Euthanasia in the Warthegau
Koscian Sanatorium 1941
Koscian a small town is 47 kilometres from Poznan, was re-named Kosten during the Nazi occupation and was part of the so-called Warthegau, annexed to the German Reich. Koscian was one of the first places where Nazi euthanasia actions took place in occupied Poland, the reasoning behind the ‘cleaning’ of the mental homes in Poland was to create space for German troops at the beginning of the Second World War. The Bernardine monastery in Koscian was built between 1603 and 1611 and its buildings had been used as a home for mental patients since 1893, at the time of the Prussian annexation of Poland. The patients were housed in terrible conditions; they were confined in solitary cells with concrete floors, living in their own excrement. The new chief of the hospital Dr. Oskar Bielawski, brought about better conditions and introduced more modern methods of treatment from October 1929.In early October 1939 the hospital was taken over by ‘SS Sonderkommando Lange’, and the ‘Gau- Selbstverwaltung’ from Poznan. The Polish medical personnel were dismissed, leaving behind 612 Polish patients. The hospital administration was taken over by Dr. Johann Keste (psychiatrist), Dr. Fritz Lemberger (psychiatrist), Hans Meding (medical inspector) and Wilhelm Haydn (chief of the male nurses), killers who wore white doctor’s gowns.
Probably in mid- January 1940 the SS Sonderkommando Lange arrived at the mental home and the first group of patients received an injection to calm them down and were forced into a gas-van or trailer bearing an advertisement for ‘Kaiser’s Kaffe Geschaft (Kaiser’s Coffee Company). The gas vans interior were lined with metal sheets, the floors were covered with wooden grates and a lamp on the ceilings illuminated the gas chamber for inspection through a peephole in the back door. The gas van drove from the Koscian hospital to the Jarogniewice Forest located about 15-20 kilometres north of Koscian where the inmates were gassed. The back doors of the gas vans were opened and the bodies were removed by Jewish prisoners probably from Fort VII in Poznan, and buried in mass graves. One week later on 22 January 1940 a second group of prisoners were killed in an identical fashion. Within that week, all in all, 534 patients had been killed – 237 men and 297 women. However, this was only the beginning of a more extensive action in Koscian. On 9 February a transport from Germany with 2,750 Jewish and non-Jewish patients from mental homes and old people’s homes arrived in Koscian. All were killed in the same manner as the first patients murdered in January. It is most likely that on 24 February 1940 the last transport left Koscian hospital for the Jarogniewice Forest. In total 3,334 patients lost their lives during the course of these euthanasia actions in Koscian.
In June 1940 officers arrived in Koscian from the Zentrale fur Krankenverlegung (Central Office for Transfer of Sick Persons) from Kalisz. From the Aussenstelle (Branch Office) in Koscian they sent out fictitious death certificates to the victim’s families to allay any suspicions. On blank forms containing standard wording which conveyed fabricated causes of death, such as apoplexy, heart attack, were intended to veil the true crime. In the Koscian mental home’s cemetery, bogus graves were created. Cemetery fees were even charged to the relatives. Another hospital Pruszkow near Warsaw was also used as a fictitious place to where the patients had allegedly been transferred to and subsequently died of natural causes.
On 25 February 1944, twenty-five SS men of the SS Sonderkommando Bothmann from Poznan arrived in the vicinity of the Jarogniewice village. Among them were Frank, Grimm, Haase, Rollmann, Rubner, Schneider, Schwarz and Zimmermann. They exhumed the corpses, cremated them in mass graves or destroyed the bodies, using slaked lime mixed with water and scattered the ashes in the forest and planted spruce trees to camouflage the former mass graves.
Nazistowska pseudoeutanazja w Krajowym Zakladzie Psychiatrcznym w Koscianie 1939 – 1940 by Artur Hojan, published by Koscianska Oficyna Literacka 2004
Photograph - Chris Webb Archive
© Artur Hojan and Chris Webb - Holocaust Historical Society 2013