Interim report of victim research project submitted to Bavarian Parliament

Specimens and documents from the Hallervorden estate still stored at the Edinger Institute of Frankfurt University Hospital will be made available to the project

The Max Planck Society funded victim research project, which took up its work in June 2017, has submitted an interim report to the Bavarian Parliament. The project is funded by the Max Planck Society over a period of three years in the amount of 1.5 million euros and conducted by a team of independent historians including Gerrit Hohendorf (Technical University Munich), Herwig Czech (Medical University Vienna), Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes University) and Patricia Heberer-Rice (US Holocaust Memorial Museum). The decision to set up the victim research project was preceded by findings of brain tissue slides in the archives of the Max Planck Society in Berlin and the Historical Archives of the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich (https://www.mpg.de/victims-research-project).

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The aim of the research project is to identify by name the individuals who are to be recognized as victims of the Nazi regime and whose brains were used for research by scientists during and after WWII. This information is later to be transferred into a database of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in Halle and made available to the public in this way. Furthermore, the research networks that led to the transfer of the brain tissue slides to the institutes of the former Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (now Max Planck Society) are to be reconstructed and the handling of the specimens up until the recent past is to be clarified.

Collections from the Edinger Institute are made available

From 1962 to 1978, the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, was under the same management as the Neurological Institute (Edinger Institute) of the University Hospital Frankfurt (Wilhelm Krücke was appointed Director of the Edinger Institute in 1955 and was also Head of the Neuropathological Department of the MPI for Brain Research until his retirement in 1978), which led to a partial merger of collections and documents.

Until 2007, the specimens were stored in the building of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, after 2007, at the Edinger Institute on the premises of the University Hospital. However, for formal legal purposes they remained the property of the Max Planck Society. These are specimens relating to cases from the estate of the former head of the histopathological department of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin (later Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt), Julius Hallervorden.

Goethe University Frankfurt, the University Hospital Frankfurt, and the Max Planck Society have agreed that the human specimens and written sources from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research, which are stored at the Edinger Institute are now also to be examined by the research group within the context of the Max Planck project.

Based on information from the Edinger Institute, Paul Weindling was able to assign two brain specimens from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the collection of the Edinger Institute to individuals who, as Polish citizens of the Jewish faith, had died in Warsaw under German occupation and must therefore be recognized as victims of the Shoah. On the basis of a 696-entry index of the display collection drawn up by researchers of the Edinger Institute, it was possible to identify further suspicious cases by comparing the data collected in the subproject of Herwig Czech (see below). Among them is at least one person who was murdered as a victim of “Action T4” in the extermination facility in Bernburg.

The University of Frankfurt and the University Hospital are currently making further documents available to the research group – including index cards for the Hallervorden collection and the specimens of the display collection. The Max Planck Society is providing additional funding as well as premises in the neighbouring Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) to fulfill this task. The first holdings were transferred to ESI in mid-December 2019 for processing; among them were microscope specimens which, as possible remains of Jewish individuals, require special attention because they are subject to special religious regulations as are the brain specimens from Warsaw mentioned above.

Summary of the results of the victim research project to date

Project part with focus on the German Institute for Psychiatric Research (Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Munich); Project leader: Prof. Dr. Gerrit Hohendorf

The interim report now available states that in the period from January 1939 to December 1945 the brains or specimens of 1,634 persons were received and examined at the German Institute for Psychiatric Research. In the 2019 reporting year, considerable efforts were made to scour the sources for the institutions from which the neuropathological submissions to the German Research Institute of Psychiatry originated. The research revealed that just over 1,000 patient files still exist for the 1,634 persons whose brains or specimens arrived at the German Research Institute between 1939 and 1945.

506 of the examined brains were sent from the Eglfing-Haar Mental Institution alone. The review of the relevant medical records of adult patients from this institution has already been completed. A systematic evaluation scheme for psychiatric medical records was developed to determine whether the deceased patients were victims of the Nazi “euthanasia” program. This enables the classification of the type of death to be documented transparently on the basis of predefined criteria (sectional findings, documented course of the illness, weight development, negative evaluation of the patients with regard to work performance, behaviour, and nursing care). Some patient files contain extensive correspondence with relatives, which should make it possible to establish contact with relatives of those “euthanasia” victims whose brains were used for research at the German Research Institute for Psychiatric Research or the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry. This applies in particular to those victims who were buried at Munich’s Waldfriedhof cemetery in 1990, of whom brain specimens are still to be found at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich.

Project part with focus on the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research, Berlin (later: Max Planck Institute for Brain Research Frankfurt am Main) and the Genealogical-Demographic Department of the German Research Institute for Psychiatric Research; Project leader: Dr. Herwig Czech

The documents in the estates of Julius Hallervorden and Hugo Spatz are of central importance for the identification of the victims of unethical neuropathological research. Both worked as directors at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin-Buch, at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Gießen, and later as emeriti at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt am Main. The scientific “utilization” of the brain tissue of Nazi victims was reflected in publications, qualification theses and lectures by staff members, fellowship holders, doctoral candidates etc. of the KWI and MPI for Brain Research. In order to be able to reconstruct the history of this exploitation in relation to each individual victim, all the papers published by the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Brain Research in Berlin and its successor institutes between 1939 and 1990 were recorded on the basis of annual reports and various indexes, a total of 4,920 titles. 1,850 of these require closer examination, i.e. a review of the publications for concrete indications of the use of problematic specimens. This work has been completed to about 75 percent. For the last step, the comparison of suspicious publications with proven “euthanasia” cases, the personal data related research must be completed in advance. 2,179 suspicious cases must be investigated with regard to a possible connection with the Nazi “euthanasia” program. Of these cases, 511 have so far been conclusively processed; a further 601 are in the process of being processed (i.e. additional entries are still required); the remaining 1067 cases are still open. From today’s perspective, it can be assumed that human remains of a total of between 1,100 and 1,300 victims of the Nazi “euthanasia” program were used in scientific research conducted by the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research or its successor institutes.

Project part with focus on other groups of victims of unethical neuropathological research in National Socialism and central database management; Project leader: Prof. Dr. Paul Weindling

The report gives an overview of brain specimens from the occupied Polish territories, as well as brains of prisoners of war and executed victims of the so-called Nazi “people’s justice”. Further victims of unethical research in the histopathological department of Julius Hallervorden at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin-Buch and in the neuropathological department of Willibald Scholz at the German Institute for Psychiatric Research in Munich were identified. These victims can be divided into three groups: primarily Jewish and some non-Jewish civilians from the German-occupied territories, mainly Poles, Allied prisoners of war, and finally persons executed in Germany for crimes committed between 1933 and 1945 under the ruling National Socialist “people’s justice”. Hallervorden’s “M series” had previously been assumed to be a collection of at least 1,500 brains, all of which came from fallen or deceased soldiers. However, current research has shown that at least 210 brains came from non-German civilians; of these 166 persons (mainly Polish Jews) have been identified on the basis of autopsy reports.

The majority of the identified brain samples came from Jewish victims who died of typhus in Warsaw in 1940. Since the start of the project, 148 of 189 patients whose brains were sent from Warsaw to Hallervorden have been identified. This was made possible because 111 autopsy protocols of cases from the “M series” were discovered in the Federal Archives, Department Military Archives, Freiburg im Breisgau. In addition, Prof. Weindling found at the State Archive in Munich court transcripts of 23 people who had been sentenced to death for serious or less serious crimes and decapitated in Stadelheim prison. The brains of the executed persons were used for research purposes by the German Institute for Psychiatric Research.

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