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The Gas Chamber at Sonnenstein

Last Update 10 July 2006


The Gas Chamber
In October 1939 the mental home at Sonnenstein Castle near Dresden was closed and converted into a killing centre, part of the Nazi euthanasia programme Aktion T4.
A gas chamber and crematorium were installed in the cellar of the former men's sanitary building C 16. A high brick-wall on two sides of the complex shielded it from the outside while a high hoarding was erected on the other two sides. Four buildings were located inside the shielding. They were used for offices, living rooms for the personnel etc. Sleeping quarters for the "burners" (men who burned the bodies) were provided in the attic of building C 16. It is possible that other sections of the buildings were also used by Aktion T4.

At Sonnenstein Castle the extermination procedure was the same as in other euthanasia killing centres:

Ground Floor of the Castle
Ground Floor

-Undressing and handing over valuables (rings, watches etc.) to the personnel,

-A superficial inspection of the victims, to see which plausible cause of death the Bernburg administration could pass on to  the relatives,
-Taking photos of the persons,

The Cellar of the Castle
-Taking the doomed persons to the gas chamber and gassing,
-Cremation of the corpses in the institute's ovens,
-Filling the urns with ashes, (it was unimportant to the staff from which particular corpse the ashes came)

-Dispatching urn and death certificate to the relatives.

The victims were brought in busses to the killing site. If they were not gassed immediately, they spent the night at houses nos. 13 and 18. They were led into the cellar via the western staircase, and through a small anteroom into the gas chamber.
The gas chamber itself had a brick floor; the walls were painted, not tiled. The gas-tight door had a viewing slit through which the doctor on duty could observe the interior. The window was not sealed with bricks but blocked with an iron grille. The poisonous CO gas was introduced by pipes from the annex through the wall into the gas chamber. The pipes were perforated. It may be assumed that fake showers were installed, but this can no longer be proven today. After the gassing the corpses were removed through another gas-tight door. This opening served also for afterwards cleaning the gas chamber. The water flowed into the dissecting room where it was collected in a gully.
The crematory ovens were delivered by the Kori Company (Berlin). They were made of bricks, similar to the ovens at Mauthausen and Flossenbürg KZs. The corpses were burned in two crematory ovens in the cellar, behind the dissection room. The smoke was discharged through a large chimney (1.40 x 1.40 m).
Today the rusty remnants of the installations are to be seen in the floor, and subsequent construction changes in the walls testify to the existence of the ovens. A bone crushing machine stood in the crematory room. The ashes were brought through a small door in the outer wall and thrown down in the direction of the Elbe River.

From end of June 1940 until September 1942, approximately 15,000 persons were killed within the scope of the euthanasia programme and Sonderbehandlung 14f13. The staff consisted of about 100 persons. One third of them were ordered to the extermination camps in occupied Poland, because of their experience in deception, killing, gassing and burning innocent people.

During August/September 1942, the Sonnenstein killing centre was liquidated. Incriminating installations such as gas chamber installations and crematorium ovens were completely dismantled, and holes in walls and doors were closed with bricks. From October 1942, the buildings were used as a military hospital. During the period of the former DDR (German Democratic Republic) the rooms were used for different purposes, which is why even more traces were destroyed.

Dr Boris Böhm, Sonnenstein Memorial

© ARC 2005