“Exitus heute in Hadamar”: The Hadamar facility and “euthanasia” in Nazi Germany
In the decades since World War II, the name “Hadamar” has come to figure as a metaphor for National Socialist Germany's campaign against the handicapped. Founded in 1906, the Landesheilanstalt Hadamar, near Limburg on the Lahn, functioned as a state sanatorium for the mentally and physically handicapped in the province of Hessen-Nassau. From January 1941 until August of that year, more than 10,000 institutionalized patients were gassed at the facility within the framework of the so-called “T4,” or Nazi “euthanasia,” program. In August 1941, fearing public unrest, Adolf Hitler called a halt to the clandestine operation, which had become an open secret and which had claimed the lives of some 70,000 victims. The killings resumed, however, in the summer of 1942 within the context of a more covert and decentralized second phase which many historians label “wild euthanasia.” From mid-1942 until Hadamar's capture by American forces in March 1945, an additional 4,400 individuals were murdered at the asylum by means of narcotic overdose or lethal injection.
An institutional history of the Hadamar facility provides significant insight into Nazi euthanasia policy pursued at the local level. It presents a detailed examination of the killing process and an exploration of the roles and motivations of “T4” perpetrators. Likewise, it explores the regional network of administrative and public health officials whose involvement is often overshadowed by that of central authorities in comprehensive monographs concerning “euthanasia.”
Study of the Hadamar institution affords a wider contextualization of the “T4” program, examining the role which eugenic theories played in the shaping of euthanasia strategy and analyzing the way in which ideological and biomedical imperatives worked in tandem with utilitarian and economic motives, these forces serving as a twin dynamic to propel the machinery of destruction. Likewise, Hadamar's comprehensive role as killing center during both murder phases allows an exploration of its diverse circle of victims, and a perspective concerning their individual lives and fates. Finally, the 1945 and 1947 trials, American and German, respectively, of Hadamar defendants present a unique glimpse into the post-war adjudication of National Socialist crimes.