1940 to 1960 – The Second World War and its Consequences
20 January 1940
The Reich Defence Commissar notifies the institutions and homes that sick persons shall be relocated in groups without notification of next-of-kin. Transports of sick persons from the institutions commence in mid-April 1940. Abnormal obituaries begin appearing in newspapers shortly thereafter, i.e. immediate cremation, urn will be delivered. Pastor Braune, Vice President of the Central Board for Home Missions of the German Evangelical Church and head of the Hoffnungstal Institutions, investigates these deaths. He establishes irregularities. For example, the urn of a person from Grafeneck who died on 10 April bears the number A 498. The urn of another person from Grafeneck who died on 12 May bears the number A 1092 and another urn of a person from Grafeneck who died on 28 June is numbered A 3111. The Grafeneck Institution only had 100 beds. Pastor Braune and Fritz von Bodelschwingh go to the authorities with their information; however, they receive no response.
9 July 1940
Pastor Braune publishes the results of his investigation as a memorandum.
14 June 1940
Bethel also receives report forms on this date and refuses to fill them out.
5 September 1940
Bethel receives a letter from the Reich Minister of the Interior that demands preparation of Jewish residents for transport to another institution. In response, Bethel writes to their families and requests them to pick up their relatives. There are 13 Jewish residents at Bethel. The families of 6 of them pick them up. The other seven are sent to an assembly camp in Wunstorf and from there to a death camp.
Bethel management establishes that a state physician’s commission will visit institutions that did not fill out the report forms and will examine patients on site. Bethel fears that patients will be indiscriminately removed. For this reason, Bethel begins to sort out its patients into various categories to keep the number of affected patients as low as possible. The person’s ability to work is one of the criteria in the categorization process.
17 February 1941
The first member of the physician’s commission arrives at Bethel for preliminary discussions.
26 February 1941
The work of the physician’s commission is completed. The results of Bethel’s pre-categorization process are generally accepted. Von Bodelschwingh repeats his objections about euthanasia; however, he fails to make any impact.
The last issue of the "Bote von Bethel" (Bethel Messenger”) is published. The Nazi regime bans the church press.
24 August 1941
Official halt to euthanasia. Except for the seven Jewish residents picked up by this date, no further residents are picked up from Bethel.
Bethel and euthanasia, quotations from a West German Radio & TV (WDR) Interview in April 1992:
Question: How did Bethel deal with the issue of euthanasia?
Hans-Walter Schmuhl: “We need to call to mind that Westphalia was one of the regions where euthanasia commenced rather late. Persons at the v. Bodelschwingh Institutions already knew exactly what was going on and already had notions of how to react. On the other hand, one could also very clearly see that mass transports and mass gassings had ceased in August 1941. This came just in time to prevent major relocations from Bethel, which had already been decided and finalized in February 1941. One needs to assume that approximately 400 to 450 of Bethel’s 3,000 patients would have died had the mass transports continued. Fortunate circumstances therefore played a role in the fact that relatively few patients were picked up.”
“Seven Jewish patients were transferred out of Bethel in 1940 and they eventually died in the former Brandenburg Prison. One additionally needs to assume that a so far unknown number of Bethel patients were transferred to other institutions within the program of so-called ‘indiscriminate euthanasia’ and were taken from there to ‘indiscriminate euthanasia’ centers”.
11 bombing raids have been flown over Bethel by the end of the war. 25,000 incendiary bombs and 70 explosive bombs have been dropped: 1,100 beds lost, 100 buildings hit and 15 buildings completely destroyed. Bethel loses 58 persons in the air attacks, and 519 members of Zion Church perish during the war or are killed in action.
1945 to the end of 1950
Bethel receives thousands of inquiries regarding missing family members. “Bethel wants to help”; the voices of the churches and of many other agencies ring aloud. Bethel sets up the Bethel Search Service, the first service of this kind. Up to 80 persons work for the search service. Files contain three million names by 1950.
24 December 1945
Despite severe illness, Pastor Fritz speaks for the last time at the Christmas Eve service held at Zion Church. Pastor Fritz chooses the theme: “We approach the crib in silence with a thousand sorrows; yet the Eternal Child will comfort us all”.
4 January 1946
Fritz von Bodelschwingh dies.
10 January 1946
The board of management appoints Rudolf Hardt, an administrative director in the Evangelical Church, as the successor to Fritz von Bodelschwingh. Hardt dedicates the first years of his service primarily to reconstruction programs. Bethel has been hit in 11 air attacks “that destroyed over 1,100 patient beds...and over 70 accommodation units”.
19 July 1947
Professor Brandt, the organizer of euthanasia, states at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials: “Pastor von Bodelschwingh was the only person whom I am aware of who had given a serious warning”. Bethel’s management submits an unsuccessful petition for pardoning Brandt. He was condemned to death and executed.
The “Evangelical Press Service” sets up its headquarters at Bethel, which includes its press service, a broadcasting studio and "Unsere Kirche" (Our Church), the protestant Sunday newspaper.
Establishment of the Ravensburg Sisterhood as the second sisterhood under Sarepta’s roof. This sisterhood perceives itself as a faith and service community for Christian women; although not as a live-in community.
15 May 1955
Commencement of the one-year pre-nursing school at Bethel for young women.
Formation of the Society for Epilepsy Research
25 July 1957
Foundation stone is laid for the "Beckhof Settlement" in Senne for homeless foreigners, i.e. “displaced persons”.
Federal Chancellor Adenauer visits Bethel.
Bethel acquires the Homborn farm near Hagen as replacement for the rural home for young people located in Hermannsheide. Hermannsheide becomes a military maneuver ground of the British Army of the Rhine.
8 December 1959
Foundation stone is laid for re-construction of Mara Epilepsy Hospital.
29 October 1959
Rudolf Hardt dies. He is succeeded by Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (grandson of the first director of the v. Bodelschwingh Institutions).
The Eckardtsheim and Freistatt service units, which were previously managed from Bethel, receive the status of subsidiary institutions, as does Homborn.