Perfectly organised medical murders
In the spring of 1940 the central office of the 'euthanasia' programme in Berlin had a killing centre erected in a sealed off area on the grounds of the former sanatorium. A gas chamber and crematorium were installed in the cellar of a building that formerly housed a men's ward.
The four-building complex was sealed off from the rest of the grounds on the park side behind a high wooden fence that concealed what went on inside.
The extermination centre went into operation in late June of 1940. Its director became Horst Schumann (1904 – 1983), a former public health officer in Haale/Saale, who had previously leaded the killing center Grafeneck in Württemberg. Subordinated to him were four physicians (Kurt Borm, Klaus Endruweit, Curt Schmalenbach, Ewald Worthmann), orderlies and nurses, drivers, registrars and clerks, a total of about 100 people.
After the victims passed through a guarded entrance gate, nursing staff on the ground floor of the building that once housed the paralytic ward led them into separate holding rooms for men and women. They were then led one at a time into another room and brought before physicians, usually two, who verified the victims' identity and decided on a fictitious cause of death. After this, nursing staff led groups of 20 to 30 patients each into the cellar, telling them they were going to the showers. A short time later the patients were led into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower room with a series of shower heads mounted on the ceiling.
After the gas was drawn off through an exhaust line, the cremation crew pulled the corpses out of the gas chamber and cremated them in two ovens supplied by the Berlin manufacturer Kori. Before this was done, the bodies of selected patients were dissected and any gold teeth were forcibly removed. The cremation crew deposited the victims' ashes at the sanatorium's garbage dump or simply dumped them down the cliff overlooking the Elbe behind the building.
The Sonnenstein special registry office sent the next of kin a death certificate with a fictitious cause of death and a standardised letter of condolence. People of all ages were murdered at Sonnenstein, among them about 700 children and adolescents. These came from facilities such as the Katharinenhof sanatorium in Grosshennersdorf in Saxony and from the Chemnitz-Altendorf state sanatorium. The patients killed at Sonnenstein came from Saxony, Thuringia, Franconia, the Sudetenland, Silesia and East and West Prussia.
On 24 August 1941 Adolf Hitler ordered the immediate termination of 'Action T4', primarily due to domestic political considerations. By this time a total of 13,720 mentally ill, retarded and physically handicapped persons had been gassed within the scope of 'Action T4' in Pirna-Sonnenstein.