VIENNA (AP) — They were starved, tortured, and killed because they were considered inferior to the Aryan ideal set by Adolf Hitler. Then their organs were put in jars and displayed for research by the doctors accused of causing their deaths under the Nazis.
Shutting the books on one of Vienna's darkest chapters, black-clad workers on Wednesday placed a small metal urn into the ground at the city's Central Cemetery. It contained what municipal officials say were the last known unburied remains of victims "treated to death" on the Austrian capital's psychiatric wards during the Hitler era.
The Nazis called them "unworthy lives" — those deemed too sick, weak or handicapped to fit the Fuehrer's image of the master race.
More than 70,000 were killed, gassed to death or otherwise murdered between 1939 and 1941. Public protests stopped the wholesale massacres then, but thousands more of those deemed inferior lost their lives at the hands of sadistic doctors and nurses until the end of the war.
Of those, about 3,500 died in Vienna institutions, among them nearly 800 children and juveniles. Thousands of brains, uteruses with fetuses and other organs and parts were then preserved in jars and used for medical research until 1978, when they were put under lock and key amid growing Austrian sensitivity to the crimes committed while the country was Hitler's ally.
Hundreds of the children's remains were already buried 10 years ago, but many adult specimens were kept available until recently for experts trying to trace their histories and identify them. They were successful in linking remains to names in 61 cases. Sixty sets of identified victims were buried along with unidentified ones in a nonpublic ceremony late last month.
Under a clear blue sky, the 61st was put to rest Wednesday, accompanied by the mournful music of a string quartet, speeches by dignitaries and the cawing of a lone crow perched on a beech tree near the grave.
"They were neglected, undernourished, exposed to infectious disease and killed at the very place that they should have been treated, healed and taken care of," declared Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
Because Austria was slow to recognize that it was more a Nazi ally than a victim, some of the doctors suspected of complicity in the killings worked as renowned researchers into the 1970s based in part on their activities during the Hitler era.