Gray Matter, A Film on Spiegelgrund in Austria By Joe Berlinger

In 1999, I was working at a french bank in London where I became addicted to a machine that was meant for the traders, but that would shoot out stories from Reuters super quick, like a telex machine.  I probably sound like a cave man, but I think it was directly hooked up to Reuters and each day I inspected the machine, I would find a truly incredible story.

I found on March 19, 1999 this article:

“The skulls of 14 Polish World War Two resistance fighters stored for over 50 years in the archives of Vienna’s Natural History Museum will be handed over to the Polish ambassador at a ceremony on Saturday”.

“The skulls of 11 men and three women were discovered a decade ago, but the decision to return them to Poland was only taken after an investigation into the origin of anatomical specimens in Austrian state collections was completed last year.

“Vienna University’s medical faculty released over 200 preserved body parts from Austrian victims for burial six months ago after the study revealed that the specimens stemmed from executed opponents of the Nazi regime.”

Poznan University under the Nazi regime traded actively in the skeletons of people executed by Adolf Hitler’s Gestapo police.  Maria Teschler-Nicola, head of the museum’s anthropological department stated ‘We have the order forms for these skulls.’ ”

A few years later I would read about the remains of 800 children and babies killed in Vienna in the nazi regimes euthanasia programme finally being laid to rest.  This was 2002.

It was reported the brains had been kept in the celler of the Spiegelgrund children’s clinic in Vienna where they died and where until the 90s they remained under the supervision of the doctor who murdered them.

In April 2002, THE GUARDIAN wrote “It emerged at the weekend of the burial that historians had stumbled across a further 1000 brain specimens in the clinic, which could have come from its child victims.  It was reported that until a few weeks ago, Viennese scientists resisted handing over the remains arguing that they were valuable scientific specimens.”

Dr. Heinrich Gross, who was 86 at the time was head of the psychiatric clinic for two years during the war and kept many of the specimens in jars of formaldehyde or sealed in paraffin wax in his private collection and used them to secure his reputation as a leading neurologist.  He is alleged to have injected children admitted to the hospital with hare lips, stutters and learning difficulties with drugs which induced lung infections and left them outside to die.  He admitted knowing about the killing, but denies being involved.

Alois Kaufmann who was sent to Spiegelgrund as a 10 year old in 1943 said ‘He would come up to us and give sweets to some of the children mainly the bedwetters or the slow ones.  They were then taken away and we never saw them again.’ ”

In 2006 Jim Berlinger went to Vienna to shoot a documentary called GRAY MATTER on this topic.

Spiegelgrund was a place where 5000 handicapped children perished.  But what was considered “handicapped” could mean you were just a bit of a stubborn child or didn’t listen to your parents.  If you were abused or neglected as a child that was enough to be considered “asocial” and you would be condemned to the “programme” of Dr. Gross.

Dr. Gross was a famous forensic psychiatrist.  He finished his studies in 1939 and was already a Nazi in his ideology and he became a leader in the killing programmes set up to eliminate those “unworthy of life” but also to experiment with this “material”.

What was stated repeatedly by Dr. Gross and by many Nazi doctors when you research and read testimonials, was the endless “flow” of material, i.e. meaning bodies to be tested, experimented on in hope of only furthering their reputation and careers.  The brains would be saved for future study and research decades on.

What truly shocks are the reports that doctors/Viennese scientists as late as 2005 “resisted” handing over the remains arguing that they were valuable scientific specimens!!

And what hits me throughout the film, especially a horrific scene were you see the photographic evidence of a child’s head and eventually the brain and one begins to think, “what was the point of these experiments?”  The filmmaker even asks this question.

There was no answer.  Just measurements of the brain, looking at malformations, etc.!!   Really?

In the film you really have no idea what this doctor was doing.  What was he testing?  What kind of diseases of the brain?

It seemed in the film one never figures that out.

Note:  I had found the “originals” of these very tragic/horrific children photos on a website a few years ago.  Sadly I did not save the image, so I hope ok to use these photos that I found on the internet!  

It seemed like so many Nazi figures got sidelined by this “power surge” that they could do what they wanted as they had an “endless” “excess” material pool (i.e. endless concentration camp inmates by the tens of thousands).  They lost the plot to I believe a “plotless” so called “scientific” venture.

It was stated that he used to boast after the war, that his collection of children’s brains was the most “unique in the world”.

