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The BBC's Claire Doole in Vienna
"His lawyers said Dr Gross had wanted to answer the nine counts of murder"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 11:01 GMT
Nazi euthanasia trial halted
Heinrich Gross arrives at court in Vienna
Dr Gross arrived at court leaning heavily on a walking stick
The trial of an Austrian psychiatrist accused of murdering children in a Nazi clinic has been suspended indefinitely because of his poor health.

A frail-looking Dr Gross appeared in court leaning on a walking stick and supported by two aides.

Barely an hour into the trial of Heinrich Gross, 84, the judge suspended proceedings after hearing evidence from a psychiatrist that the defendant was suffering from dementia.

It is the country's first such court case since 1975.

Dr Gross faces charges of complicity to murder in the deaths of nine handicapped child during the summer of 1944 under a euthanasia programme ordered by the Nazis at the Vienna clinic where he was in charge.

A frail-looking Dr Gross appeared in court leaning on a walking stick and supported by two aides.

"I find it difficult to hear," he said, when asked by the judge if he could hear proceedings.

Respected expert

After the war Dr Gross was charged with manslaughter and served only a few months in prison.

Afterwards he became Austria's leading forensic psychiatrist and did research on the brains of some of the children he is alleged to have killed.

Now retired, he developed a reputation as a leading court-appointed psychiatrist and a neuro-surgeon, including for the court where he is now on trial.

The brains of children are stored in a Vienna hospital
The brains of children are stored in a Vienna hospital
Historians say the decision to allow the trial shows Austria's determination to come to terms with its past - especially important in the current political context, with the rise of the far-right Freedom Party.

The killing of handicapped children was one of the darkest episodes of Austria's Nazi period. After the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich by Hitler in 1938, 772 children were killed in Vienna for euthanasia research.

The Nazis were strong believers in euthanasia. The victims were starved and then poisoned and their brains preserved for research. The brains of children are still stored in Austria's largest psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Vienna.

Dr Gross was one of the doctors in charge. He took photographs of Anne-Marie Haupl who died under his care at the age of four.

Anne-Marie Haupl: Died at the age of four
Anne-Marie Haupl: Died at the age of four
Her sister Waltraud has been haunted by the need for answers.

"Anne-Marie had not been handicapped mentally or on her body. But Dr Gross took care of her and diagnosed her an idiot," she said.

"I think now, after more research, that her brain had been very interesting for Dr Gross."

The case was re-opened five years ago when Professor Wolfgang Neugebauer, director of Vienna's Anti-Nazi Research Centre discovered a file in an archive held by the East German secret police, the Stasi.

I don't know how many. Maybe 300, maybe more. Yes, I knew about it but I wasn't involved

Dr Heinrich Gross
Professor Neugebauer said Dr Gross distanced himself from any connection with the hospital's wartime work.

"Dr Gross always said he was an opponent of Nazi euthanasia," he revealed.

"And he went to the German army not to work in a murdering hospital. And these documents show us that this was a lie and that Dr Gross voluntarily worked in this killing centre."

Dr Gross's last broadcast interview was three years ago. He was asked how many children had died.

"I don't know how many," he said.

"Maybe 300, maybe more. Yes, I knew about it but I wasn't involved."

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21 Mar 00 | Europe
Gross symbolises Austria's past
20 Oct 99 | Europe
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13 Oct 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Trial and retribution
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