Behind the scenic new RheinBoulevard in Deutz, between the Hyatt Hotel and the 1980s office block of the LVR, the Rhineland Regional Association, is a small, unobtrusive memorial to a dark part of Cologne history. Next to a bus stop sign sits a bifurcated grey bus concrete replica, inscribed with the words “Wohin bringt ihr uns?” – Where are you taking us?
More than 70,000 mentally ill and handicapped men, women, and children were murdered by the Nazis in gas chambers during the secret operation “T4” in 1940 and 1941, as they were considered “not worthy of living”. The mass murder was centrally organised at Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin (hence “T4”), and the operations in the Rhineland undertaken by the predecessor of the LVR. The staff of these killing institutions later also worked in concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor. The “Monument of the Grey Buses” serves as a reminder of the transport of the patients to their deaths. Artists Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz designed the first monument for the Weißenau Psychiatric Centre near Ravensburg in 2006, based on the same bus model that drove from the hospitals to the death camps in the years 1940 and 1941.
Afterwards, replicas of that first memorial were erected throughout Germany at locations connected with “T4”, and the one right next to the LVR was sponsored by the LVR itself, as a constant reminder of and confrontation with its bureaucratic past. A good thing.