The discovery in the mid 90s Nazi-era files found in an East German secret police file, describe Dr. Gross’s work at the clinic and provided the evidence needed to open a new court case but the proceedings were suspended as Dr. Gross was declared senile.

Horrific photo evidence was found, again showing children crying, screaming. This is what they took photos of?  And why why was this man not punished.  For years and years silence!

The procedure for spinal fluid being taken is described.  The needle sometimes broke, the utter pain, the torture to these children and for what?  For medicine?

The film is truly important to watch.

You cannot comprehend before and you won’t comprehend after but there is the testimony of some survivors of Spiegelgrund.

Watch Dr. Gross 86 at the time in an interview stating he can’t remember anything.  The guy destroys children for their brains, and his brain seems to wither away so he says during the interview.  Watch and see how much one can lie away the guilt, shame and responsibility so very easily.

He dies a few months after the film was made.

I would like to know about several of the interviewees who say they will never give any information until Dr. Gross dies.  I would like Mr. Berlinger to go back and interview these people again.

Hopefully they will open up and reveal more information.

As one feels there is more here. But maybe this is all there is.  The horror.  The horror and more horror.

Extra Info (Taken from educational website on Austria and Euthanasia)

The Kinderfachabteilung in Vienna, the Städtische Jugendfürsorgeanstalt “Am Spiegelgrund” Wien, operated from late July 1940 until May 1945.  It was the first of at least two “special children’s wards” to open in Austria, and the second one established overall.  The clinic’s medical directors were Prof. Dr. Erwin Jekelius (until early 1942) and Dr. Ernst Illing (since 1942), and responsible for the “special children’s ward” were Dr. Heinrich Gross, Dr. Margarethe Hübsch, and Dr. Marianne Türk.  Dr. Jekelius died in 1952 in a Soviet prison.  Dr. Illing was sentenced to death and executed in 1946.  Dr. Gross had an illustrious career (see below).  Dr. Hübsch was acquitted, and Dr. Türk sentenced to 10 year incarceration (she served two).

Close to 800 children died in the special children’s ward in “Am Spiegelgrund,” making it a site of one of the largest number of children murdered.  The “special children’s ward” was housed in pavilions 15 and 17. The reformatory was housed in pavilion 18.  In pavilion 23 was the Städtische Arbeitsanstalt Steinhof,” which housed young women aged 20-22 and considered deviant.

The room where Dr. Gross’s ghastly collection of brain specimens of victims was housed in the cellar of the hospital’s pathology section was re-commissioned as a “room of commemoration,” simply by putting up a plaque. The plaque displayed the following text:  “The Psychiatric Hospital Baumgartner Höhe established this room 50 years after the beginning of the murderous program against the sick and disabled in commemoration of the children who died in the Wiener Städtische Nervenklinik für Kinder Am Spiegelgrund.”  There was no public acknowledgement about the re-commissioning of the room, and the room was off limits to the general public, as access was apparently only granted to nursing students as part of their training and, occasionally, to journalists.

Sources: and Salzburger Nachrichten, 19 Nov. 1994

The presentation of the “room” in such a farcical way as a “memorial” was soon recognized as scandalous, as brain specimens from the victims, on the basis of which Dr. Gross had launched his scientific career, remained stored in the basement of the hospital.  In 1992 the Green Party member and district councilor Wolfgang Krisch suggested a burial of the specimens in an honorary grave and a more appropriate way of documenting the crimes of the past in the form of an appropriate memorial space.  Dr. Wolfgang Neugebauer, then director of the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance, also advocated for a more appropriate form of commemoration and sought to have Dr. Gross finally criminally prosecuted. Relatives of victims were scandalized by the way in which remains of victims were presented as well.  After discussions in which suggestions for a different form of memorial were rejected at first, the clinic’s director, Dr. Gabriel, was amenable to considering different options for commemoration, such as an exhibit of the history of the hospital, including the Nazi period, a memorial, or a documentation with the display of such specimens.

A burial of the remains of the victims was at first made impossible by the criminal investigations into Dr. Gross’s criminal past, which commenced in 1997 after documents formerly inaccessible in the GDR implicated Dr. Gross, which led to reports and inquiries by the magazine “profil” (M. Enigl), the medical dissertation by Matthias Dahl, efforts by the directory of the Documentation Center of Austrian resistance to have Dr. Gross charged, the Green Party, and reporting in international news organizations. Dr. Gross ended up being charged with murder in 1999 suffering from dementia, he was never held accountable and died in 2005.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap