Possible Victims of Nazi "Euthanasia" Program: Mass Grave of Young Children Found in Germany
A mass grave containing the bodies of at least 20 children has been found in a cemetery in western Germany. Authorities are checking indications that the children fell victim to Hitler's "euthanasia" program which killed thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities.
Members of Germany's war graves commission peer into the mass grave uncovered last Thursday. More bodies were discovered nearby on Friday.
The search of the site in a cemetery in the town of Menden near Dortmund began last week after rumors and eyewitness testimony that the cemetery contained the bodies of Nazi victims.
Among the bodies found so far are 20 skeletons of children believed to have been aged between one and seven. Most of them were buried without coffins. Two of the children's skulls show signs of possible physical disabilities. Some of the bodies were found in a war cemetery adjoining Menden's Catholic cemetery.
"There's a vague preliminary suspicion that they may be euthanasia cases," said prosecutor Heiko Oltmanns of the Dortmund public prosecutors' office.
The search for a mass grave containing up to 200 bodies began last week in response to years of rumors about the site and testimony from surviving eyewitnesses who reported seeing frequent transports of bodies to the cemetery at the end of World War II.
They may have come from nearby Wimbern hospital built in 1943 on the orders of Hitler's personal physician Karl Brandt, who was in charge of the euthanasia program.
Around 70,000 people deemed "unworthy of life" were murdered in the program between autumn 1939 and summer 1941 through gassing and lethal injections. Several tens of thousands of disabled people were murdered in the years that followed in hospitals and sanatoriums, usually through injections or drug overdoses.
Some of the bodies found last week had been buried just 70 centimeters deep. Authorities have been studying archive material for several years but haven't been able to ascertain from the documents whether the cemetery contains Nazi victims.
The bodies will now be DNA tested. If examiners find indications that they were murdered by a doctor in the hospital, prosecutors will launch a criminal investigation.
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2006
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH