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Lieselotte Drescher * 1922
Seilerstraße 36 (Hamburg-Mitte, St. Pauli)
STEINHOF / WIEN
Emmi Gertrud Lieselotte Drescher, born on 22 June 1922 in Wartulischken/Pogegen District/Memel, "transferred” on 16 Aug. 1943 from what was then Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) to the "Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt,” died there on 8 Aug. 1944
The family of Lieselotte Drescher came from what was then Memel Territory in East Prussia. Her parents had married on 10 Mar. 1920 in Piktupönen/ Pogegen District (today Piktupenai in Lithuania). Lieselotte was born on 22 June 1922 in Wartulischken (Lithuanian: Vartuliskiai), where her father Ernst Adolf Drescher (born on 10 Dec. 1893) worked as a farmer. The mother Gertrud, née Sabatsch (born on 29 Dec. 1902), was the daughter of a "master butcher” in Piktupönen.
Lieselotte’s mother Gertrud Drescher had separated from her husband, allegedly because he was drinking. She moved to Hamburg with Lieselotte and lived as a subtenant in the St. Pauli quarter at Wilhelminenstrasse 10 (today Hein-Hoyer-Strasse) and eventually at Seilerstrasse 26.
Lieselotte had two brothers: Helmuth (born on 22 Jan. 1921) and Rudolf (born on 9 Mar. 1924). After the separation of his parents, Helmuth lived with his father in Wartulischken, Rudolf with his maternal grandparents in Piktupönen.
In Apr. 1926, Lieselotte was admitted to Eppendorf General Hospital, from where she was sent to a Hamburg orphanage, as she could allegedly no longer remain in her mother’s care.
Lieselotte was described in her medical file as a lively, strong, somewhat unguided child. Since she was one year old, she suffered from epileptic seizures and showed signs of rickets (a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency). Infectious diseases such as influenza, tonsillitis, and bronchitis were also reported. When she fell ill with measles and scarlet fever, she had to go back to the hospital, as there was no possibility of isolation in the orphanage.
In a report to the youth welfare office, a nursery school teacher described Lieselotte as cheeky, stubborn, and unruly. Reportedly, she was perceived in the group as a nuisance and danger to the other children. The nursery school teacher asked that Lieselotte be placed in another institution as soon as possible.
Based on this account, Lieselotte was examined and assessed by the child and youth psychiatrist and later T4 expert Werner Villinger: "Lively, mercurial, without a sense of distance, developed above average, easy to fix, immediately has good rapport with the doctor. She has good comprehension, speaks very succinctly articulated, and in small sentences appropriate to her age. Overall, she is ahead of her age in terms of mental development. The traits of cheekiness, recalcitrance, irritability, and the tendency to irritate and challenge other children, as listed in the teacher’s report, must be seen as a consequence of the organic brain disease that manifests itself in the epileptic seizures.”
By that time, Lieselotte was treated daily with the sedative and sleep-inducing drug Phenobarbital (Luminal). However, if there were no significant improvement in the near future, she would be sent to an institution for epileptic children in the interest of the other children, according to a doctor’s decision.
In Mar. 1927, her nursery school teacher reported that in general Lieselotte had become much more "sensible” and rational. Two months later, however, her behavior was again described as "very bad.” She was insolent, cheeky, disobedient, and quarrelsome toward other children, inconsiderate and careless.
In August, shortly after her fifth birthday, Lieselotte was admitted to the then Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten; today Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf). At the beginning of 1929, according to the patient’s file, she felt a little better: "She consistently has no longer such severe seizures, and she usually regains consciousness immediately, whereas she used to be unconscious for a long time afterward.”
In the following year, a radical change occurred in Lieselotte’s life. Her mother, who had visited her regularly in the company of an "aunt,” died on 7 Jan. 1930. Gertrud Drescher had not survived an abortion.
Lieselotte, who first attended the play school in Alsterdorf, then the preschool, was described as a good student. She kept her school supplies neat and tidy. On the other hand, the school reports also said that she was argumentative and extremely difficult in character. Repeatedly, she came into conflict with the nursing staff.
Over the years, Lieselotte’s health deteriorated. By this time, the epileptic seizures occurred more frequently and severely and they lasted longer as well.
Her teacher reported at Easter 1933: "Lieselotte is superior to her classmates in knowledge and skills. She reads well and with understanding all of the readings passages from the Hansa and traffic primer. Her dictations are always error-free. [...] In class she does not create any disciplinary problems, but during her spare time there are many complaints about L[lieselotte]’s insubordination and defiance. She is very skilled at manual labor, and she works diligently and accurately.”
