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Selma Baresch
Selma Baresch
© Archiv Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf

Selma Marie Baresch * 1886

Kleiner Schäferkamp 31 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)

JG. 1886
"VERLEGT" 16.8.1943
ERMORDET 19.4.1945

Selma Baresch, born on 8 July 1886, admitted on 26 Apr. 1935 to the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten), transferred on 16 Aug. 1943 to the Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt, death on 19 Apr. 1945

Kleiner Schäferkamp 31

Marie Selma Baresch was born as the second of six children of the shoemaker Thomas Baresch and his wife Pauline, née Scheuermann, on 8 July 1886 in Petersdorf, a town in the Silesian District of Hirschberg. Only three of the children, Selma, Rudolf, and Franziska, reached the age of majority. The father, born on 21 Dec. 1857, came from Bohemia and had Austrian citizenship; the mother, born on 27 Oct. 1865, received it due to her marriage, as did the children later on. Thomas Baresch was a Catholic, his wife a Protestant. They were married on 5 Aug. 1884 in the Protestant church; they raised their children in the Protestant faith.

Even though Thomas Baresch’s occupation was listed as a master shoemaker on Selma’s birth certificate, he signed with three crosses. However, this did not detract from his ability to cope with life. In 1894, he emigrated, at first on his own, via Hamburg to New York, though returning from there after a year and staying in Hamburg, where the Altona directory lists him with a residential address on Hamburger Strasse and Eimsbütteler Strasse since 1895.

Thomas Baresch had his family follow him to Hamburg. Selma was ten years old at the time, and her younger brother, born on 19 Apr. 1892, was four years of age. Selma, who started primary school while still in Petersdorf, completed the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) in Hamburg. She was a good student, even though she had to take a one-year break due to a lung disorder during her school days.

In 1905, the Baresch family moved into a ground-floor apartment at Kleiner Schäferkamp 31, where they stayed until 1938. By that time, Selma had already worked for five years as an industrious and capable accountant.

In 1907, Selma Baresch fell ill and did not become fit for gainful employment again. There was an incident at the beginning of her illness: Her boss was sick and she feared he might die. She dressed in black and wished to call on him at the Helenenstift of the German Red Cross on Allee (today Max-Brauer Allee) to bring him money. Since she was not admitted to see him, she believed he was dead. In her state of confusion, she was picked up by police and taken to Altona Hospital. On condition that she continue treatment at home, she was discharged, but the hoped-for recovery did not materialize. She kept on having hallucinations, accompanied by severe mood swings and absent-mindedness.

Against the will of her parents and of the physician, she went to the office to work on 21 Nov. 1907 but became so abusive toward superiors that she was taken to the "Friedrichsberg lunatic asylum” ("Irrenanstalt Friedrichsberg”) because of paranoia. During the admission formalities, she willingly and fully comprehensibly answered all questions about herself. Eight months later, she was discharged with a diagnosis of "schizophrenia” to stay with her family, where she spent the next five years. However, Selma Baresch’s condition deteriorated to such an extent that on 1 June 1913, one month before her twenty-seventh birthday, was taken to Friedrichsberg again with a diagnosis of "dementia praecox,” a form of schizophrenia with early onset. In contrast to five and a half years earlier, at this time she did not respond at all to the questions asked.

Selma Baresch spent the time of the First World War in Friedrichsberg. She worked in, among other places, the potato cellar, was hard working and mostly calm and content, though she did remain unapproachable. During the first visits by her mother, she behaved coolly toward her, but in the following years, she enjoyed going home on several vacations.

Since Selma’s conditions did not improve, she was transferred to what was then the Langenhorn "sanatorium and nursing home” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt” Langenhorn) on 25 Oct. 1918, where she conducted herself inconspicuously throughout. She cared for herself, was easy to guide, though she did not show any interests. After a two-year stay, she was discharged to go home as patient improved, initially for an indefinite time and then, in Feb. 1921, supposedly for good. In October of the following year, the father passed away, and from his inheritance, Selma received a pension.

However, Selma Baresch continued believing that she heard voices, as a result of which she was admitted to Friedrichsberg for a third time. The period from 1923 to 1935 apparently passed without any special incidents. She worked in the vegetable cellar for a time, sewed slippers, and weaved bedside rugs. There were also times when she could not be employed at anything. Her interest was focused exclusively on food. She barely said anything but she was oriented in terms of time and place.

On 26 Apr. 1935, Selma Baresch was transferred to what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten), with the costs covered by the welfare office. Upon her arrival, she seemed listless and in need of care, as a result of which she was assigned to the highest class of nursing care. After half a year, the report to the welfare office stated that she was dependent on others and in terms of her nature, friendly and content, though occasionally stubborn as well. She also seemed to have become somewhat more active. Steady work like weaving failed due to her listlessness, but she did lend a helping hand to a modest extent on the ward. Her main interest continued to be food. Every Sunday, Selma was visited by her mother. To the welfare office, her conditions seemed so unchanged that in 1937, the assumption of costs was assured until the end of 1941.

After the occupation of Czechoslovakia, Selma was supposed to vote in the election there, something that proved impossible due to her state, though it did raise the question of her citizenship. The part of Bohemia from which her father came had become Czech after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, causing the family members to receive Czech citizenship, though without losing the residence permit for the German Reich. Based on an ordinance issued on 20 Apr. 1939, Selma was granted German citizenship on 30 Jan. 1940.

In 1939, her mother was no longer eligible as a guardian in accordance with the principles of the guardianship court because she had become too frail. For representing her financial interests, which concerned the monthly pension of 200 RM (reichsmark), Selma Baresch was given guardians appointed by the court. The mother passed away on 8 Oct. 1942. Selma’s younger brother Rudolf, a judicial inspector with the District Court (Amtsgericht) in Olmütz, maintained loose contact to the institutional management.

On 13 Apr. 1942, the social administration approved a further assumption of costs for Selma Baresch until 31 Mar. 1945. All of these proceedings apparently unfolded without Selma’s input. Her conduct had changed since the beginning of 1941. She behaved aggressively toward fellow patients and the nurses, threw around objects, tore up clothing, and spat into meals. Perhaps it was these newly emerging "difficulties” in dealing with her that prompted the institutional management to transfer her to Vienna.

The institution that was then the Alsterdorf Asylum had been damaged in early Aug. 1943 during the heavy Allied air raids on Hamburg. The director at the time, Pastor Friedrich Lensch, arranged the transfer of several hundred male and female patients to areas "safe from bombing” ("luftsicher”) in order to make room for bomb victims and wounded persons. The largest group, 228 girls and women, was transferred to Vienna on 16 Aug. 1943, among them Selma Baresch.

At the time of admission, no conversation came about between the physician and Selma Baresch. She spent the first days in the foreign environment calm, agreeable, and apathetic in the dayroom.

At the beginning of 1944, Selma changed noticeably. Her lack of interest now extended to food as well. During her eight-year stay at the Alsterdorf Asylum, Selma Baresch had lost about 20 kilograms (approx. 44 lbs), weighing 68 kilograms (150 lbs.) in relation to a height of 1.57 meters (nearly 5 ft 2 in). Selma Baresch fell ill with abdominal conditions that were easier to treat from a caregiver’s perspective when the patient stayed in bed. Therefore, the nurses had Selma Baresch spend more time in bed than before. As soon as she got up, her feet swelled. On 15 May 1944, she was transferred to the special care ward, and by the end of the year, her weight had dropped to 42 kilograms (92.5 lbs), apparently a consequence of her illness and the lack of its treatment as well as inadequate nutrition. Until 17 Feb. 1945, no further observations were noted.

Selma Baresch’s official guardian inquired about her state of health at the beginning of Feb. 1945. As a result, Selma was examined and the result summarized as follows: "Your ward, S. B., is still alive, though lately she has deteriorated considerably due to a cardiac defect. There has also been a further decline in the mental condition of the patient. This involves schizophrenia in its final state. Dr. Wunderer, signed in his own hand.”

Selma spent her days quiet in bed, she was oriented, and she responded with single words when addressed. Apparently, she no longer had any delusions. Her body was stiff and bent forward; she avoided moving her head. She continued to lose weight and weighed only 40 kilograms (approx. 88 lbs) in Mar. 1945.

On 13 Apr. 1945, Vienna was captured by the Red Army.

A report written two months later documented that Selma Baresch was very weak and frail, suffering from severe diarrhea. On 19 Apr. 1945 at 6.30 a.m., she died. The cause of death indicated was "schizophrenia in the final state. Marasmus [emaciation]. Enterocolitis [enteritis].” This matched the facts, though these conditions had been brought about willingly and deliberately.

At the Viennese institution, patients were killed through lethal medications and systematic starvation. At least 257 of the 300 patients transferred there on 16 Aug. 1943 from the Alsterdorf Asylum and from the Langenhorn "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt” had perished by 1945.

Selma Baresch was buried in the Vienna-Baumgarten municipal cemetery on 22 Apr. 1945, located directly next to the "nursing home.” She reached the age of 59.

Her guardian in Hamburg received word of her death only upon inquiry, on 17 June 1946.

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: April 2018
© Hildegard Thevs

Quellen: AB Hamburg; StaH Passagierlisten der HAPAG und Ellis Island; Archiv der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf, V 389; Wunder u. a., Auf dieser schiefen Ebene; Diercks, "Euthanasie", S. 25 und 50; Mitteilungen der Großnichte Meike Baresch, März 2014.

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