First name:
Hermann Paul
19th century
20th century
Field of expertise:
Place of birth:
Colditz (DE)
* 25.11.1876
† 25.03.1948
Biography print

German psychiatrist, medical director of the “Action T4” euthanasia programme.


Hermann Paul Nitsche (1876-1948) was born in Colditz, Saxony, as the son of a psychiatrist. After his school education in Pirna and Dresden, he studied medicine in Leipzig, Berlin and Göttingen from 1896 to 1901. Having gained his medical license in 1901, he worked as a junior physician at a number of hospitals, including the municipal asylum in Frankfurt on the Main and the psychiatric clinics of Heidelberg University and Munich University (the latter post under the supervision of Emil Kraepelin). He became senior physician at Dresden’s municipal asylum in 1907, transferred to Pirna as the deputy director of the state clinic Sonnenstein in 1913 and assumed the post of director of the asylum in Leipzig-Dösen in 1918. In view of the economically tense situation after the end of WWI, he introduced reforms that both saved costs and activated the patients, such as work therapy based on the concept developed by Hermann Simon or the principle of “open” outpatient care (Müller 2006). In 1925, the government of Saxony awarded him the title of professor for his achievements. Nitsche returned to Pirna-Sonnenstein as the institution’s director in 1928. He performed sterilisations on allegedly “hereditarily predisposed” patients even before the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring came into effect in 1934 (Böhm 2012: 296). When the Sonnenstein Clinic was closed in 1939, he resumed his directorial post in Dösen.


Organiser of patient killings

In May 1940, Nitsche was granted leave from his post to take an active role in the preparation of patient killings as part of the Nazi “euthanasia” programme (later referred to as “Action T4”). Initially the programme’s deputy director, he succeeded Werner Heyde as medical director in 1941. He conducted overdose experiments with the barbiturate Luminal, killing at least 60 of his Dösen patients. During Nitsche’s time as medical director of the T4 programme, this so-called “Luminal scheme” – the injection of an overdose – was used in “thousands of cases ... in order to perform euthanasia” (Nitsche, quoted in Böhm 2012: 299). He was also involved in the production of propaganda material justifying forced sterilisations and the killing of patients in order to calm a worried public: he contributed, for instance, to the script of the 1941 film Ich klage an (I accuse).


Nitsche was the main accused in the medical war crimes trial in Dresden and sentenced to death for crimes against humanity. He was executed on 25 March 1948.



Böhm, B. (2012): Paul Nitsche – Reformpsychiater und Hauptakteur der NS-“Euthanasie”. In: Der Nervenarzt 83, (3), pp. 293-302.

Fiebrandt, M., H. Markwardt (2008): Die Angeklagten im Dresdner “Euthanasie”-Prozess. In: B. Böhm, G. Hacke (eds.): Fundamentale Gebote der Sittlichkeit. Der “Euthanasie”-Prozess vor dem Landgericht Dresden 1947. Dresden: Stiftung Sächsische Gedenkstätten, pp. 95-129.

Mitscherlich, A., F. Mielke (1960): Medizin ohne Menschlichkeit. Dokumente des Nürnberger Ärzteprozesses. Frankfurt on the Main: Fischer.

Müller, T. (2006): Zwischen Psychiatriereform und Euthanasie – Denken und Handeln von Hermann Paul Nitsche. In: Sozialpsychiatrische Informationen 36, (4), pp. 13-19.

Nitsche, P. (1902): Über Gedächtnisstörung in zwei Fällen von organischer Gehirnkrankheit. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung des Grades Doctor rerum medicarum des Fachbereichs Humanmedizin der Universität Berlin.

Nitsche, P. (1912): Städtische Heil- und Pflegeanstalt zu Dresden. In: J. Bresler (ed.): Deutsche Heil- und Pflegeanstalten für Psychisch-Kranke in Wort und Bild. Halle/Saale: Marhold, pp. 248-255.

Nitsche, P. (1929): Allgemeine Therapie und Prophylaxe der Geisteskrankheiten. In: O. Bumke (ed.): Handbuch der Geisteskrankheiten, Vol. IV. Berlin: Springer, pp. 1-131.

Nitsche, P. (1932): Zur Indikationsstellung für die therapeutische Beeinflussung sexueller Anomalien durch Kastration. In: Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medizin 97, pp. 168-188.

Nitsche, P. (1936): Erbpflege im Familienrecht. Psychiatrische Gesichtspunkte für rassedienstliche Auslegung und Ausgestaltung des Eherechts. In: Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medizin 104, pp. 208-232.


Julian Schwarz


Referencing format
Julian Schwarz (2015): Nitsche, Hermann Paul.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:24.05.2024)