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Koscian and the Euthanasia in Poland

Last Update 30 August 2006

In Poland the Nazi euthanasia actions are called "Pseudo-Euthanasia".
Koscian (47 km from Poznan) was one of the first places where Nazi euthanasia actions took place, even before such measures had commenced in Germany and Austria.
The reasoning behind the "cleaning" of the Polish mental homes surely was almost certainly to obtain space for German troops at the beginning of the war.

Koscian Mental Home
Koscian Mental Home
The Koscian Bernardine Monastery was built between 1603 and 1611. Its buildings had been used as a mental home since 1827, 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 modern methods of treatment from October 1929.

In early 1940* the hospital was taken over by the SS Sonderkommando Lange and the Gau-Selbstverwaltung (German Council Association) from Poznan. The Polish medical personnel* were dismissed, leaving behind 612 Polish patients.
Now the hospital was administered by Dr Johann Keste (psychiatrist), Dr. Fritz Lemberger (gynaecologist), Hans Meding (medical inspector) and Wilhelm Haydn (chief of the male nurses), killers in white doctor’s gowns.

Mental Home Map
Mental Home Map
In early January 1940, an SS Sonderkommando arrived, carrying a dark brown bottle containing a morphine-scopolamine mixture, used to calm the victims.
Probably on 15 January 1940, the first group of naked patients received an injection and were bundled into a mobile gas chamber (gas van or gas trailer) inscribed with an advertisement for "Kaiser's Kaffee Geschäft". Of course, Kaiser's Coffee Company was not involved in the action. The van's (or trailer's) inner sides were lined with metal sheets, the floor was covered with a wooden grate and a lamp on the ceiling illuminated the gas chamber for inspection through a peephole in the back door.
When the driver (an SS man) started the vehicle's engine, the exhaust fumes were emitted into the loading space. The victims screamed loudly before they died. Then the gas van drove from Koscian to Jarogniewice Forest (a site on the road Koscian - Poznan, about 15-20 km north of Koscian). After 15-20 minutes the van finally reached the forest, and nobody in the gas chamber was left alive.
At Jarogniewice Forest prisoners (probably Jews from KZ Fort VII in Poznan) opened the back doors of the gas van and buried the corpses in mass graves. One week later (on 22 January 1940) a second group of patients were killed in an identical fashion. The same van was later used (in March 1940 and July/August 1941) at the Kochanowka Hospital near Lodz. Apart from mentally handicapped patients, blind children from Lodz were killed at this time.

Jarogniewice Memorial
Jarogniewice Memorial
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 and old people's homes arrived in Koscian. All were killed in the same manner as the first patients. It is most likely that on 24 February 1940 the last transport left Koscian Hospital for Jarogniewice Forest. In total, 3,334 patients lost their lives in course of this euthanasia action in Koscian.

In June 1940, officers arrived from the Zentrale für Krankenverlegung (Central Office for Transfer of Sick Persons), located in Kalisz. They sent fictitious death certificates to the victims' families to allay any suspicions. On blank forms containing a standard wording ("death was caused by...") fabricated causes of death such as apoplexy, heart attack, etc. were intended to veil the crime. In the mental home's cemetery bogus graves were created. Cemetery fees were even charged to the relatives. The hospital in Pruszkow near Warsaw was also used as a fictitious place to where the patients had been allegedly transferred, and there died of natural causes.

On 25 February 1944, 25 SS men of the SS Sonderkommando Bothmann from Poznan arrived in the vicinity of Jarogniewice village. Among them were Frank, Grimm, Haase, Klaus, Rollmann, Rubner (Rübner?), Schneider, Schwarz and Zimmermann1. They exhumed the corpses, cremated them in mass graves and/or destroyed them by means of slaked lime mixed with water, scattered the ashes in the forest and planted spruces to camouflage the former mass graves*.

Similar euthanasia actions took place at other mental homes in Poland: in Warta, Owinska, Poznan Fort VII, Tworki in Pruszkow, Gostynin, Kobierzyn near Krakow, Dziekanka in Gniezno, Otwock near Warsaw, Kocborowo in Starogard Gdanski, Kochanowka near Lodz, Chelm near Lublin, Choroszcz near Bialystok, Lubliniec near Czestochowa, Obrzyce (former German Meseritz-Obrawalde) near Miedzyrzecz, and at other hospitals.

The killings were not always disguised. In the Chelm Lubelski Hospital, patients (128 women, 304 men and 18 children) were simply machine-gunned at the entrances to the wards and buried in the hospital grounds in two large pits, under the eyes of the Polish hospital staff. The SS needed the buildings for their quarters. In January 1940, 23 patients from a private asylum in Iwonicz, which belonged to the monastery of St. John, were taken to the Warzyce forest near Jaslo and shot, to make room for the SS Battalion "Galizien".
At least 13,000 Polish patients were murdered in this fashion, and an unknown number starved to death during the occupation of Poland.
Poland was also a killing field for German patients. One of the execution sites was at Piasnica near Wejherowo, where around 1,200 patients from nearby German psychiatric institutions (and from Stralsund, Ueckermünde, Treptow and Lebork hospitals) were killed.

Prof. Stanislaw Batawia / Poland listed the following dates about euthanasia killings in Poland (GKBZH No 3/1947):

Owinska Mental Home (near Poznan): 15 September - 20 December 1939. Victims: 1,100
Swiecie Mental Home (near Bydgoszcz): September - October 1939. Victims: 1,350
Kocborowo Mental Home: 29 November - 20 December 1939. Victims: 2,342
Gniezno Mental Home: December 1939, January 1940, June 1941. Victims: 1,201
Chelm Mental Home: 12 January 1940. Victims: 440
Koscian Mental Home: January - February 1940. Victims: 3,334
Gostynin Mental Home (near Warszawa): 3 February - 3 July 1940, 9 July. Victims: 107
Kochanowka Mental Home (near Lodz): 13 - 15 March 1940, 27 - 28 March 1940, June - August 1940. Victims: 629
Warta Mental Home (near Sieradz): 2 - 4 April 1940. Victims: 499
Choroszcz Mental Home (near Bialystok): 1941. Victims: 464
Kobierzyn Mental Home (near Krakow): 23 July 1942. Victims: 500
Otwock Mental Home (near Warszawa): August 1942. Victims: unknown
Lubliniec Mental Home (near Czestochowa): August 1942 - November 1944. Victims: 221 children
Wilno Mental Home (Vilnius?: Victims: 900

1 1945-47 Investigations by KBZH in Warsaw.

A suitable memorial will be built at the site of the mental home in Koscian.

Photos: Private archive of Jerzy Zielonka *

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