Lieselotte’s schooling ended in Nov. 1935, and she was excluded from school for "insolence” and "insubordination” and henceforth was called upon to do household chores, which she apparently carried out "very reluctantly.”
Whenever she was perceived as particularly disobedient, the staff transferred her to the "observation room” ["Wachsaal” – a room in which patients were immobilized and underwent continuous therapy] and isolated her there. By way of punishment, she received "scarce food,” was strapped in bed, or received "full body packs” ["Ganzpackungen” – whereby the entire body was tightly wrapped]. On two instances, she smashed a windowpane and became violent against fellow patients and nursing staff.
After several escape attempts, Lieselotte managed to escape from the Asylum on 13 Apr. 1937. However, an aunt with whom she had sought refuge in Harburg returned her.
"Observation rooms” already existed in the 1910s, but in the Alsterdorf Asylum they were not introduced until the end of the 1920s. There, restless patients were isolated and treated with permanent baths, sleep, and fever therapy. In the course of the 1930s, their function changed: By then, patients were primarily immobilized there, partly with medication and partly using restraints and other means. The persons affected often felt this to be a punishment.
Apparently, the Alsterdorf Asylum had applied for Lieselotte Drescher’s sterilization in accordance with the "Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases” ("Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses”) dated 14 July 1933. In Jan. 1938, by order of the Hereditary Health Court, the head of the "Guardian Office for Girls and Women at Risk,” Käthe Petersen, was appointed as a guardian for Lieselotte, initially on a temporary basis, until the question of German citizenship of Lieselotte’s father had been clarified. As a collective guardian of the Hamburg welfare authorities, the latter also frequently ordered the sterilization of her charges.
Lieselotte was forcibly sterilized at the age of 16 on 27 Feb. 1939 in the Eppendorf hospital. The surgery was justified based on the following diagnosis: "Hereditary falling sickness [epilepsy] with secondary feeble-mindedness, medium degree.”
During the heavy air raids on Hamburg in July/Aug. 1943 ("Operation Gomorrah”), the Alsterdorf Asylum also suffered bomb damage. The management of the institution took the opportunity, after consultation with the health authorities, to transfer some of the residents who were considered to be "weak in work performance, needy of nursing care, or particularly difficult” to other sanatoriums and nursing homes. On 16 Aug. 1943, a transport with 228 women and girls left Alsterdorf for the "Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt.” Among them was Lieselotte Drescher.
At the admission interview in Vienna, Lieselotte was described as "quiet, willing to work, and talkative.” She related that a fire had broken out in Alsterdorf, which is why she had come to Vienna. That she had been suffering from seizures for as long as she could remember. That just before the seizure, her vision would go strange, but she could not explain it further, then she would become unconscious and did not know how long it lasted. That afterward, she was very fresh and lively again. That she had gone to school in Alsterdorf and had always followed along well, never having to repeat a year.
Lieselotte was employed in the sewing room of the Vienna institution. Reportedly, she had been orderly, willing, and "useful,” but also stubborn and wanted to have her way. According to the Vienna records of Mar. 1944, Lieselotte suffered 39 severe seizures with prolonged unconsciousness in that month. In April, she was able to work in the sewing shop again. A note in her file indicated, "Pat [ient] calm, orderly, docile, oriented, goes willingly and usefully to the laundry, cares for herself independently, takes Luminal against seizures.” In July, further "continuous seizures” were noted: "Is very weak, does not eat.”
Lieselotte Drescher died in Vienna on 8 Aug. 1944 at the age of 22. The cause of death indicated was "pneumonia hypostatica in permanent epilept. state.”
Lieselotte Drescher, who had still weighed 57 kilograms (approx. 126 lbs) in Dec. 1944, weighed only 41.5 kilograms (just over 91 lbs) shortly before her death. From mid-1941 onward, patients were no longer killed in gas-killing centers, but in various sanatoriums and nursing homes through deprivation of food, lack of care, or by medication. This was also the case in Vienna.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: July 2020
© Susanne Rosendahl
Quellen: StaH 332-5 Standesämter 9846 u 65/1930; Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, Sonderakte 361; Michael Wunder, Ingrid Genkel, Harald Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr. Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus, 2. Aufl. Hamburg 1988; Ernst Klee, Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich, 2. Auflage, S. 641.
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