It could be the title of a detective novel: Murder at Schloss Hartheim. After 53
years, Louise Jacobs went looking for the past and wrote a letter to her father,
Arthur Jacobs, who was murdered in Schloss Hartheim, the gas chamber of Dachau, in
1942. This became a fascinating and touching book, full of love and pent up anger.
Louise could not live with how little she knew about her father. She investigated
and got to the bottom. It is all in her book, the suffering her father had to endure,
but also the ups and downs of the German-Jewish family that she was a part of, which
because of Hitler, had been thoroughly torn apart. The story of her strong and proud
father, who refused to bow his head for ordinary punks like the Nazi's. Her father,
who returned from Switzerland, where he was working, because he could not believe
that his countrymen could be capable of such atrocities. It cost him his freedom,
and ultimately his life. She follows her father's long path, through a host of concentration
camps, a path which would end in the gas chamber of Schloss Hartheim, a dilapidated
castle in the north of Austria.
If you want to visit Schloss Hartheim, you will have to schedule some time. The Nazi's
committed their atrocities mostly in remote places; even on a good map it is almost
impossible to find this “Euthanasie Anstalt” (Euthanasia Facility).
The castle is in bad repair and at first sight there is little that will remind you
of its horrendous past. Although the building does not have most of the modern amenities,
the upper floor has been occupied for some time. The tenants think the lack of comfort
is compensated by the peace and the space.
In the hallway you will find this text:
“During the years 1938 - 1944 tens of thousands of people were destroyed by fanatical
national-socialists in this house. First the two hundred who were being cared for
in this facility, then patients from other care facilities in Austria and Germany
and later people who were prosecuted due to their political views or their race.
Amongst them were healthy children from Germany, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, the Soviet
Union, France and Italy. Many of the victims came from the concentration camps Mauhausen
and Dachau. At the end of 1944, the guilty parties erased all evidence of their crimes.
In 1946, the US army relinquished this house to the Austrian government, who returned
it to the country's welfare department, which had owned the house before it was taken
from them in 1938. In 1965, with the help of the government, this department built
a home for seriously handicapped children, not far from this facility.“
If you are able to procure the key, the gas chamber is open for viewing by the public.
There is very little to see that will make an impression. On the wall there is a
plaque from the International Dachau Committee and a modern crucifix. Some dried
flowers lay scattered around. That is all. On the wall there are two small texts,
with an explanation of what happened there, in simple words.
From 1938 through 1944 thousands of people were killed in this space. In the beginning
of all the condemned were gassed with exhaust fumes in busses, which were especially
designed for that purpose. During that time, only political prisoners with a certain
status were gassed here. There were always some party officials present during the
executions. It is not know if these liquidations were filmed, like they filmed the
exceptional trials in Berlin. Some materials we found that suggested filming did
take place. All evidence was destroyed when this place was cleaned out, only the
roster in the window remains.
In the waiting room the text:
“In this space the Concentration camp prisoners had to disrobe and wait their turn.
Sometimes there was an attempt made to extract a confession. The dead were cremated
in two ovens. One of then was located in the bakery at the north side of the building
and was used for central heating. Later a larger crematorium was built on the grounds.
Ashes and bones were dumped in the Danube and Traun rivers. The people who worked
here were from the north of Germany, judging from their accent. They were mainly
SS-ers in civilian clothes. They were replenished regularly. Here they learned their
trade - mass extermination - which they could later practice in the concentration
camps. People who lived around the castle were threatened with the most severe punishments
if they were to tell what they had seen here. “Whoever says something, disappears”,
was the threat.”
In the mean time, a modest museum has been erected at Schloss Hartheim and there
are plans to eventually restore the castle. However for the time being, the funds
necessary to do that are not available.