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Austria Buries Nazis’ Child Victims

April 28, 2002

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VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Black urns holding the brains and other remains of two children killed by the Nazis six decades ago were buried Sunday as Austrians were urged to never forget the crimes committed at a city hospital.

The victims buried Sunday were 4-year-old Annemarie Danner and 18-month-old Gerhard Zehetner _ two of about 600 children killed in the Am Steinhof hospital after Nazi doctors labeled them ``worthless lives.″ The children’s remains were used up to 1978 for medical research.

Across Europe, 75,000 people, including 5,000 children, were killed by the Nazis for real or imagined mental, physical or social disabilities.

Hundreds of urns containing the other Austrian children’s remains were buried quietly earlier this month.

Austria has long depicted itself as Hitler’s first innocent victim, overrun and annexed by Germany in 1938. Sunday’s ceremony, however, reflected the now general recognition inside Austria that the country also must accept responsibility for Nazi horrors committed in Austria by Austrians.

``My dear little sister Annemarie was taken (to the hospital) in the hope that she would get some kind of help,″ Waltraud Haeupl said during the solemn service at Central Cemetery.

``My parents never found out that they had trusted their child with murderous doctors and nurses. Annemarie was poisoned at the age of 4, and on Sept. 26, 1942, weighing 9.3 kilograms (nearly 21 pounds), she became a victim of the Nazis.″

Before the ceremony started, teens and children holding posters with black-and-white portraits of the victims lined up along a cemetery pathway. Loudspeakers transmitted a recording of the names and ages of the victims: ``Walter Oberauer, 3 years. Margareta Kuebeck, 2 years. Ida Reiter, 4 years ...″

David Kob, 17, his hair dyed bright red and his jeans hanging on his hips, held a photo of Engelbert D., 13, who smiled sadly into the camera. The posters were made from hospital photographs.

``I’m here because children my age were killed,″ he said. ``I think it is important that all generations learn about the past _ so that it is not forgotten, so that it doesn’t happen again.″

Vienna hoped to close a gruesome chapter of wartime history with the ceremony. But media reports Saturday suggested that body parts from other slain children still might be stored at another Vienna hospital. City officials have promised an investigation.

President Thomas Klestil said Sunday’s ceremony symbolized the importance of never forgetting. But just remembering, he added, is not enough.

``It is imperative that all who are guilty of these crimes are brought to justice,″ he said, urging Austrians to consider ``the worth and role of disabled people.″

Several of those linked to the killings thrived in postwar Austria.

Dr. Heinrich Gross, a psychiatrist whom some survivors say tortured them, received a high state award and published nearly a dozen articles. Two years ago, he escaped trial on accusations of complicity in the killings of nine children by pleading dementia.

Now 85, he lives in seclusion, refuses to give interviews and likely will never be tried.

Several of those attending the ceremony were disabled. Bernadette Feuerstein, 42, a wheelchair user, said the ceremony finally recognized that disabled people killed by doctors were Nazi victims.

``It is also important because there is a resurgent tendency to consider disabled people as less worthy,″ she said. ``We have to defend ourselves against this.″

Austrian author Robert Schindel spoke at the grave site as hundreds of people lined up to lay white roses on the urns.

He said Sunday’s ceremony, which came decades too late, could not be used as an excuse to brush over the past.

``This funeral must not be the onset of forgetting, which is a passion in this country because ’Happy is he who forgets,‴ he said.

``Rest in peace children, and continue to live inside us as guardians, so that similar things will never happen again.″

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