Mass grave in Austria believed to contain Nazi euthanasia victims

Wed, Jan 5, 2011, 00:00

AUSTRIAN AUTHORITIES have announced plans to exhume a mass grave believed to contain victims of the Nazi-era euthanasia programme.

Builders on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital in Hall, near Innsbruck, uncovered 220 decomposed bodies while preparing the site for a new building.

“We cannot assume that all bodies are euthanasia victims but there was a marked increase in death in the hospital in the last years of the war,” said Dr Christian Haring, director of the hospital. Forensic experts will exhume the bodies for identification from March, authorities said yesterday, a process expected to take two years.

The Nazi-era euthanasia programme, based on pseudo-scientific ideas of “racial hygiene”, was created in 1939. Experts estimate that between 70,000 and 200,000 people judged “undeserving of life” – mostly mentally and physically disabled men, women and children – were given a “mercy killing” using medication or gas.

The programme was halted in 1941 after a public outcry, led by German church leaders. In many quarters, however, the procedure continued unofficially until the end of the war.

Occupied Austria’s most notorious euthanasia facility was Hartheim castle in lower Austria, where an estimated 30,000 people were killed. In the Tirol region alone, at least 706 people were killed and over 400 forcibly sterilised.

It is from this latter period the bodies discovered in Hall are believed to originate. “It’s possible that the graveyard was created in October 1942 as there were plans at this time to create a euthanasia facility in Hall,” said Dr Haring.

He said it was known there was a former graveyard on this site in the hospital grounds, but that it had not before been connected to the Nazi’s euthanasia programme.

Construction work was halted when it became clear the bodies uncovered had been buried in the 1940s.