Shrieks, the harsh voices of male nurses shouting orders, rubber soles on linoleum floors, mad mumblings of insane mantras, high ceilings echoing dejection.
This is madness!
This is, what 19th century madness sounded like. At least on film.
The sounds are different here on the outskirts of Achern in Baden-Württemberg. Time muffled the sounds of the past.
Madness has ended and the woodland graves of Illenau bask peacefully in the summer sun of Southern Germany. If it was only for the sounds, bees humming, blackbirds calling and a slight breeze rustling the large trees, one would never dream of madness or unsettled minds.
Yet here it was. Everywhere.
The lunatic asylum Illenau was built in 1842 and used for nearly a hundred years. At first only a regional institution but as its fame travelled, it became more and more international. Russian graves are eternal proof of Illenau’s fame.
A fame that grounded in the way the institution was run: doctors, nurses, priests, janitors, were all part of the Illenau family. To them, insanity was more than work. It was a calling to work here. They were the heart of the institution.
The graveyard in the woods, hidden away about 150 yards away from the institutional buildings, holds the patients as well as the “Illenau family”. The rich rest under elaborate stones, the poor are commemorated by wooden crosses.
The Nazis put an end to Illenau by ordering the transportation of its patients, 50 at first. They called it evacuation but it was deportation. The destination wasn’t safety but a concentration camp.
A final destination.
The madness of the Third Reich.
Even though Illenau’s director Hans Römer tried to delay things by calling in sick and releasing as many as possible as cured from insanity, he could not stop the Nazis from taking 75 patients. They were killed and cremated 1940 in the Tötungsanstalt Schloß Grafeneck. Römer retired immediately. It was impossible for him to deal with this kind of madness, it seems.
Illenau was shut down not long after.
Those who died here, doctors and patients alike, were buried in the little graveyard in the woods.
Waldfriedhof Illenau – a peaceful place where madness ends.