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Sunday, 21 April, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Nazi 'euthanasia' children buried
Urns of Nazi child victims await burial
More than 800 children died at the Spiegelgrund
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By Michael Leidig in Vienna

A simple ceremony was staged in private in Vienna last week for hundreds of child victims of the Nazis.

More than 800 children, mainly mentally and physically disabled, perished in the Spiegelgrund Children's Hospital in Vienna during World War II.

It was one of 30 so-called "euthanasia" centres in the Third Reich where 75,000 people across Europe, including 5,000 children deemed racially, mentally or physically unfit, were systematically murdered by doctors who daily betrayed their Hippocratic oath.

Urns of Nazi child victims await burial
The urns were laid to rest at a private service
The deaths of hundreds of Spiegelgrund children were accelerated through lack of food and neglect.

The drugs they received sometimes helped to bring on fatal pneumonia - which could then be registered as "death from natural causes".

Instead of being buried, many of the body parts were kept and stored for decades in formaldehyde in dusty glass jars in the cellar of the hospital in the private archive of one of the doctors accused of carrying out the killings, the Nazi doctor Heinrich Gross.

He had joined the Nazi Party in 1939. After the war he went on the run, meaning he did not go on trial until the 1950s.

He was convicted of being an accessory to manslaughter, but the verdict which was overturned on appeal.

Prosecution unlikely

In the climate of reconciliation that existed in post-War Austria, the trial was dropped and not raised again until 1999.

Dr Gross was then charged again, but eventually ruled too old and mentally unstable to stand trial.

Her short life ended painfully - she was starved, poisoned... she was killed

Waltraud Haeupl, sister of victim
Austrian Green MP Karl Oellinger said: "They are just waiting for him to die. I do not believe he is as sick as he pretends, and if anyone knows how to pull the wool over the eyes of the court psychiatrist, it's a man like Dr Gross who was once a court psychiatrist himself."

Dr Gross had published several scientific papers based on the findings of his research.

On the basis of this work as a neurologist he became a highly-paid court psychiatric expert and worked for the law courts until 1997.

With a prosecution increasingly unlikely to go ahead, the Vienna Public Prosecutors Office released the body parts confiscated from Dr Gross's archive at Spiegelgrund for burial by the families.

As part of the investigation the remains were examined by forensic scientists at Innsbruck University.

They discovered traces of the sleeping tablets Luminal and Veronal in the tissue, indicating that some children had died of unnatural causes.

Official burial

Relatives had asked for the burial to take place out of the media spotlight, and so the urns containing the remains of those deemed "life unworthy of life" were laid to rest in a private service held in secret at the Vienna Central Cemetery last week.

Photos of Nazi children victims on display before burial
The children were deemed "life unworthy of life"
It was a stark contrast with the scenes expected next weekend when thousands of people, including the Austrian President Thomas Klestil and the Vienna city mayor Michael Haeupl, will attend a memorial service to officially lay the youngsters to rest.

Two of the 600 urns have been kept back, and in front of the media spotlight will be placed with the others in the grave reserved for victims of National Socialism.

At this service the route to the grave will be lined with children holding photos of the child victims.

Eight stone plaques will bear the names of the deceased and a taped recording will continuously announce their names and ages.


"It was especially important for us to take into account the needs and wishes of the survivors of the Spiegelgrund Hospital and the relatives of the victims," said Vienna city councillor responsible for the burial, Elisabeth Pittermann.

Waltraud Haeupl's younger sister Anne-Marie died when she was four in Spiegelgrund in 1942 from "pneumonia".

She had suffered from rickets from birth and was sent to the hospital after being described as "in need of care".

Mrs Haeupl said: "The diagnosis at Spiegelgrund was "idiocy". I can remember her really well. She was so sweet, she looked like a doll. Her short life ended painfully. She was starved, poisoned. She was killed."

See also:

21 Mar 00 | Europe
Gross symbolises Austria's past
14 Jun 00 | Correspondent
Austria confronts Nazi past
07 May 99 | Europe
Gruesome legacy of Dr Gross
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Austria
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