Hartheim Castle in Austria, now and during the war

Hartheim Castle

Hartheim is a medieval castle from the 17th century near the city of Linz in the Austrian highlands, an example of Renaissance architecture. During World War II, it was the center of forced euthanasia in the Third Reich and one of the stages of the so-called Action T-4, initiated by Karl Brandt, the Reich health commissar. During this action, the Nazis exterminated the disabled, the mentally ill, and people with disabilities.

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Hartheim Manor is located along the Danube River. In 1130, documents from the diocese of Passau mention the Hartheim family. The owners of the castle were servants of the bishop of Passau. In 1287, three brothers, Conrad, Peter and Heinrich, are mentioned in the documents for the ownership of the castle. However, already in 1323, the Hartheim family disappears from the list of castle owners. In the middle of the XIV century the castle consisted of a tower and a low wall surrounding it, as well as a shallow moat was dug along the walls.

After the change of several owners the castle finds permanent owners in the face of the Aspan family. In the early 30s of XVI century the castle was rebuilt in the Renaissance style. There were four corner towers and the main one at the wall. After this rebuilding the castle did not change its structure.

In 1799 the castle was acquired by Prince George Adam. At this time the castle was in poor condition. From property records historians find information that in the early 19th century the castle had no doors, windows, and even ceilings in some rooms. In 1898, Prince Heinrich Starchemberg Camillo donated the castle to the Catholic Church. The castle then became an institution for the mentally ill and the handicapped, cared for by the nuns.

From 1900 to 1910 all outbuildings and the main building of the castle were renovated and adapted to serve as a hospital. In 1926, the staircase in the castle is replaced by an elevator.

During the Second World War, the castle was used by the Nazis as a euthanasia center. After the war, the castle is converted by the local authorities into a museum dedicated to the memory of those who died in concentration camps and euthanasia centers.

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Euthanasia Institute

During World War II, a huge forced euthanasia center was organized in the castle under the direction of the Reich Health Commissioner of the Third Reich, Karl Brandt. All of the activities carried out at the castle at that time were part of the so-called “Action T-4”. During the entire time the Castle was used as the Nazi “Euthanasia Institute,” 18,269 people died at the hands of doctors as a result of “treatment” between 1940 and 1941. And this was only the first phase of the action.

In all, some 30,000 people died at the Castle. In the course of this action, people suffering from incurable diseases, the mentally ill and the incapacitated were exterminated. In most cases, the relatives of the sick were unaware of the fate of their relatives being treated in the “hospital centers. Many of the patients at the euthanasia center were inmates of concentration camps that were located in upper Austria. Also among the patients were criminals with a particularly criminal past.

The Nazi leaders justified these “disinfections” by saving money to keep the sick as well as by the overall health of the growing nation. In the course of Action T-4, 70,273 people died in various centers of forced extermination. From the calculations of German economists of the time, the annual savings for these sick people was about 88 million marks. Considering that these patients could live another 10 years, it follows that the savings in the maintenance of these patients for one decade amounted to 880 million DM.

Many famous figures were murdered in the course of euthanasia, among them: Bernhard Heinz Mann (1903-1942), a German Catholic priest; Karas Friedrich (1895-1942), an American Catholic priest; Jan Kowalski (1871-1942), the Polish bishop of the Old Catholic Church of Mariavites; Ida Malogo (1894-1941), an Austrian artist; Neungöserer Gottfried (1882-1941), an American Benedictine monk; Silten Werner (1893-1942), a Protestant theologian. Among the patients of the death institute were many healthy people who were opponents of the Nazi regime. Some medical charts listed not illness but membership in one of three classes: anti-Nazi, Communist, or Polish fanatic. In Hartheim, some 310 members of the clergy were murdered.

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After an investigation, the full composition of the main personnel of the euthanasia center was revealed:

  • Erwin Lambert – chief engineer for the construction of the gas chambers and crematorium;
  • Rudolf Lonauer – chief physician in charge of all euthanasia operations, also head of the psychiatric hospital in Linz;
  • Vincent Nogel – chief worker at the crematorium;
  • Franz Reichleitner – Inspector of Criminal Investigation, in charge of criminal patients in the castle, later became commandant of the Sobibor death camp;
  • Georg Renno – deputy chief physician Rudolf Lonauer, psychiatrist;
  • Anton Mayer – “nurse”;
  • Franz Stangl – Gestapo inspector, later commandant of Treblinka;
  • Josef Wallaster – warden at the crematorium, later warden at the Sobibor concentration camp;
  • Christian Wirth – head of the information bureau, supervised the transport of the sick from the concentration camps, later became commandant of the Bełżec death camp.


To this day, documents documenting what happened in Hartheim during the National Socialist regime have been preserved in the castle. There is now a memorial to the victims of the Nazi regime, which is visited each year by many tourists. In 1997, the Austrian government decided to renovate the castle and set up a memorial. During the renovation, the rooms where the mass murder of sick people took place were discovered. It was in Hartheim Castle that gas chambers were used for the first time. Numerous graves were discovered in the castle’s bus park and gardens, in which the remains of people burned in the castle’s crematoria were found.

More than 40 memorial plaques to the victims of concentration camps and euthanasia centers have been installed in Château Hartheim.

