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Werner Heyde Organizer of Nazi Germany's T-4 Euthanasia Program

Professor Werner Heyde during his arrest by a German policeman on November 12th, 1959
Professor Werner Heyde during his arrest by a German policeman on November 12th, 1959

Werner Heyde (aka Fritz Sawade) (April 25, 1902 in Forst - February 13, 1964 in Frankfurt) was a German psychiatrist. He was one of the main organizers of Nazi Germany's T-4 Euthanasia Program.


Heyde completed his Abitur in 1920. From 1922 to 1925 he studied medicine in Berlin, Freiburg, Marburg and Würzburg and after short placements at the General Hospital in Cottbus and the sanatorium Berlin-Wittenau became assistant doctor at the Universitätsnervenklinik (university psychiatric hospital) in Würzburg. He obtained his licence to practice medicine in 1926, having completed all courses throughout his studies with top ranks.

Career until 1945

In 1933, Heyde made the acquaintance of Theodor Eicke, and became member of the NSDAP. One year later he was appointed director of the polyclinic in Würzburg. In 1935 he entered the SS as medical officer with the rank of a SS-Hauptsturmführer, and became commander of the medical unit in the SS-Totenkopfverbände. There he was responsible for establishing a system of psychiatric and eugenic examinations and research in concentration camps, and for the organisation of the T-4 Euthanasia Program. Additionally, he also worked as a psychiatric consultant for the Gestapo.

In 1938, he was appointed chief of staff of the medical department in the SS-Hauptamt (headquarters); in 1939, he became professor for psychiatry and neurology at the University of Würzburg, and from 1940 on he also was director of the psychiatric hospital.

He was replaced as head of the T4 program by Paul Nitsche in 1941, but continued his involvement as member of the "department Brack" (after the end of World War II, it was never found out what his role there was).

In 1944 he was awarded the SS-Totenkopfring, and before the end of the war reached the rank of SS-Standartenführer (Colonel).

Life after 1945

After World War II Heyde was interned and imprisoned, but escaped in 1947. He went underground using the alias Fritz Sawade and continued practicing as sports physician and psychiatrist in Flensburg. Many friends and associates knew about his real identity, but remained silent even as he was an expert witness in court cases. His true identity was revealed in the course of a private quarrel in 1959. He was imprisoned in Frankfurt/Main, but committed suicide before the start of the trial in 1964. Six years later Gerhard Richter has taken the motif of this photo as a foil for an oil painting in 1965.


  • Klee, Ernst, Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. S. Fischer Verlag 2003. ISBN 3-10-039309-0
  • Godau-Schüttke, Klaus-Detlev, Die Heyde/Sawade-Affäre. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 1998. ISBN 3-7890-5717-7


  • 1963 (GDR): The Heyde-Sawade affair (Category: biography/drama) (Produced in the DEFA-studios for movies, Potsdam, Babelsberg/Eastern Germany. Produced by Bernhard Gelbe; script by Wolfgang Luderer, Walter Jupé and Friedrich Karl Kaul and directed by Wolfgang Luderer. Available via the Foundation German TV and Broadcast Arkhive Babelsberg. Arkhive-No. IDNR 03581. Length: 101 minutes, First run: June 3, 1963 in the television programme No. 1 of the German Democratic Republic).

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