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Irene Grebe
Irene Grebe
© Archiv Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf

Irene Grebe * 1915

Telemannstraße 46 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)

JG. 1915
´VERLEGT‘ 16.8.1943
ERMORDET 19.6.1944

Irene Grebe, born 6.1.1915 in Hamburg, admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten, now Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf), "transferred" to Vienna on 16.8.1943 to the "Wagner von Jauregg - Curative and Nursing Home of the City of Vienna” ("Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt der Stadt Wien", also known as the institution "Am Steinhof") in Vienna, died there on 19.6.1944.

Telemannstraße 46 (Eimsbüttel)

Irene Nelly Ingeborg Grebe was born in Hamburg on 6 Jan. 1915. She was the youngest child of Elise Maria Caroline, née Timm, born on 23 July 1873 in Langenfelde, and the laborer Friedrich Gustav Willi Grebe, born on 2 Sept. 1882 in Sylda in today's Mansfeld-Südharz district.
(Langenfelde was part of Stellingen-Langenfelde in 1915 and was incorporated into Altona in 1927, and into Hamburg on 1 Apr. 1938).

Irene's parents were Protestants. They had married in Hamburg on 28 Dec. 1907. Irene's older sister Helena was born on 9 July 1908, and her older brother Walter on 19 July 1912.

As a result of polio, Irene Grebe suffered from a hip and leg condition that severely hindered her walking. According to the doctor’s examination in 1924 at the General Hospital Barmbek, there was a chance of a cure, but her parents refused treatment. They said that other children walked around like that, too. When they continued to refuse to give Irene specialist treatment, the parents were deprived of custody of their child.

On 6 Febr. 1925, Irene Grebe was again admitted to the General Hospital Barmbek. She was now under the care of the welfare authority. This follows from the note in her patient file that the "child was brought by a welfare lady without further details". A psychiatric report written at the end of her hospital stay on 7 June 1925 concluded that Irene was a "feeble-minded" child who was, however, capable of education to a certain extent. (The term "feeble-minded", which is no longer used today, referred to a reduction in intelligence or congenital intelligence weakness).

The senior physician at the General Hospital Barmbek, Heinrich Embden, suggested trying to attend an auxiliary school. Should this fail, Heinrich Embden continued, the Alsterdorf Asylum would have to step in. The education of this child was undoubtedly a difficult task that required special mental abilities from the parents, which they did not have. Therefore it was urgently necessary to leave the child in public education.

Irene attended the auxiliary school Eichenstraße 55 in Hamburg-Eimsbüttel and the auxiliary school section in the "Landheim Besenhorst" near Geesthacht, which was used by the Hamburg orphanage of the welfare authority. Exact dates are not known.

On 11 Sept. 1928, Irene Grebe was finally admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum. At that time, her parents lived at Telemannstraße 46 in Hamburg-Eimsbüttel.

During Irene’s admission, the diagnosis was noted as "epilepsy, feeble-mindedness, flaccid paralysis of the right leg". Irene could "speak well, dress and undress herself, eat alone." She attended the institutional school for a time, was discharged from school in November 1930 and readmitted in 1934 at her request. Irene's moods were described as extremely volatile, she was said to be clingy, stubborn, defiant, willing and prompt at household chores. No information is available about the success of the renewed school attendance.

At the beginning of 1936, Irene Grebe's rare epileptic seizures were reported, which were treated with Luminal. At the request of the senior physician of the Alsterdorf Asylum, SA member Gerhard Kreyenberg, Irene Grebe was incapacitated on 27 Febr. 1936 because of "epilepsy combined with a feeble-mindedness of considerable degree". Also at the request of Gerhard Kreyenberg, the then hereditary health court decided that the 21-year-old should undergo sterilisation. The procedure was carried out on 7 Sept. 1937 at the Eppendorf University Hospital.

The basis for this procedure was the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases" of July 1933, with which the National Socialists had established the formal legal basis for forced "infertility". According to this law, a person could be rendered infertile, among other things, "if, according to the experience of medical science, it can be expected with a high degree of probability that his or her offspring will suffer from severe physical or mental hereditary defects." (see Reichsgesetzblatt I Nr. 86/1933 S. 146 ff.)

In the years that followed, the reports about the young woman largely repeated. She was now said to have been agitated more often and therefore had to be admitted to the guardroom. Guardrooms had been introduced as a therapeutic measure in the Alsterdorf Asylum at the end of the 1920s. In the course of the 1930s, patients were sedated there mainly with restraints and medication. Those concerned often perceived this as punishment.

Apparently, Irene Grebe had only sporadic contact, if any, with her parents after her admission to the Alsterdorf Asylum. We do not know whether she was informed that her mother had died on 24 July 1941.

During the heavy air raids on Hamburg at the end of July/beginning of August 1943 ("Operation Gomorrha"), the Alsterdorf Asylum also suffered bomb damage. The director of the institution, SA member Pastor Friedrich Lensch, used the opportunity, with the approval of the health authorities, to get rid of some of the residents who were considered to be "weak in labour, in need of care or particularly difficult" by transporting them to other sanatoriums and nursing homes. On 16 Aug. 1943, 228 women and girls from Alsterdorf and 72 girls and women from the Langenhorn sanatorium and nursing home were "transferred" to Vienna to the "Wagner von Jauregg - Curative and Nursing Home of the City of Vienna” ("Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt der Stadt Wien", also known as the institution "Am Steinhof"). Among them was also Irene Grebe.

In Vienna, Irene Grebe was also kept in the guardroom, because she was allegedly often agitated and angry. She was always in an irritable mood, shouting, swearing, scratching and hitting. And she had wanted to return to Hamburg. In February 1944, she was treated with electric shocks. There is no record of the result in the patient's file. The reports in May 1944 were contradictory: on the one hand, Irene Grebe was doing well, on the other hand, she was very restless and therefore isolated.

On 16 June 1944, continuous seizures were noted. She had been very weak and unresponsive. Her temperature was given as 38 degrees, the following day as 37.8 degrees.

In the morning of 19 June 1944, Irene Grebe allegedly died of pneumonia hypostatica.

This cause of death is defined as pneumonia, which usually results from fluid accumulation in the back of the lungs and occurs especially in persons who lie on their backs for long periods of time. Imbecility (mental retardation) with seizures was given as another cause of death.

The medical records show that Irene Grebe had lost ten kilograms of weight during her stay in the Vienna asylum from the 43.5 kg she still weighed in Alsterdorf. The now 29-year-old woman's last weight was 33.5 kg.

The "Wagner von Jauregg - Curative and Nursing Home of the City of Vienna” was an intermediate facility of the killing centre Hartheim near Linz during the "Aktion-T4" (name for the "euthanasia" programme of the National Socialists, named after the location of the Berlin "euthanasia" headquarters at Tiergartenstraße 4). After the official end of the euthanasia murders in the killing centres in August 1941, the murders in the previous intermediate institutions, including the Vienna institution itself, continued on a mass scale: through overdoses of medication and non-treatment of diseases, but above all through food deprivation.

By the end of 1945, 257 of the 300 Hamburg girls and women had died, 196 of them from Alsterdorf.

Translation: Elisabeth Wendland

Stand: July 2023
© Ingo Wille

Quellen: Adressbuch Hamburg 1925/1928; Ev. Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, Patientenakte V339 (Irene Grebe); Michael Wunder, Ingrid Genkel, Harald Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr – Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus, Stuttgart 2016, S. 283 ff., 331 ff.

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