Austria: Seven Decades Ago

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Those who recall a doctor by the name of Doctor Heinrich Gross, a researcher, and one who wanted to improve the children of the future, cure diseases which were not accepted by society began seven decades ago at a Mental Health Hospital in Vienna, Austria;  those who recall those years were children, and they lived to talk about it. 

Never could one erase the knowledge of a doctor needlessly killing a child, to save a child’s brain for further research.  Dr. Gross diagnosed the child, and killed over five thousand children before retiring.  Some believe today, it was the first incident of outright killing before the holocaust.

It became a top story in 2002 when 700 brains of children were buried – brains which were kept in glass jars, brains of children whom Dr. Gross believed were not worthy of life, because of a birth defect or physical and mental disease.  Dr. Gross believed he could stop the spread of Mental and physical deficits in children, and wanted to prevent other children from developing such deformities. 

mental-hospitalWe are talking about selective breeding and the sterilization of those who had given birth to a child with a handicap.  Dr. Gross said, “killing these children for research was not a sin, since those killed are not worthy of life.”  (Bio. of Mental Health and Researchers)

Scientist’s worldwide, researchers, neurologists, writers, all came together to see for themselves on a tour of the mental health hospital.  It is difficult to believe as a professional, any doctor in their life would become the head of an experiment which included the killing of five thousand children too research their brains.  The tour included a look at the offices where the diagnosing took place, and where Dr. Gross killed the children. 

The complex had a separate chapel for prayer, which would be the first stop on the tour – many wondered who entered the chapel, others wanted to back up time to save the children, others wanted proof that a doctor could perform such acts while the curious wanted to see “The Brain Room.” 

Proof was still sitting on row after row of wooden shelves of glass containers preserved.  Those on the tour would be shocked to find a complete head preserved and in a large glass container, waiting its turn. Glass containers contained pieces of the brain, or slices, some were of an entire brain as if it were never touched. These glass containers all had a name, date of birth and the date of death.  Some revealed a specific illness, other containers had a label, and the label read, no cause of death.  Let me state that one more time, no cause of death.  Even if one believed in such drastic measures, the cause of death would be Dr. Gross. 

Those who traveled had to see it for themselves following the 2002 announcement of the burial, so a tour came together before the actual emptying of the brain room, with every patient accounted for by name in his or her own folder; a project, entirely run by one doctor and his assistant.  The brain specimens remained as the doctor had placed them, taking up his entire lab.  In 2002, the courts ordered removal of each glass container, and each child given a proper burial.  Dr. Gross ended his diagnosing phase of the experiment in 1949 but continued to work in his lab well into the 90’s. No one, touched a container, nor removed the files on each child though any court related case.

It became a common scene when a child entered the diagnosing room, some were let go when the doctor believed there was nothing wrong and others admitted to the hospital for research purposes.  Diagnosing a child became as common as a cup of coffee.  Dr. Gross called his children idiots, unable to care for themselves and this included young children and infants born with a deformity.

The country allowed this to go on and it was not a secret, how Dr. Gross reported on the circumstance of death.  He told others, he starved the children, froze them, or he gave them a significant number of pills for an overdose. He did perform an x-ray on each child, and for many years he used a method where he extracted brain fluid and air would seep into the brain, shock occurred and the child would then die. You see, he told people he believed his research served science for the future, and his work would leave a mark.  He believed he was doing his country and the entire world a favor.

Heinrich Gross
Heinrich Gross

Dr. Gross did appear in court but released without any demands on him, so he returned to the mental hospital and continued what he was doing.  He told the court those he killed would have done nothing for society. 

Although the killing stopped, Dr. Gross continued experimenting with five thousand specimens until sometime during the 1990s, in the same hospital, in a laboratory with an assistant known as Pavilion 17.  He continued to write papers on brain malformation, until he left the hospital for good.  If you were to see the laboratory at Pavilion 17, you would think the doctor would be arriving at any minute.  Everything, according to his assistant, is in place, the way the doctor left it on his last day.  Every file still in its place, each child referred by their name, and what he believed to be scientific research; to be resumed seven decades later.  His newest assistant was still working on his research, but he told reporters he lost his job in 2002 when the containers were given to family members, which were now inside a closed black container labeled by the doctor’s assistant.     

Scientists reported when they entered the Brain Room they were shocked to see the number of children, and surprised when they read there was no cause of death, written on some of the labels, which would mean the child died needlessly according to Dr. Gross and his standards. 

Those children turned away were Dr. Gross Survivors.  Reports from those individuals included Dr. Gross believing anti-social behavior was a hereditary disease.  The survivors confirmed, in 1980,  Dr. Gross went to court each day with charges brought against him involving two patients; equal to over six hundred patients in one year.  Even though the doctor was never convicted he had the nerve to tell the court he was working on various experiments, and bragged, he received an honor for his work from the Study of Brain Malformations.  

Officials today tell reporters they had no idea what the Doctor was doing but seven decades ago, he receives a medal from Austria.  He would never lose the institute even after so many lawsuits. In the 1980’s he became a regular in the court room but prior to that date, he placed a request for additional funds from the government to continue with his experiments.

In the year 2000, the doctor went to court again but they ruled he was too senile to stand trial. 

It would be the year 2002 when special services for each child taken by the hands of Dr. Gross.  Lines and lines of people who held up photos of the child, and names were called out, reminded me of the 911 tragedy and remembering its’ victims.  Family members stood for hours waiting for their loved ones name. 

At the time, in the year 2002, Dr. Gross lived near the area yet no one from the city knew the correct address.  His last interview took place in 2000, and he stuck to his story, although admitting he did not remember everything, but he helped the children of the future.

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