The French Memorial

The French memorial to the French prisoners of the Mauthausen death camp is the very first memorial erected in the castle after the war. It was built in 1950 by Amicale de Motozan. The memorial is located on the north side of the castle near the surrounding village. On the stone of the memorial plaque is inscribed: “Honneur aux Francais Victims de la Barbarie Nazie Morts an Hartheim pour la France et la Liberte du Monde”. Translated into Russian: “In honor of the French victims who died as a result of Nazi barbarity in Hartheim for the liberty of France”.

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The Danube Stone Memorial

In October 2001 the Danube Bank Memorial was built, located in the latitude of the village Gstoket. This village was where the remains of euthanasia victims were ejected into the Danube. The plaque bears the words: “The water erased the tracks which the memory keeps”. Translated into Russian: “The water erased traces, but memory keeps”. The author of these lines is Franz Rieger, who lived in this region of Austria.

Monument to the Resistance

The monument was erected by the local authorities in 2003 to commemorate the victims of the National Socialist regime, the resistance fighters Ignatz Schumann and Leopold Hilgart. The monument is located in the eastern part of the castle, next to the entrance to the service buildings. The author of the monument is Herbert Friedl.


During archaeological excavations in 2002, archaeologists discovered mass graves in the eastern part of the castle, in particular the ashes of burnt corpses in the crematoria of the castle. Analysis of the remains confirmed that the remains were human, and they dated from 1939-44. Pursuant to the Graves Welfare Act, the site where the human remains were discovered was declared a cemetery. On September 27, 2002, an official funeral was held and a cemetery designed by Herbert Friedl was organized.


Visiting hours:

Monday and Friday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday: 9:00 a.m. by 4:00 p.m. Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. On Saturday, the museum is closed.

Admission to the chambers of the castle:

Access to the memorials is free. Admission to the exhibition “The Value of Life”: 1€ for children and teens, 2€ for adults.


A rich tour of all the sites: 4€ per person; student groups and groups from institutions for people with disabilities: 2€ per person; relatives of victims free admission.

For excursions that are not held during general visiting hours, an additional fee of 50€ is charged.

Booking tours:

Tour programs must be booked two weeks in advance of the visit. In order to ensure a high quality of the tours provided, the castle administration is forced to reduce the simultaneous number of tours in the castle, so tourists should submit a request for a tour in advance so that there are no problems with the timing of the visit.

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Hartheim Castle

Hartheim Castle is a magnificent Renaissance creation, but on the other hand witnessed the horrific actions against humanity during World War II.

Hartheim Castle is a remarkably beautiful building from the 17th century near Linz in Austria. It is known not only for its rich architecture, but also for its interesting and sometimes terrifying history. During World War II, the castle was home to an institute for forced euthanasia and the implementation of the Third Reich’s Action T-4.

History of the Hartheim

At that time the manor was located on one of the banks of the Danube. According to sources, the Hartheim family, who served the bishop of Passau, lived there. In 1287, there is a mention of three brothers in the records of the castle, but fifty years later, the Hartheims simply disappeared from the lists, as if they had never existed. By the middle of the 14th century the castle is just a tower with a rampart surrounded by moats.

Over the years, the owners of the building were changing and together with them the appearance of the castle was changing. It was rebuilt in Renaissance style in the early 16th century. At the same time four towers were added to the corners of the building and one in the center. The castle did not undergo any changes after this transformation.

In 1799, Prince George Adam became the rightful owner of the rather run-down Hartheim. According to documentary evidence during this period the castle was deprived of all its windows. Some rooms even had no ceilings. Exactly one hundred years later, the next owner Prince Heinrich Camillo donates the castle to the church. From then on, the residential building was turned into a hospital for the mentally ill. The entire process was supervised by the friars of the pilgrims.

Ten years after 1900, Hartheim was renovated and converted into a treatment center. Later the main staircase of the castle was replaced by an elevator.

During the war the castle was fully used by the Third Reich as a center of forced euthanasia.

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The period of the war with the Germans made the castle famous as a euthanasia center run by Karl Brandt. Everything that went on inside was called the T-4 Action. More than 18,000 people were murdered within the walls of the castle throughout its history. And this figure is given for just one year of the action. When counting all the victims of the war, the number was announced as thirty thousand innocents. The Nazis justified their actions by the enormous economy of medicine and money spent on the sick.

Throughout the war a total of 70,000 people were murdered in various centers.

Among those murdered were many famous people, for example Bernhard Mann, Karas Friedrich, Jan Kowalski and many others. Incidentally, many healthy people were also among the murdered. They ended up in the euthanasia center because they belonged to one of the three “undesirable” classes. Also during the war a great many clergymen were murdered.

Numerous testimonies of the horrors that took place in the castle have survived, according to which an entire memorial has been created dedicated to the victims of Nazism. Every year it is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists. The idea of the monument came to the Austrian authorities after the restoration of Hartheim. Later, after a more detailed study of the castle, more places where mass murders were carried out were found. Incidentally, it was here that gas chambers were first used. Researchers found even human remains in some of the rooms.

A total of 40 monuments to the victims of euthanasia have been erected in the castle to date.

At the beginning of the 21st century in 2001, the Danube Memorial was founded. It was also dedicated to the many victims who were thrown into the Danube. The idea came about after finding the remains of the murdered in the river.

It is dedicated to Ignatz Schumann and Leopold Hilgart. They put up tremendous resistance during the struggle against the Nazi regime.

Excavations in the backyard of Hartheim horrified archaeologists. They found huge burials of unfortunate people as well as ashes burned alive. Investigations confirmed the involvement of the T-4 Action.

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