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Sonnenstein Castle

The Sonnenstein Euthanasia Clinic (German: NS-Tötungsanstalt Sonnenstein; roughly translated “Sonnenstein Nazi Death Institute”) was a Nazi killing centre located in the former fortress of Sonnenstein Castle near Pirna in East Germany, where a hospital had been established in 1811.

In 1940 and 1941, the facility was used by the Nazis to exterminate around 15,000 people in a process that was labelled as euthanasia. The majority of victims were suffering from psychological disorders and mental retardation, but their number also included inmates from the concentration camps. The institute was set up after the beginning of the Second World War as part of a Reich-wide, centrally coordinated and largely secret programme called Action T4 for the “Elimination of life unworthy of life” (Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens) or the killing of what the Nazis called “dead weight existences” (Ballastexistenzen). Today, the Pirna Sonnenstein Memorial Site (Gedenkstätte Pirna Sonnenstein) stands to commemorate these crimes.

The Nazi euthanasia facility at Sonnenstein Castle also supported the personnel as well as the organisational and technical preparation of the Holocaust. It was one of six that were in operation in Saxony, and was — not least due to the number of victims — one of the worst sites of Nazi war crimes in the state.

After the death centre had closed in 1941, the Adolf Hitler School (Adolf-Hitler-Schule Gau Sachsen), a Reich Administration School and a Wehrmacht military hospital were established on the site and lasted until 1945. Following the end of the Second World War, it became a refugee camp, quarantine camp for released members of the Wehrmacht, part of the Landrat office and a police school. These remained until 1949, with the exception of the police school which lasted until 1954. From 1954 to 1991 a large part of the site was used by a continuous-flow machine manufacturer to build aircraft turbines. In 1977 the Pirna District Rehabilitation Centre was established in the castle area. In 1991 this grew into the workshop for handicapped people under the sponsorship of the workers’ charity, Arbeiterwohlfahrt.

Not until autumn 1989 did its historic events gradually sink in to the public consciousness in the town. On 1 September 1989 on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Nazi extermination programme, a small exhibition by the historian, Götz Aly, about Action T4 was held in the Evangelical Community Centre of Pirna-Sonnenstein at the initiative of several townsfolk interested in bringing the subject to light. The exhibition generated a lot of public interest. As a result, there was a citizens’ initiative to create a suitable memorial site to the victims of the Nazi euthanasia crimes at Sonnenstein. In June 1991 a society for the site was formed, the Kuratorium Gedenkstätte Sonnenstein. Based to searches of the archives and archaeological investigations carried out from 1992 to 1994 the cellar rooms used for the exterminations in Haus C 16 were reconstructed in 1995 and arranged as a memorial centre (today building Schlosspark 11). The exhibition is located in the attic of the same building. On behalf of the Saxon Memorial Foundation a permanent exhibition to remember the victims of political tyranny was created to document the crimes. It was opened to the public on 9 June 2000.

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