Hadamar "euthanasia" centre
One of the six T4 “euthanasia”
centres in Germany
in which the Nazis
murdered disabled and mentally ill patients between 1940 and 1945. Today, the basement in which the killings took place serves as a memorial, augmented by an informative exhibition and the only surviving original bus garage at which the victims had arrived, plus a memorial garden at the site of the victims' mass graves. Overall, Hadamar is one of the best memorials of its rather special type.
More background info:
Hadamar is a small town in a quiet, rural part of Hesse, central Germany
. That alone wouldn't put it on the dark tourism map, of course. What does is the fact that its psychiatric hospital held a very sinister secret during the Third Reich
It was the sixth and thus the last one of the Nazis
' "euthanasia" killing centres to become operational under the programme code-named "Aktion T4
". From January to August 1941, when Operation T4 was officially ended, ca. 10,000 people, mostly disabled/mentally ill patients from psychiatric institutions across the region, were brought to Hadamar and were murdered in a purpose-built gas chamber in the cellar of one of the hospital's main buildings.
Even after that, i.e. following the official end of the “euthanasia programme”, killings continued, only now even more secretively. This carried on right up to the end of WWII
. During these years 5000 more people were murdered here, though no longer in a gas chamber but mostly by means of lethal injection and/or starvation and neglect. These victims also included a significant number of children of "mixed heredity", namely "half-Jews".
In contrast to the other T4-centres, Hadamar was turned into a memorial site comparatively early, beginning with simple memorial plaques in 1953 and the setting up of the memorial garden at the hospital cemetery in 1964. The old basement rooms, where the killing had taken place, were opened to the public as a memorial in 1983 together with a first exhibition. The current, much expanded and modernized permanent exhibition is now on the ground-floor rooms above the cellar.
Since 2006, the restored wooden garage building, at which the infamous grey buses bringing in the victims used to arrive, has been added to the memorial complex. It's the only original relic of this type at any of the six T4-memorial sites (though no longer in its original location).
Hadamar is also unique in that its database of victims is virtually complete, so that almost every victim's history and details can be searched for here (on request).
What there is to see:
There are various components to this memorial site. The most informative is, naturally, the permanent exhibition. The most sinister and chilling part, however, is to be found below, in the original basement rooms where the T4- “euthanasia”
killings had taken place. In addition there's a reconstructed garage, where the victims would have arrived, as well as a memorial garden-cum-cemetery at the location of the mass graves which most of the victims ended up in.
To start with the exhibition: This provides an in-depth historical account of the ideology behind “Aktion T4”, its prehistory, build-up and execution, including the cynical bureaucratic callousness with which the relatives of the victims were duped into believing their family members had died of natural causes here. The same cynical mindset is also evidenced by the fact that Hitler
and his ideologues called the murders “mercy killings”.
Several personal stories of selected individual victims are told in the exhibition, including not only patients' fates but also background information about some of the perpetrators. The role of the general public is also touched upon. People living near the T4 centres often knew or at least suspected what was going on but didn't or couldn't show any initiative to do anything about it. Eventually, however, there were at least some protests, e.g. by members of the Church. The most prominent example in this context is that of Bishop von Galen, who openly condemned the euthanasia programme and repeatedly called for its end in his sermons, thus making larger parts of the public aware of the issue in the first place. That partly explains why the programme was officially ended. The aftermath following WWII
, including the trials of some of the perpetrators is covered as well as the history of the memorial itself.
The exhibition is mostly of the usual documents-photos-and-explanatory-texts style. And unfortunately, from the point of view of international visitors, it is all in German only. There are extra sheets in simplified German available by the individual panels, intended for visitors with learning difficulties. But if you don't have any knowledge of German at all that still won't do much for you. So you either have to go on a guided tour (this has to be arranged well in advance – see below
) or make do with the English-language exhibition catalogue available at the memorial office/reception/bookshop.
From within the exhibition on the ground floor, a gloomy staircase leads down to the basement. Here you enter the very rooms in which the mass murder took place. The rooms are mostly bare these days, only a few fragments and marks on the walls and floors serve as archaeological evidence. To help the untrained eye, more text panels provide information (in German only again), enhanced by some old photographs.
The victims were first led into an anteroom where they had to undress, then they entered the gas chamber, which was camouflaged as a shower room. The chamber is still largely intact, complete with its black-and-white floor tiling, but the original gas pipes or the steel doors which sealed the chamber are gone.
Most victims were cremated immediately after the gassing. The ovens were, however, also dismantled in 1942 after the first phase of “euthanasia”. Only some remnants of the strengthened foundations in the floor where the ovens used to stand indicate their former location.
What is still in situ is one of the two original dissection tables in a separate room. Here, selected victims' brains were removed, which were then sent on to various medical universities as specimens for research.
Before the victims entered the basement, they were driven to Hadamar in special grey buses. They disembarked inside a special garage – that way they could not flee, nor could anybody from the outside world witness their arrival. The T4 memorial site at Hadamar is unique in that this garage is still there, or rather: it was re-erected in a slightly different location, now detached from the main building, but most of it is the authentic original. It's no more than a large wooden shed, really, but still: knowing what its function used to be lends the place an eerie atmosphere. Here, unlike in the main exhibition, there are also multilingual information panels, including English (and also some Russian, remarkably!).
