International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023: The murder of Polish and Russian forced laborers at Hadamar, Germany
Today, January 27, 2023 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to honor those that died there and to recognize others who were victims of Nazism. Today let us remember the murder of Poland’s men, women and children who were murdered at the German hospital called Hadamar.
Beginning in 1940, thousands of mentally and physically ill German children and adults were being murdered in various facilities throughout Germany. The murders were part of a clandestine killing program named Aktion T4, named after the street address of the central organizing office located at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin. The criminally insane, patients with dementia, epilepsy and other chronic psychiatric and neurological disorders were removed from their home institutions and transported by bus or rail to special killing centers. Shortly after their arrival they were gassed and cremated. When the secret "euthanasia" program became public knowledge and led to numerous protests by the German public and German clergy, Adolf Hitler ordered a halt to it in August, 1941.
In spite of the stop order, in a short time the euthanasia program slowly and quietly resumed. Physicians in designated institutions within Germany were empowered to kill patients with chronic physical, psychiatric and neurological conditions who could no longer work or be of service to Germany.
Among the centers located throughout Germany was a small state sanitarium for the mentally ill called Hadamar. In addition to killing its own German citizens, Hadamar became the site of murdering Polish and Russian forced laborers.
Photo: U.S Army soldier guarding entrance to Hadamar Hospital where inquiries were being made into the murders of Polish and Russian forced laborers.
On March 26, 1945, U.S. military forces captured the town of Hadamar and found that 476 Polish and Russian laborers had been killed at the facility. On the basis of violation of international law, the U.S. brought charges against seven individuals who ran the institution. The case was tried in Wiesbaden, Germany on October 8-15, 1945. The court was a Military Commission appointed by the Commanding General of the United States Army, Western Military District of Germany. Known as the Hadamar Trial, the accused staff members of the institution— Alfons Klein, Adolf Wahlmann, Heinrich Ruoff, Karl Willig, Adolf Merkle, Imgard Huber and Philip Blum—were charged with the murder of more than 476 Polish and Russian nationals by injections of narcotics and ingestion of sedative drugs.
Partial list of Polish and Rusian individuals murdered at Hadamar obtained during research at National Archives, College Park Maryland.
All of the Polish and Russian men, women and children who died at Hadamar were in Germany as forced laborers and came from several different work camps and hospitals. The main patient register shows the first patients to arrive were two Polish men in 1943 followed by five Russian men and women in the earlier months of 1944. What followed after that were larger numbers of admissions from June, 1944 to the time of liberation in March, 1945. The workers were admitted to Hadamar because they were ill with tuberculosis. Instead of caring for their illness, all the workers received essentially the same treatment, with none living more than a few hours after their arrival. They were told by the staff that they were receiving medication to prevent the spread of communicable diseases but in reality all were killed either by hypodermic injections of morphine or scopolamine or by oral doses of veronal or chloral.
According to the testimony at the trial, the women and children died within twenty minutes to an hour and a half of receiving the injections. The prosecuting attorney at the trial asked:
"There was not a single Russian or Polish man, woman or child who entered that institution who left alive, was there?"
"Not one," was the reply of Heinrich Ruoff, the nurse administering the injections.
As part of the proceedings, six bodies, identified as Polish or Russian were exhumed and examined by Major Herman Bolker, a qualified American pathologist.
Mass grave of forced laborers and bodies exhumed for examination during the Hadamar Trial.
His findings indicated:
A: "Four bodies had tuberculosis. One had pneumonia which I judged to be non-tubercular. In one I found no pathology."
Q: "As to those that showed of tuberculosis, was the extent of lesion to such extent as to produce immediate death?
A: In my opinion, it was definitely not."
The dead were carried to the cellar. Death certificates were completed by the German staff. The cause of death and date of death were both fictitious and picked at random. Defendant Philip Blum stated "with the help of some insane patients I used to carry the bodies to the cemetery and bury them there. I would bury eight to twenty in one grave and I would enter into the burial book where they were buried."
The Judge Advocate of the trial wrote: "To kill these nationals of the occupied territory when illness had made the cost of caring for them greater than their value to the German Reich as laborers was a clear violation of the laws of war. "
The perpetrators of the crimes: Alfons Klein, hospital administrator and nurses Heinrich Ruoff and Karl Willig were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead at Bruchsal Prison, Bruchsal Germany. Physician Adolf Wahlmann was sentenced to hard labor for the rest of his life; Adolf Merkle confined to hard labor for 35 years; Philip Blum 30 years and, Imgard Huber, 25 years with the designated place of confinement to be Bruchsal Prison in Bruchsal Germany.
Let us light a candle in remembrance and honor of the Polish and Russian men, women and children who were killed at Hadamar, Germany during World War II as victims of Nazism.
Photographs: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Research Project.
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide; From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. University of North Carolina Press. 1995
United States of America v. Alfons Klein et al. Case Files 12-449 and 000-12-31 M1078 Roll#2 National Archives, College Park, Maryland.
Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945. Hippocrene Books, Inc.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.