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“More than just names”

The Bernburg Memorial commemorates the mass murder of sick and disabled persons by the National Socialists. Ute Hoffmann has been its director since 1988. In early November, she spent four days carrying out research at the International Tracing Service (ITS). The Bernburg killing facility, located on the grounds of a state sanatorium, was one of the Nazis’ six gas murder facilities. After August 1941, Bernburg served as one of three sites for the implementation of “Special Treatment 14 f 13”, to which thousands of concentration camp inmates fell victim. Inmates from the Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen concentration camps were murdered in Bernburg.

What are you researching in the ITS archive?

I’m here to compile information on the concentration camp inmates killed at the Bernburg gas murder facility within the framework of “Special Treatment 14 f 13”. We’re planning a new permanent exhibition in the memorial, in which I’d like to show more than just the victims’ names.

The Nazis killed altogether more than 14,000 persons at the Bernburg murder facility. How many of them were concentration camp inmates?

About 2,500 of them. We know the names from transport lists.

What types of documents are you looking at here?

I began by gaining an overview of the material on the Flossenbürg, Sachenhausen, Neuengamme and Buchenwald concentration camps. Now I’ve started working through the lists of names in search of individual documents. Letters, for example, but also death certificates with false information on the dates of death and the supposed causes of death, for example pneumonia or dysentery. Frequently, additional information on the respective person is also noted there. And then there are also the inquiries sent by the victims’ families to the ITS after 1945, containing information on the victims.

Have you found any documents of interest for your project?

Yes, among the personal documents from the Buchenwald concentration camp I’ve found quite a bit: letters of a very private nature, in which you really encounter the human beings. Because my concern isn’t just with names, but with human beings. They were loved and missed, and their relatives tried to help them, for example with emigration notices.

Which groups of persecution victims were taken to Bernburg in the framework of “Special Treatment 14 f 13”?

From the Buchenwald concentration camp, there was a relatively large number of Jewish men, from Ravensbrück, on the other hand, many Sinti and Roma. Sometimes the documents contain comments such as “anti-German behavior” or “false statements on Aryan and non-Aryan”. The program targeted everyone who, according to the terms of the system, did not belong to the “people’s community”: homosexuals, so-called “asocials” and “professional criminals”, Jehovah’s Witnesses – the entire spectrum of persecution victims.

I do not share the supposition that “Special Treatment 14 f 13” was the continuation of “euthanasia”. Sometimes it’s even called “inmate euthanasia”. I can’t follow this point of view. Because the appraisers’ selection criteria weren’t limited to illness and exhaustion, but also included various political and race-related reasons. “Special Treatment 14 f 13” is unfortunately still one of the less well-known crimes committed by the National Socialists.

What will the chief emphases of the new permanent exhibition be?

In addition to commemorating the victims, I’d like to draw attention to the perpetrators, but also to how the post-war society dealt with these crimes. What the perpetrators referred to as “euthanasia” was an incredible lack of all sense of guilt towards the victims’ group of sick and disabled persons, of whom some 75 per cent were killed in the years from 1939 to 1945. The exhibition’s working title is “But I didn’t do anything bad”. That’s a quotation from the testimony of a secretary in Bernburg. And there’s also the lack of any critical assessment of the crimes: after 1945, the victims of forced sterilization had to keep seeing the same doctors who had previously pushed for their sterilization. Those doctors’ opinion hadn’t changed. And surviving patients faced the same appraisers that had previously made life or death decisions. I’d like to show that as well.

Do you plan to continue your research at the ITS?

This will be my last major exhibition; I’ve been working and researching for the Bernburg Memorial for twenty-eight years. My goal is to obtain as much material as possible to enable further work on this basis in the future. So this will definitely not be my last visit. I expect I’ll be back next spring at the latest – and stay until I’ve looked through everything of relevance for me.