Finally, there is the cemetery/memorial garden, located at the top of the hillside above the main building and the garage, reached by a flight of steps that run parallel to what looks like a high-security fence complete with razor-blade barbed wire on top. On the other side is what appears to be a prison wing or maybe some sort of closed ward of the present-day psychiatric institution of Hadamar. In the hilltop memorial garden there are a series of symbolic grave stones and monuments. This is where the ca. 5000 victims of the second phase of the murders at Hadamar were buried in mass graves, that is those killed by injections of phenol or other lethal administering of medication or simply through starvation and neglect, after the the first phase of gassing and cremation had ended, between 1942 and 1945.
The symbolic gravestones represent the different religions of the victims, so apart from the regular crosses you also see a double cross Orthodox version, a stele with a Muslim half moon on it and a Star of David on yet another stone. From the main obelisk-like monument you can also get a good view over Hadamar and the hospital grounds.
On balance, Hadamar is the richest of the five T4
-memorial sites in Germany
– only Hartheim
is on a par, so if you can only visit one or two of them, make it these. The commodification
is very good (if lacking a bit in terms of catering for foreign visitors), there are a few authentic relics (but see also Bernburg
!), and the site is clearly well managed. It is thus not a big surprise that it also appears to be the most visited of these sites. While I was there, at least three different guided group tours were conducted and there were about two dozen other visitors going through the exhibition independently as well. That speaks for itself. Normally you don't see so many visitors at special sites such as this. Recommended.
within the grounds of a (modern) complex of working psychiatric institutions at Mönchsberg in the small town of Hadamar in Hesse, Germany
, ca. 5 miles (8 km) north of Limburg, some 40 miles (60 km) north-west of Frankfurt and 60 miles (95 km) south-east of Cologne
Access and costs:
quite remote for central Germany
, but doable, even by public transport (though much easier by car); free admission, but you may want to invest in a tour or a guidebook.
Details: You can get to Hadamar by train or bus (via Limburg, Lahn – for connections see www.bahn.de), the memorial site at the hospital is only a short walk distance-wise from the train station, but up a steep hill (!). The route is partly signposted, but signage could be a bit clearer within the hospital grounds.
By car from the A3 motorway between Cologne
and Mainz and Frankfurt take exit 42, Limburg Nord, and then the B49 (E44) north towards Gießen until you get to Runkel/Dehrn/Ahlbach, pass through Ahlbach and the road will eventually take you to Hadamar from the east. Or first carry on along the B54 and approach Hadamar from the north (also when coming from Gießen or Siegen). In town, follow the signs to the "Gedenkstätte". There are a number of car parks within the hospital complex – try to find one near the exhibition, or behind its building (“Haus 5”), where there is a better chance of finding a space. This car park is closer to the garage and memorial garden/cemetery.
The main exhibition is to be found in house No. 5. The steps up the hillside to the memorial garden/graveyard are just to the north of the garage. This bit is signposted. But I had happened upon these parts first (because of car parking) and then had a little trouble finding the main exhibition. I tried the entrance to the main building that is located next to the garage but it did not appear to lead to the exhibition. Instead I walked round the side of the building to its front entrance where finally there was a sign by the door. It would probably have been a lot clearer had I started at the exhibition, which makes more sense anyway.
Opening times: Tuesdays to Thursdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays until 1 p.m. only, first Sunday of each month from 2 to to 5p.m., when you can also join a public guided tour starting at 2:30 p.m. Guided group tours can, on request, also be arranged at other times (including at weekends). Closed on public holidays.
If you know German sufficiently well, no guidance is actually necessary. But without the prerequisite language skills you will struggle to get much out of the information in the exhibition on your own. However, the good news is that there is an (abridged) English version of the exhibition catalogue, entitled “Transferred to Hadamar”, which is available for purchase from the reception/office/bookshop (7 EUR). It makes sense to get this first and use it as an aid for guiding yourself through the exhibition.
Time required: at least one hour for the main exhibition and the cellar rooms alone, plus extra time for seeing the bus garage and for the climb up to the memorial garden. In total up to three hours may be required. That's also how long the guided tours take, so that should be a gauge. However, if you do go on a tour you will quite likely want to have additional time afterwards to go through parts of the exhibition in more detail on your own.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Germany
When I went to Hadamar I did it as an excursion by car from Ahrweiler – see Marienthal
– which was doable but not ideal, as driving time there and back was well over two hours. It might be better to work in a stopover in Hadamar en route to somewhere else.
Combining Hadamar with visits to the other five T4 "euthanasia"
centre memorials is not really an option, because they are all quite far away. At best Bernburg
and maybe Grafeneck
are just about within a day's driving distance.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
not much in the more immediate environs unless provincial remoteness is your thing. I've never been to the nearby town of Limburg, but online images I've seen suggest it's a pretty enough place that fits the German cliché of half-timbered houses etc. – apparently it has an unusually intact mediaeval core. The nearest bigger places are Koblenz on the River Rhine, Cologne
- Hadamar 01 - three parts
- Hadamar 02 - the old bus garage
- Hadamar 03 - inside the garage
- Hadamar 04 - steps up to the cemetery and memorial
- Hadamar 05 - memorial stone
- Hadamar 06 - diverse cemetery
- Hadamar 07 - view over the town
- Hadamar 08 - castle seen from the former chapel
- Hadamar 09 - high-security fence
- Hadamar 10 - back down by the garage
- Hadamar 11 - the main exhibition is round the corner in house No 5
- Hadamar 12 - exhibition
- Hadamar 13 - familiar dehumanizing Nazi propaganda
- Hadamar 14 - manufacturer advert for gas chamber door
- Hadamar 15 - down to the basement
- Hadamar 16 - grim
- Hadamar 17 - chute
- Hadamar 18 - gas chamber
- Hadamar 19 - camouflaged as a shower room
- Hadamar 20 - disection room
- Hadamar 21 - crematorium foundations