Sterilisation and Euthanasia during the Time of the Third Reich
An Exhibition by Students of the Clara-Wieck-Grammar School Zwickau/Germany

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Introduction to the touring exhibition

National Socialists committed the same atrocities in Zwickau as everywhere else in Germany during the time of the Third Reich. However, for more than 60 years, the cruelties of sterilisation and the so-called "euthanasia" (mercy-killings) have been repressed and kept secret, until in 2004 students of the Clara-Wieck Grammar School in Zwickau started to ask questions about victims and delinquents.

Investigations into several cases in the Zwickau region found that only a handful of contemporary witnesses are still alive and that few files have been kept and many eliminated. Not only politicians are to be made responsible for that fact: doctors and legal practitioners played an important part, too. They separated "unworthy beings" from the "Aryan Race". Their cooperation led to a perfected system of elimination. Initially, they looked for disabled and weak people as well as the outsiders in society. They were regarded as "useless eaters", who had no place in the community. Later, ethnic groups, such as gypsies, were persecuted as well. The Nazis kept the killings in sanatoriums and nursing facilities secret.
The results of those investigations are shown on display charts and were presented in public for the first time on June 1st, 2005 in the rooms of the District Court Zwickau. As the exhibition deals with local history, attendance by the public was above-average and many schools benefited from the opportunity to organize interesting lessons. Even the media promoted the exhibition which led to a number of enquiries from other cities.
Since then, the exhibition has been touring continually, because we believe that remembering the past is important for shaping the future. Thus, we hope to raise awareness for the atrocities of the Nazi government and to help form a more humane society.
The students of the project group continued their investigations in other towns such as Kamenz, Reichenbach, Colditz, Aue, Werdau, and Magdeburg. Additionally, they regularly visit other schools to report on their findings and to educate other students and make them think about their own history.


Already in the time of the Weimar Republic, Dr. Gustav Boeters, a district doctor, draught the "Lex Zwickau", a law which allowed for the sterilisation of people suffering from hereditary diseases. In 1933, the Nazi government enacted the so-called "Erbgesundheitsgesetz", a law to prevent the spread of hereditary diseases. Doctors, midwives, civil servants, teachers, and parents were obliged to report any suspicion of hereditary illness to the responsible public health officer, who then filed an application for forced sterilisation at the responsible court of law. Between 1934 and 1936, the court dealt with 2144 cases, in 1701 of those the court ruled that forced sterilisation were to be carried out. Although the statistics for the following years could not be found, it can be assumed that at least 5000 cases were dealt with until 1945.

Euthanasia (a Greek word meaning "good death", under the Nazi government it described the elimination of "unworthy" lives)

In 1939, Hitler ordered that terminally ill people should be led to a "merciful death". Thus, people were killed without a legal basis and almost nobody resisted. In the planned German way, the government arranged for a mechanism of systematic elimination. In Berlin, they created a centre to organize the killings, which was situated on Tiergarten street 4. During the so-called T4-activities, about 300 people were killed in the Zwickau region alone, usually by gas in special camps. The students could proof that even children were put to death. However, the killings were conducted in secret and relatives were kept unaware of the true cause of death by faked documents and fictitious diagnoses.


In another part of the exhibition, students show that there were also some people who offered resistance to this cruel system. The reverend Hermann Gocht, for example, was successful in rescuing five residents of a home for deaf-mute people in Zwickau.

The judge Lothar Kreyssig from Brandenburg fought the killings legally and was suspended from his position. The exhibition reports on several other cases of resistance in order to encourage people to fight unjust systems today.


We would explicitly like to thank the "Heim gGmbH Zwickau", which supported the installation of a memorial stone in Zwickau. Moreover, we would like to thank all witnesses and their relatives, who overcame their fear and their shame and broke their silence. thus, they contributed to understanding the past. In addition, we thank all those people and institutions who supported the project ideationally and financially. Last but not least, we thank those students of religious education who committed much of their free time to the project group: Kezia Wutzler, Isabell Geßner, David Brauße, Stefan Baumann, Florian Schlotter, Luise Reuter, Christin Kretzschmar, Caroline Geßner, Stefanie Berger und Georg Martin.

Contact Info

Clara-Wieck-Gymnasium (Außenstelle), Platz der Deutschen Einheit 2, 08056 Zwickau
  • Project manager: Dr. Edmund Käbisch, Hölderlinstr. 8, 08056 Zwickau
  • Tel.: 0375/2040565
  • E-Mail:
  • Website:
  • Cooperating partner: Zwickauer Hilfe Zentrum e.V.
    n cooperation with mit dem Bildungswerk WEITERDENKEN in der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung