Pirna-Sonnenstein

  

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Schloss (castle) Sonnenstein in Pirna in Saxony, Germany, was one of the six "euthanasia" killing centres of the Nazis' "Aktion T4". It had served as a mental hospital and care home from 1811, but in 1939 it was closed and appropriated by the Nazis. Between 1940 and 1941, over 13,000 mentally ill patients were systematically murdered here, namely by gassing, because they were deemed "lebensunwert", 'unworthy of life', in the crude and brutal Nazi ideology.

About a thousand inmates from concentration camps (Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz) were also killed here as they were no longer fit to work – pushing the total death toll of the place to nearly 15,000.

Later some of the perpetrator staff moved on to serve in the death camps in eastern Poland where they "applied" the "experience" they had gained in gassing at Pirna-Sonnenstein to the full-scale industrialization of the Holocaust. It's a similar pattern to that at Schloss Hartheim.

The history of the site was nearly forgotten, but was rediscovered and endeavours towards a proper memorial took shape during the 1990s. The present memorial and documentation exhibition opened in 2000. In addition to the exhibition on the top floor of the former killing centre, building C16 (the address is now Schlosspark 11), a basement room where the actual murders took place has been turned into a memorial – 22 selected (representative?) individual cases of victims are chronicled here.

Furthermore, a series of 16 marker plaques have been placed along the way from Pirna train station to the castle/memorial, each with one of the key words/phrases related to the history of the site, including e.g. "Gnadentod" ("mercy killing'), "Trostbrief" ('letter of condolence') or "Knochenmühle" ('bone grinder').

Opening times: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., plus on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission free

Location: about 12 miles/20 km south-east of Dresden in Saxony, Germany. Pirna is easily reached by regional metro trains (S-Bahn) from Dresden: trains (S1 or 2) depart usually every half hour and take 23 minutes. From the train station it's about a mile on foot, first along Gartenstraße, then left and immediately right again into Jacobäerstraße, then Schuggasse, past the town hall and Marktplatz, up to the castle then past the actual castle's main building along Canalettoweg to building C16, Schlosspark 11, to the "Gedenkstätte Pirna-Sonnenstein".

Along the way keep looking out for those marker plaques, called "Denkzeichen", which show a greenish/bluish old photo of the town and the castle with a word/phrase written through it. There are 16 of them placed at regular intervals – which may additionally aid navigation.

By car take the A17 motorway south of Dresden, take exit 6 Pirna and proceed on the B172a towards Pirna, turn right into the B172 and follow it all the way through the town and towards the castle, where the road bends around in sharp double bend first south then north. At the next bend turn off and then right into Schlosspark; the car park by the "Gedenkstätte" is less than 200 yards down this road.
 
Google maps locator: [50.961,13.951

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