Child remains from Nazi 'euthanasia' clinic laid to rest

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Relatives of more than 800 children murdered by the Nazis at a notorious "euthanasia" clinic in Vienna gathered at the city's main cemetery yesterday for a private burial service.

Specimens of the brains and body parts of the children have been kept for decades in jars of formaldehyde at the Spiegelgrund clinic, where Dr Heinrich Gross is accused of leading experiments on the children.

They are finally being laid to rest. Hundreds of urns filled with children's remains were buried earlier this month. It was a lengthy task and the families agreed to it taking place before their private ceremony yesterday in which just one urn was interred. The last two urns have been held back for an elaborate public service on Sunday.

For Johann Gross, who was kept at Spiegelgrund – one of 30 such clinics in Austria – from 1941 to 1943, Sunday will be "a bit of a show". He said: "I would have done it without so much pomp." Hewas considered "difficult" and sent to Spiegelgrund's borstal after an early childhood in and out of care. Brutal physical punishments, such as the notorious "puke injections", were part of the harsh regime he faced.

In nearby "Pavilion 15" children with "hereditary or congenital ailments" were being murdered. Their lives, according to Nazi ideology, were worthless and they were slowly poisoned with sleeping tablets until they died of diseases such as pneumonia.

Wilfried Gyergyai-Haardt was aged two when he became one of 789 children known to have perished at Spiegelgrund between 1940 and 1945. His sister Irene, who was a baby at the time, was later told by a family friend that Friedl was a "happy, friendly" little boy, who "laughed a lot", but who "just didn't speak". In winter 1944 doctors referred him to Spiegelgrund. In April 1945, when she arrived for one of her visits, Irene's mother was told her son had died of pneumonia. Distraught, she wandered down to the graveyard, where she saw sacks being dumped into ditches. The thin material tore open in the rain to reveal dead children. "Then she stopped speaking," said Irene.

During the many years that Mrs Gyergyai-Haardt silently suppressed her pain, the Austrian establishment rigidly suppressed any notion of complicity in causing it.

Dr Gross was sentenced to two years in jail in 1950 for the atrocities. But that was withdrawn on a technicality and with the help of his extensive specimen collection he went on to become one of Austria's most respected neurological scientists. When the case returned to court two years ago the 84-year-old pleaded dementia and the trial was adjourned. Johann Gross wants to see him stripped of the decoration he received in 1975 for scientific services to Austria.

Herwig Czech of Austria's anti-Nazi centre, DÖW, says the complicity of the individuals and institutions that supported Dr Gross's career should be confronted. Ms Gyergyai-Haardt wants to support that process and hopes Sunday's funeral will "stir public emotion". But she is concerned about how her mother will cope.It would have been Friedl's birthday.