Brandenburg Prison

In October 1939, Hitler instructed the head of the Führer Chancellery Philipp Bouhler and Dr Karl Brandt to launch a program called T-4. The T-4 was a codename named after the program’s headquarters on Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin.  The T-4 stated that German citizens who had physical or mental disabilities and thus did not meet the racial criteria would be killed at special euthanasia centers. On the one hand, they were considered a danger to the nation’s survival if they spread their inferior genes further and on the other, they were considered an economic burden because they could not support themselves on their own without requiring care. Previously, the Nazis had murdered physically and mentally ill children in hospitals on a smaller scale through starvation and poison injections.

One task for Bouhler and Brandt was to find a practical and secluded place where the murders could be carried out. It was important that it was located near Berlin so that those responsible could make regular visits quickly and easily. In Brandenburg about six miles west of Berlin there was a closed prison that was appropriate, in addition there was the psychiatry clinic Brandenburg – Gorden nearby whose patients could be murdered in prison. In early December 1939, the nazis in some adjoining buildings to the prison began to install the first euthanasia center, among other things, built a fifteen-square-meter gas chamber in a barn. In order to camouflage the operation, the centre received the official name Brandenburg’s state hospital and health care institution (Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Brandenburg).

The first gassings were carried out either in December 1939 or early January 1940. About 20 people were murdered as guinea pigs to determine whether or not to use carbon monoxide as a method of execution. The result fell well and carbon monoxide became the gas used in all euthanasia centers. There are few documents and testimonies that can tell us about this first gassing, but most likely both Philipp Bouhler and Karl Brandt attended. Other people present were health minister Leonardo Conti, representatives of the Fuhrer Chancellery, bureaucrats responsible for the implementation of euthanasia, several T-4 doctors such as Brandenburg’s first commandant Irmfried Eberl, chemists Albert Widmann and August Becker, psychiatrist Werner Heyde and a Stuttgart police officer named Christian Wirth. The latter later became the inspector of all euthanasia centers. When those responsible decided to use carbon monoxide on the tube, they experimented with how much carbon monoxide was needed because carbon monoxide on the tube was expensive to buy.

The patients who were to be murdered arrived by bus to Brandenburg and were led into special reception rooms. There they were registered, some patients were examined, but all patients were finally undressed and led into the gas chamber where they were murdered. Initially, the gas chamber was not camouflaged as a shower room, it was only later that those responsible realized the advantage of camouflaging it as part of the misdirection. Initially, patients were informed that it was an inhalation room used for psychotherapeutic reasons and were asked to take deep breaths. Another difference from the other five official euthanasia centers was that the gas chambers did not have tile walls as part of the camouflage process and that the gas pipelines were located along the floor and not in the ceiling.

When the people were dead, the gas chamber was emptied and in some cases some of the bodies were dissected before being cremated. The corpses were cremated at night in two mobile ovens. These were heated with oil and were connected to the chimney of the building. The stench of burnt meat caused the cremation furnaces to be moved to a well-distant place about five kilometers outside Brandenburg and was given the name Chemical and Technical Research Institute (Chemisch-Technische Versuchsanstalt). The corpses were transported at night in camouflaged mail cars to the cremation to the greatest extent possible to maintain confidentiality.

The last gassings in Brandenburg took place on October 29, 1940, when some children from Brandenburg – Girden were murdered. The reason for the liquidation of Brandenburg was because those responsible were concerned that the inhabitants of Brandenburg would react negatively if any suspicions of the murder of Germans could be confirmed. According to statistics, 9772 people were murdered during the nine months of the euthanasia centre in Brandenburg. All technical equipment was dismantled and several doctors and nurses were transferred to the mental hospital in Bernburg where the operation was resumed. The buildings were badly damaged at the end of the war and destroyed.

Current status: Demolished with museum (1999).

Address: Nicolaiplatz, 14770 Brandenburg an der Havel.

Get there: Car.

My comment:

It was in Brandenburg that the Nazi industrial extermination process began and which, through a number of crooked roads, finally ended up in Auschwitz. Brandenburg was also the last euthanasia centre where memorials were established (1997) and only in 2012 was a museum built next to the monument. The old barn where the gas chamber was located is marked. But exactly where in the barn the gas chamber was located is unknown.

Follow up in books: Friedlander, Henry: The Origins of Nazi Genocide – From euthanasia to the final solution (1995).