Meseritz - Obrawalde


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Meseritz Obrawalde 2021 (Photograph Courtesy of Howard de Lestre)


In 1939, the town of Meseritz was within the Prussian province of Pomerania, Today the town bears the name Miedzyrzecz and is situated in Poland. The hospital at Obrawalde, now Obrzyce, is usually referred to as Meseritz-Obrawalde, together with the institution of Tiegenhof, now called Dziekanka, in the Wartheland, were probably the most notorious killing centres of the so-called 'wild euthanasia.'The facility was built in 1904.

During the period preceding the suspension of the euthanasia programme in August 1941, large numbers of patients had been transferred from Meseritz-Obrawalde 'to the East' and had, like patients from other institutions in Pomerania, simply disappeared. At the beginning of 1942, the first trains each containing approximately 700 handicapped patients arrived.

They were transported to Meseritz-Obrawalde from at least twenty-six German cities, usually in the middle of the night. Transports came from the Rhineland, Westphalia, Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen.

Among the nursing staff at Meseritz-Obrawalde were Amanda Ratajczak, Helene Wieczorek, Hermann Gulke, Kurt Weidemann, Walter Schmidt, Willi Plewa, and twenty-one 'Sisters of Death,' who were involved in the killings.

By the end of 1942, and especially in 1943, these transports arrived more frequently. All the nurses and orderlies according to their statements - had to unload the patients.The sick patients were in horrible condition: many were emaciated and they were very dirty. This condition contributed to the nursing personnel being able to distance themselves emotionally from these people. The patients were in such an undignified condition that the personnel could be convinced to kill thousands of them without compunction. The staff selected for killing those patients who were unable to work, but the process was arbitrary and those selected included 'patients' who caused extra work for the nurses, those who were deaf-mute, ill, obstructive, or undisciplined and anyone else who was simply annoying, as well as patients who had fled and were recaptured, and those engaging in undesirable sexual liaisons.

The selected handicapped victims were taken to so-called killing rooms where physicians and nurses killed them using an orally administered drug overdose or a lethal injection. The killing was never done by only one nurse. Practical experience had shown that it was absolutely necessary for the killing to be undertaken by at least two nurses. After the patients had been killed by either the male or female nurses, a fraudulent death certificate was prepared and sent to the victims family. Most of the naked corpses were buried in mass graves, but some were cremated in Frankfurt an der Oder. Construction of a crematorium to handle the large number of corpses was begun, but the project was not completed when Soviet troops liberated the hospital on January 29, 1945. In 1939, Meseritz-Obrawalde held 900 patients, but during the war 2,000 patients filled to capacity were incarcerated in the institution.

The exact number of patients killed will never be known since only a portion of the institutions records survived, but even the most conservative estimate of 6,991 patients killed exceeds more than three times the hospital's maximum occupancy. A less conservative, but probably more accurate estimate by the post-war German judiciary placed the number of handicapped patients killed at Meseritz-Obrawalde at more than 10,000. Some sources have estimated that there could be as many as 18,000 victims.

There is also some evidence that physically or mentally impaired German soldiers were included in that number. Testifying after the war to the Polish Commission investigating the crimes committed at Meseritz-Obrawalde, former patients told of terrible conditions that included features also common to life in concentration camps, such as roll-calls, forced labour, selections, and the use of inmate trustees, similar to the Kapo's used in the camps.

Nurse Amanda Ratajczak was captured by the Russians during March 1945, and she admitted to killing more than 1,500 patients, the last of them, one day before the arrival of the Soviet Army. After a brief trial along with care-giver Hermann Gulke, they were both found guilty and executed by shooting on May 10, 1945.

Dr Hilde Wernicke was arrested on August 10, 1945, together with Nurse Helene Wieczorek. They were tried at the Berlin Regional Court for involvement in Euthanasia crimes. During the trial Helene Wieczorek who was accused of killing several hundred patients testified: 'Director Walter Grabowski told us we had to help the senior nurses - it was too much for them. We would also have to give the injections. At first I refused and he said that there was no point in my doing so because being a civil servant of many years standing, I had to perform my duty, especially in times of war. He added that there would be a law stating that the incurable mentally ill persons were to be released from their suffering. I only did my duty and I did everything on the orders of my superiors. Director Walter Grabowski always warned us of the Gestapo. He said he would inform the Gestapo, if we didn't do what he ordered.'

The trial ended on March 26, 1946, with the death sentence passed on the two accused. Both were executed by guillotine on January 14, 1947, in the Lehrter Strasse prison in Berlin.

During 1965, a trial was held in Munich of fourteen female nurses who had served at the Meseritz -Obrawalde institution. They were accused of 'co-operation with the Euthanasia Programme by killing thousands of mentally disabled patients through the administering of overdoses of Veronal or Luminal, or by injections with Morphia-Scopolamin or plain air, respectively.'

Their testimony provided an insight into the ease with which, given suitable social and political circumstances, it is possible to convince healers to become killers. How much easier was it to convince the non-medical personnel of Aktion Reinhardt to kill on a vastly greater scale?

The main defendants were:

Luise Erdmann - Department Head Nurse

Margarete Tunkowski - Forest Worker

Erna Eigert - Nursing Staff

Martha Winter - Nursing Staff

Luise Erdmann, accused of participation in the killing of 210 patients, testified: 'Through the behaviour of Dr Wernicke I realised that incurable patients were to be released by giving them Veronal or another medicine. I also declare that I was not informed by Dr Wernicke or any other person at the home about euthanasia. I wasn't sworn to secrecy in this respect. I was of the opinion it was taken for granted or believed that I would approve of euthanasia. My attitude to euthanasia was, should I become incurably ill - I don't make any distinction between mental or physical illness - I would consider it as a release, if a physician or, on the direction of a physician, another person, would give me a dose releasing me from everything.

Despite my attitude to euthanasia, I have - when confronted with the problem - fought out serious inner conflicts. Euthanasia, in the form I experienced it at that time, was after all, a killing of people and I asked myself if a legislator had the right at all to order or permit the killing of people. Never, however, did I hear about a corresponding law on the use of euthanasia but, on the other hand, Dr Mootz explained to me once that there was no need for reservation as, should the situation arise, he would cover up for me. From this statement I concluded that there had to be some legality for euthanasia.'

Erna Eigert who was accused of the participation in the killing of 200 patients, testified: 'They didn't make me swear about a secret matter of the Reich and I wasn't sworn to silence. I considered the killings as injustice. Something like that was not supposed to happen, because nobody was allowed to order it. I was brought up as a Christian. I already learned as a child what one may and may not do. I learned that one must not steal and must not kill.'

When asked why she did not refuse to participate in the killings, she replied, 'Because I was ordered to do it. When I am asked again, why I did not refuse, although I realised that it was an injustice, I cannot give an answer to this question. I do and did in the past have a strong feeling of guilt, but it is impossible for me to give a reason for the fact that I did not refuse. It simply was ordered and I had to execute the orders.'

The other fourteen accused nurses were acquitted of the charges of complicity in the murder of approximately 8,000 victims of euthanasia. According to the court the evidence was insufficient.


Photographs



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All photographs of Meseritz Obrawalde courtesy of Howard de Lestre - September 2021


Sources

www. holocaustresearchproject.org

www. secondwiki/ Sanatorium Obrawalde

Photographs: Howard de Lestre


Holocaust Historical Society October 2, 2021