Early in the Second World War, Adolf Hitler sanctioned a secret programme for murdering the disabled. Tens of thousands of mental patients were condemned by “euthanasia” doctors and murdered in gas chambers (in special killing centres). In 1941, the SS extended this programme to concentration camps, which were full of sick and infirm prisoners. The first victims came from Sachsenhausen: following selections by “euthanasia” doctors in April 1941, 269 prisoners were gassed in the Sonnenstein asylum, one of the killing centres. The SS relied on deception and camouflage to keep its victims in the dark. But the testimony of the German political prisoner Rudolf Wunderlich, written in 1944 after his escape from Sachsenhausen, demonstrates that the remaining inmates soon learnt the truth.
In 1941 various doctors, though none from Sachsenhausen, examined around 300 to 350 prisoners in the hospital wing. Allegedly all of them were mentally defective. But in fact among them there were also cripples, war wounded and those suffering from depression. The doctors came from Berlin, allegedly from the Reich Chancellery. I can remember the names Dr. Heyde (he had odd pointed ears) and Dr. Mennecke and Dr. Steinmeyer and another doctor. Their activities lasted a maximum of five or six days. Heyde only spent a day there; he was definitely the head of this group. Some [prisoners] were separated out. A list of around 300 prisoners remained. It was said that they were going to be transferred to Dachau as invalids to perform light work in the medicinal herb plantations. […]
our comrades and fellow sufferers had been murdered
On 8 June 1941 when the last goods train came back and stopped in front of the stores we could see very clearly how they used brooms simply to sweep the artificial arms and legs, false teeth and other personal effects such as wallets, letters, toothbrushes, combs, etc. etc. onto the lawn. We knew that our comrades and fellow sufferers had been murdered. Gradually it leaked out what Transport S meant. “S” meant the Sonnenstein mental hospital near Pirna/Saxony on the Elbe. The transports had arrived with completely apathetic, half dead and in some cases dead prisoners. Once there, they were killed in some way in the hospital (either with injections or gas) and burnt.
Source: J. Hohmann, G. Wieland (eds), Konzentrationslager Sachsenhausen bei Oranienburg 1939 bis 1944 (Frankfurt a. M., 1997), p. 27-8
Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes