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Karl Suderburg * 1910
Anzengruberstraße 7 (Harburg, Wilstorf)
ERMORDET 11. 2. 1942
Karl Suderburg, b. 1.16.1910 in Harburg, committed to the Rotenburg Institute, transferred to the "Weilmünster State Mental Hospital," murdered there, 2.11.1942
Anzengruberstraße 7 (Wilstorf district)
When Karl Suderburg was born, the street on which his parents lived was still named Schmidtstrasse. By the wish of the residents, most of whom came from Austria, the street was renamed in 1927 after the Austrian national writer, Ludwig Anzegruber (1839–1889).
Karl Suderburg suffered from a moderate degree of "imbecility" ("weak-mindedness"). In addition, he was considerably restricted in his mobility, because of paralysis in his legs and left arm. On 19 August 1929, at the age of 19, he was admitted to the then Rotenburg Institute of the Inner Mission. The more precise circumstances of his illness and the grounds for his committal in this establishment, founded in the neighboring city district on the Wümme River, are not known.
Often heard in the Rotenburg Institute were the words of the Psalm: "How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!/The children of men take refuge in the shadow of your wings!" (Psalms: 36:7); yet the reality often appeared much different in this diocesan establishment after 1933.
Between 1933 and 1945, 335 patients in the Rotenburg Institute underwent compulsory sterilization on the basis of the National Socialist Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (14 July 1933). One girl and one woman died as a result.
After World War II started and preparations were begun for the extermination of people supposedly unworthy of life under the cover name, "T4 Action,” the directors of the establishment at first refused to register their patients, as prescribed, as either capable or incapable of work. Yet they could not prevent the Berlin headquarters of the extermination program from sending a physicians’ commission (four medical practitioners and three typists) to Rotenburg on 21 April 1941; in four workdays, it carried out on site the evaluation of 1150 patients. Despite strong reservations, leading staff members of the Rotenburg Institute monitored the evaluators, during which time they were able to intervene on behalf of their charges.
Among the 70 men who were transported from the Rotenburg Institute to the Weilmünster State Mental Hospital in Hesse on 31 July 1941 was Karl Suderburg. As expressly required, his parents were informed of the transport after the fact: "By order of the Reich Defense Commissar, you son Karl has had to be transferred to the Weilmünster (Oberlahn County) State Mental Hospital. We inform you of this in order to save you unnecessary travel expenses. Provisionally, a visit to Weilmünster is not feasible. You will, as well, receive news from there.” The reference to the "Reich Defense Commissar" was presumably supposed to give the impression to family members that war-related issues necessitated the transfer from one institution to another. The Weilmünster State Mental Hospital was one of the way-stations in the orbit of the Hadamar extermination site; the patients spent a few days at Weilmünster before being taken in busses to be killed by gas. On 24 August 1941, when the T4 Action was officially stopped, the men from Rotenburg had not yet been sent on to Hadamar. Nevertheless, that did not save them.
The "euthanasia” cessation in August 1941 led to a dramatic overcrowding of the Weilmünster State Mental Hospital. At the beginning of 1935, there had been 375 patients on the premises of the establishment; now, however, more than 1500 sick or handicapped people had to be cared for, without a proportional increase in doctors or care personnel. How severely this state of emergency impacted the patients can be seen from the lines one of the affected wrote to his mother: "We live in squalid rooms without a radio, newspaper, or books, indeed with nothing to occupy ourselves. How I long for my handicrafts. We eat out of broken crockery and dress in flimsy rags. I last bathed five weeks ago.”
The same letter conveys a shattering look into the intentionally introduced starvation of the patients: "People … die here like flies. The daily fare consists of two slices of bread with marmalade, on rare occasions, margarine, usually stale. In the afternoon and evening, we each get ¾ of a liter of water with scraps of potato and stringy cabbage waste. People become like animals and eat everything, even what they can cadge from others, also raw potatoes and beets …. Death by starvation hangs around our necks like a millstone no one knows who will be the next.”
In the period between 1941 and 1945, 2500 "patients" died at Weilmünster. In these years, the death rate at this state institution stood at between 43% and 45%. In 1942 it exceeded 50%. Of the 70 men transferred from Rotenburg in July 1941, none survived. Contributing to mass death for the most part was permanent overcrowding and an intentional worsening of nourishment as well as excessive dosing of sleeping pills and sedatives.
The highest mortality in Weilmünster occurred in the houses designated for those patients who were originally supposed to be sent further on. After the cessation of murders by gas, seven nursing sisters and care-givers were sent to these places from the Hadamar extermination site, among them the infamous nurse Pauline K. who was sent to prison as an accessory to murder. All this indicates that the deaths – here at least – were medically accelerated. Karl Suderburg belonged to those who died in these months. His life ended on 11 February 1942.
Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: January 2019
© Klaus Möller
Quellen: Archiv der Rotenburger Werke der Inneren Mission, Akten Nr. 136, 196; Rotenburger Werke (Hrsg.), Zuflucht; Wunder u. a., Kein Halten, 2. Auflage; Sander, Landesheilanstalt.