A Vienna doctor accused of the Nazi-era killings of disabled children used the remains of the victims for research up to the mid-1960s, researchers said Friday.
The case of neurologist Heinrich Gross, who is being investigated on possible murder charges, was the subject of much of the discussion Friday at a conference on Nazi euthanasia in Germany and Austria.
Like many other professionals, Gross evaded punishment for his alleged crimes after the war and went on to achieve prominence in his field. His case has come to symbolize a fresh attempt by the Austrian capital to grapple with the Nazi past and decades-long attempts to protect those involved in its atrocities.
Gross stood trial in 1950 in connection with the euthanasia of some of the hundreds of children ordered killed by the Nazis at what is now Vienna’s main psychiatric institute - the site of the two-day symposium. But the case was thrown out on a technicality and the state prosecutor’s office dropped the charges without explanation.
German historian Mathias Dahl said his research showed that Gross published five articles between 1955 and 1965 based on research using the preserved brains of children killed because they were deemed handicapped or anti-social. Six other articles published by him also likely used the same specimens, Dahl said.
Gross again was brought to trial in the 1980s, but evaded punishment because of a 30-year statute of limitations on manslaughter. After the war, he had gone on to head Vienna’s main psychiatric institute and was sought as an expert witness at trials up to last year.
Gross has argued he was not present at the Vienna neurological hospital at the time in the 1940s when most of the children were killed.
But Austrian historian Wolfgang Neugebauer cited a letter in late 1944 from the head of the hospital asking for a bonus for Gross for coming to work at the hospital voluntarily while being on leave from the German Wehrmacht.
“This voluntary participation in children’s euthanasia negates the argument of Dr. Gross that he was opposed to euthanasia and had reported to the Wehrmacht” instead, said Neugebauer.
Prosecutors are now investigating possibilities of a new trial on murder charges, which are not covered by a statute of limitation.
The new investigations were launched after the city last year publicized the existence of hundreds of preserved brains taken from the children after their death and used in medical research well into the post-war era. Their existence had not been widely known.