In 1939, as the world stood on the brink of World War II, Hartheim Castle, Austria, was at the centre of a turning point of history. It had been a centre for those with physical or mental disabilities. But from 1939 to 1944, it acted as a pilot scheme for the ‘final solution.’
Over the years, hundreds of buses from all over Germany and Austria arrived in the castle courtyard. The buses were full of patients with Down’s Syndrome, schizophrenia, or with mental disabilities. Hartheim was presented as a clinic, yet none of these patients emerged alive. The SS used Hartheim to test their methods of mass murder.
Hartheim was top secret, its true purpose hidden from the public. The victim’s families weren’t told how their loved ones died. A team of workers, including doctors, administrators and bus drivers, all signed confidentiality agreements and participated in the cover up, including forging the death certificates.
In 1941, under pressure from the Catholic church, Hitler put an end to the euthanasia programme for fear of losing popular support. But Hartheim remained a place of mass extermination. Now it was prisoners of war, those deemed too old or too frail for hard labour, who were targeted. More than 30,000 people were sent from Mauthausen concentration camp to Hartheim, to be killed.
Many of the workers from Hartheim went to work in concentration camps during the war. They took their expertise to Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, where nearly two million Jews perished. Hartheim: the top secret Nazi school for mass murder.
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