A new approach to dealing with the past. Burial of brain specimens at Munich’s Waldfriedhof Cemetery

1990

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Photo: Memorial stone at the Munich Forest Cemetery, Peter Blachian/MPG.

A memorial stone from 1990 at Munich’s Waldfriedhof Cemetery serves as a commemorative monument and reminder of the victims of National Socialism and their misuse in medical research. This is where brain specimens from the scientific collections of the Max Planck Institutes for Brain Research and Psychiatry were buried – specimens which are presumed to have been taken for scientific purposes from the brains of victims of the Nazi’s euthanasia murders. From 1940 onwards, mentally handicapped people from numerous German medical institutions and nursing homes had been intentionally killed as part of the so-called T4 Programme. At the KWI for Brain Research, the Head of the Department of Neuropathology, Julius Hallervorden, represented a direct connection to the death clinics: he held the position of prosector at the Brandenburg Regional Psychiatric Offices in Görden and Brandenburg and as such had a hand in the murderous work there. The complete collection of known brain specimens that was brought to the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt as part of the material transferred from the old Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research was buried at the instigation of Directors Wolf Singer and Heinz Wässle in 1990. At the MPI of Psychiatry, all the specimens from the Third Reich era were separated out and buried. On the occasion of the burial ceremony, Heinz Staab, the President of the MPG at that time, called for scientists to exercise “responsible self-constraint”.

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