Once they’d received two red X’s, patients were transported to the “receiving centers” (“killing centers” is more like it) in big gray buses of the Gemeinnutzige Krankentransportgesellschaft, the “Charitable Patient Transport Company.” The interiors of the buses were relatively comfortable with upholstered seats – enough to seat up to 70 patients and staff – large enough for two people on each side of the aisle. Everyone except the patients and their families (who knew nothing of the transport) knew the function of these buses. Though the logo of the transportation company was clearly painted on each side of the bus, windows were tinted (or smoked, as they called it) so that onlookers could not see in. It wasn’t long, though, before the townspeople figured out what was going on. “There goes the murder box,” children would shout when one of the Charitable Transport Company buses roared by.
Recruits from the SS ranks staffed the buses. Staffers donned white uniforms to disguise themselves as nurses, but they kept their SS boots on at all times, earning them the behind-their-backs title of “white coat-black boots” by hospital personnel who couldn’t help but notice the bizarre outfits. Though the literal translation of the name SS (Schutzstaffel) means “Protection Squadron”, the SS was known for their surveillance tactics and the terror they reined down during their tenure as the most powerful organization of the German Nazi party during World War II. It could be chalked up to degrees of comparison, but as inhumanely as members of the SS treated other humans, in their role as “nurses” for the Charitable Transport Company, they generally treated the patients with relative kindness. They helped physically disabled patients on and off the buses, and if the trip was a long one, they brought along thermoses of hot coffee and sandwiches to (allegedly) distribute to patients along the way. These “nurses” looked after the patients’ meager belongings and were responsible for transporting and delivering in good order the patients’ medical charts and personal histories.
Once they arrived, buses parked in secluded areas of the property so that patients could be unloaded in privacy to prevent their screams from being heard. Wheelchairs and stretchers were made available for those unable to move independently. Once off the bus, patients were herded into the front hall where tables were set up and various “receiving center” personnel stood ready to admit them. Patients were matched with their medical charts; their temperatures and pulse rates taken, and, if needed, they were permitted a short word with the doctor.
The transport program was a government-operated program, so there was naturally much bureaucratic paperwork. Floods of letters, directives, reports, and receipts were completed with carbon paper to create copies for the T4 central office as well as a host of other personnel along the way. Strict adherence to proper medical and program protocol was important to the credibility of the T4 program in the eyes of the medical leadership. Everything must be done in a proper and fully correct manner.
Here is an example of the paperwork sent from Berlin dated May 12, 1941 to the director of the hospital of the District Association of Swabia, Kaufbeuren/Bavaria and the ensuing paperwork that accompanied each relocation of patients:
By order of the Reich Defense Commissioner, I must remove mental cases from your institution from the branch of Irrsee to another institution. A total of 140 persons are to be transported, seventy on 4th June and seventy on 6th June. I forward to you herewith transport lists number 8, 9, 10, and 11 in triplicate. The additional spaces on the lists are intended for possible deficits (discharged meanwhile, died, etc.).
The marking of the patients is most suitably done by means of a striped adhesive tape, on which the name is written in ink pencil, to be pasted between the shoulder blades. At the same time the name is to be put on any articles of clothing.
The hospital records and personal histories are to be prepared for transportation and handed to our director of transport Herr Kopper in the same way as the personal possessions of the patients, as well as money and articles of value.
I enclosed property information cards and information cards as to the defrayer of the expenses, which, accurately filled out, must be handed in at the time of transportation. Money and articles of value besides being noted on the property information cards must also be noted on separate special lists (in duplicate).
Our director of transport Herr Kopper will visit you the day before in order to discuss further details with you.
I further request you to provide the patients with food: (2-3 slices of bread and butter each and some cans of coffee).
Confirmation, 30 August 1940, of the Transfer of Mental Patients with Attached
In accordance with the decision of the State Ministry of the Interior (Public Health Division), dated 8 January 1940, on orders from the Reich Association of Sanitoriums and Nursing Homes [Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft der Heil – und Pflegeanstalten] and as chief responsible for the Charitable Patient Transport Company [Germeinnutzige Krankentransportgesellschaft], I have taken charge of the transfer to a Reich institution of the patients enumerated in the list below.
Eglfing, 30 August 1940
Commissioner of Charitable Patient Transport Company
TRANSFER MEMORANDUM FOR NEIDERNHART
Handed over were:
- 149 patients with their own clothing, underwear, money, and belongings.
- 149 files with personal records (case histories).
- A list of the amount of money of each patient. A receipt was made out for this purpose.
- A list of the names.
Head Nurse Lotte Zell
Director Dr. Falthauser, of the Hospital, Kaufbeuren
Your reference: 2080 Your letter of 13 November 1940.
Our reference: (must always be referred to). II-B-7-2.
Concerning the transfer of patients.
I have the honor to inform you that the female patients transferred from your institution on 8 November 1940 to the institutions to Grafeneck, Bernburg, Sonnenstein, and hartheim all died in November of last year.
Note use of the phrase “I have the honor” in context of that last communication.
Revolting, isn’t it?
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Horrific reading. And for everyone to be aware of what was going on “Murder boxes” – it doesn’t bear thinking of. Thank you for shining your light of love on this dark, dark story.
We cannot be those people who called out “There goes the murder box” . . . who knew what was happening and did nothing.
That is exactly what my thoughts were the first time I read that: where were the people standing up and asking questions? They knew these people were being murdered and did NOTHING?! I find that one of the most alarming things about this whole period. Not only that it was being done at all, but that people outside of the system knew about it, that it was common knowledge and still nothing was done.
My head . . . my heart . . . they won’t go there. We will speak up, and our voice will give others confidence to use theirs.