One of the thousands of victims of the Nazi regime’s program to kill mentally ill people was a relative of Adolf Hitler, two historians said Tuesday.
The woman, identified only as Aloisia V., was 49 when she was gassed on Dec. 6, 1940, at an institution in the Hartheim castle near the northern Austrian city of Linz, historian Timothy Ryback said.
Ryback, an American historian who now lives in Salzburg and heads the Obersalzberg Institute in Berchtesgaden, Germany, said the details surrounding the woman’s death surfaced last week after Obersalzberg archivist Florian Beierl gained access to her medical file at a Vienna medical institution where she had been treated.
An ink stamp on the file serves as “proof of extermination,” Ryback said.
“It’s painful to see what this woman went through,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Salzburg. “It highlights the cruelty and brutality of that system to an excruciating degree.”
Illness in Hitler's family
That mental illness flourished in Hitler’s extended family is nothing new — a secret 1944 Gestapo report that has been known for decades described Aloisia’s line of the family as “idiotic progeny,” Beierl said.
Both Ryback and Beierl declined to comment on any implications their findings might have. Wolfgang Eisenmenger, a German expert in forensic medicine who is involved in the research, warned against drawing any conclusions about Hitler’s own mental health.
“An expert on hereditary psychological illnesses could perhaps draw some conclusions from the results of the reconstructed family tree,” Eisenmenger said in a statement on the Obersalzberg Web site.
Regardless of any such conclusions, the findings so far are intriguing, Ryback said.
“Given the basis of the Nazi ideology and Hitler’s own world view, the very notion that congenital insanity exists in a paternal line in Hitler’s family itself is interesting, to say the least,” he said.
Files point to history of problems
Recently released medical files on Aloisia say she suffered from schizophrenia, depression, delusions and a range of other mental problems, Ryback said. Her treatment included confinement in cage beds, a widespread practice even before Nazi times.
It’s unclear whether Hitler was aware of his relative’s illness and her fate, Ryback said, adding researchers are trying to determine that.
Aloisia was the great-grandchild of the sister of Hitler’s paternal grandmother, meaning she was part of the Schicklgruber side of the family, Beierl said. Her family was close to Hitler’s family, and Hitler’s father helped her father get a job as a civil servant in Vienna, he added. Hitler's father was named Alois.
‘The entire line died out’
Ryback said he and Beierl, who have researched Hitler’s family for five years, kept coming across “cases of either physical or mental disabilities in Hitler’s family.”
The Schicklgruber side of the family was especially hard-hit and “crashed into suicide and mental illness,” he added. “The entire line died out.”
Ryback and Beierl plan to map the cases of disabilities in a 1,200-page genealogy of Hitler’s family. Once that work is done, they plan to present it to “an expert on hereditary diseases who then can draw whatever conclusion,” Ryback said.