During my family research, I discovered that I had a cousin by the name of Felicitas Weinlaub, who died in 1942. There was very little additional information about her other than her birth date, date of her demise and the fact that she was buried in an unmarked grave at a cemetery in Germany in a place called Bendorf-Sayn. That naturally prompted some immediate questions: Who was she? What was Bendorf-Sayn? And why was she buried there?
The first thing I learned was that Bendorf-Sayn was a notorious insane asylum, where the German doctors performed euthanasia on the mentally and physically disabled Jewish patients, who were housed there. The Nazis were using a program of “mercy killing” for those whose lives they considered not worth living. The Nazis’ euthanasia program was not new to me, but at this point my research moved in a very unsettling direction, because the trail I was following was taking me back home to the good ol’ US of A. The Nazis were using a program not devised by Hitler’s henchman, but one that had its origins in America. But let’s back up a bit,
Early in the 20th Century there was a social movement called “Eugenics”, which claimed to be able to control the genetic features of the human race through selective breeding, sterilization and euthanasia. Early American proponents of the concept believed that through proper selection, we humans should direct our own evolution based on what they believed to be the genetic superiority of Nordic, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon peoples. Consequently they supported strict immigration and anti-miscegenation laws; and supported the forcible sterilization of the poor, the disabled and the “immoral”.
Mind you, this was not some wild eyed, crackpot movement, but a serious program that had extensive financial support from major corporate foundations like the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Harriman railroad fortune. In 1906 J.H. Kellogg provided funding to help found the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In addition, the Rockefeller Foundation helped develop and fund various German eugenics programs, including the one that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.
This is not Germany we’re talking about, but our own country. So, it was shocking to learn that Eugenics was practiced in the United States long before Hitler and the Third Reich came to power. But it was our programs and support that provided much of the inspiration and motivation for Hitler’s “Master Race”. The Nazi’s goal of Aryan supremacy was buttressed by American eugenicist who were looking for similar results.
Unfit vs. Fit Individuals
Both class and race were key parts of the eugenic definitions of “fit” and “unfit.” By using intelligence testing, American eugenicists reaffirmed the existence of class and racial hierarchies which explained why the upper-to-middle class was predominately white, and was a status marker of “superiority of the strains” as opposed to those at the poverty level, who were said to be a genetically inferior, meaning that that those deemed “unfit” were predominately of the lower classes.
In 1907, Indiana passed the first eugenics-based compulsory sterilization law in the world. Thirty U.S. states would soon follow their lead. Although the law was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1921, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law which allowed for the compulsory sterilization of patients in state mental institutions in 1927. Some states continued to sterilize “imbeciles” for much of the 20th century.
Until 1940 Bendorf-Sayn had a far less demonic history, having been known as the Jacoby Institute, a Jewish mental hospital for the care and recovery of psychiatric patients with emotional and mental illnesses. The facility was originally acquired in 1869 by Meier Jacoby, a merchant who lived in the town of Sayn, which is in the district of Bendorf, near the city of Koblenz. Jacoby first brought in a practitioner to treat the new patients. But as its reputation grew, Jews from all over Europe began coming there for treatment. As their numbers increased, Jacoby added more doctors and then went on a building spree to house their expanding clientel. The new buildings included a dining hall and a synagogue.
Then in 1898 he further expanded the facility by building the “Kurhaus” or treatment facility, emulating the look of a villa, which was considered modern back in the day.
By Janurary 1, 1911, the number of patients had grown to 163, including 87 men and 76 women. They were treated by two of his sons, Dr. Fritz and Dr. Paul Jacoby who were fully vested in the institution. At the same time, their brother, Manfred Jacoby became manager of the facility. So, what had been founded 40 years earlier by Meier Jacoby was now a family owned business.
This is where the notion of “Eugenics” becomes important. While the Germans were already fascinated with the concept of sterilization and euthanisia, as were many here in America, the Nazis started implementing it in earnest. With American support, and using our programs as a guide, German physicians began to develop their own program of sterilization and euthanasia directed at mentally ill and disabled individuals.
These programs fit perfectly into Hitler’s plans for a racially pure Germany and as a way to rid the country of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and other undesirables. Then in September 1939 the euthanasia program was officially launched, which consisted of the systematic killing of mentally ill and physically disabled individuals by gassing, lethal injection, drug overdose or starvation.
Six “gassing” installations were established throughout Germany, plus the main facility in Berlin. The operation took on the code name T-4, which was the address of the confiscated Jewish villa which became its headquarters. It is estimated that under the T-4 program 70,000 people were killed between January 1940 and August 1941.
But during all of this the Jacoby Institute remained relatively undisturbed by the Nazis – that is until 1939, when it was bought by the Government Association of Jews, or Reichsvereinigung, which had evolved into an instrument that had little to do with Jewish welfare. Meanwhile as the Jacoby Institute had been an island of temporary safety for mentally ill and disabled Jews, all of that changed when the Nazis took over, and it became known simply as “Bendorf-Sayn”.
In June, 1940, the Jacoby family fled from Germany and ultimately ended up in Uruguay by way of the Soviet Union and Japan. Then in December of the same year, the Nazi Ministry of the Interior circulated a memo stating that “insane Jews” can no longer live under the same roof as Jews who are sane, and those in the Koblenz area should be taken to Bendorf-Sayn.
Between 1940 and 1942, 142 Jews died at Bendorf-Sayn and were buried in unmarked graves in the Jewish cemetery in the town of Sayn. Felicitas Weinlaub, who was born in the Prussian town of Graetz in 1902, died at age forty, euthanized at the institute on March 14, 1942 and buried in one of those unmarked graves. About the time of her death, the Nazis deemed it inefficient to continue euthanizing patients there, and began transporting them to the extermination camps in the East. Between March and November 1942, 573 Jews from Bendorf-Sayn died in those camps.
What Felicitas Weinlaub’s mental or physical state was when she entered the institute we’ll probably never know, or when she was committed. Sadly, the only other information we’ve found is that her parents were David and Bertha Weinlaub and that she had the married name of Cohn. There is the sad possibility that her husband, whoever he was, may have fled from Germany and been either unwilling or unable to take his wife with him – the fate of so many other mentally or physically handicapped Jews. And that she ended up in Bendorf-Sayn, as many Jews did with psychiatric problems, cast off and left behind to die at the hands of the Nazis, when Euthanasia was about to become the road to Hitler’s “Final Solution”.