The Final Solution, Sphere Books Ltd, London 1971

Postcard - Chris Webb Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society 2018