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Hans Güllendorf
Hans Güllendorf
© Archiv Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf

Hans Güllendorf * 1922

Hübbesweg 31 (Hamburg-Mitte, Hamm)

JG. 1922
‚VERLEGT’ 1943
TOT 2.5.1945

Hans Güllendorf, born 25 Mar. 1922 in Hamburg, admitted to the Alsterdorf Institution 7 July 1930, transferred to the Mainkofen Institution 11 Aug. 1943, died there 2 May 1945

When one reads Frieda Güllendorf’s letter of 1 July 1930 to the administrator of the Alsterdorf Institution, in which she requests that "the doctors please assign a caring attendant to the child, in order to ease his adjustment to the institution,” one has to ask why the parents chose to institutionalize their son. "With great effort and unending patience,” she and her husband "had taught Hans to be very deft at household chores, dishwashing, and tidying up. When playing, the child shows great interest in soccer, gymnastics, and dancing, and he has a fine sense for music and constantly asks for a violin. In my observation, his development has progressed on a daily basis, and his speech has improved steadily. He sleeps well, and he likes to eat. He is toilet trained and indicates when he needs to go to the bathroom. … He likes to comb his hair and to bathe, and polishing boots is a favorite pastime.” All of his abilities, his helpfulness, and his pronounced talent for observation were coupled, however, with an extraordinary liveliness, whereby he lacked discernment and consideration. He often accidentally broke things, and caused such a disturbance that, by the time he was eight years old, the family could not keep him at home any longer.

Hans was the youngest of six children from his father’s second marriage. One of the children, Erich (*1911), had died of meningitis. When Hans was born, his father, the plumber and mechanic Carl Güllendorf, was 55 years old and, it was said, mentally ill. In 1910 he had married Ottilie Friederike Järnicke, called Frieda, who was eleven years his junior. His first wife, Margareta, née Tenzer, had died the year before, leaving behind a four-year-old son.

Caring for the six children and her husband took all of Frieda’s energy. Carl Güllendorf received a pension, but it had to be supplemented by welfare benefits. Not only Hans needed special attention, but also one of the daughters, who had lost her hearing after an infection of the ear canal and developed a speech impediment. Whereas all of the children attended the public school on Hübbesweg until they graduated, she transferred, much too late, to the School for the Deaf on Kampstraße for her final year of schooling.

Hans was admitted for eight days for observation to the children’s ward of the St. Georg General Hospital on Baustraße (present-day Hinrichsenstraße) in Hamburg-Borgfelde. The observation resulted in a diagnosis of "moderate feeble-mindedness,” and the Hamburg Welfare Agency’s consulting physician approved his admission to the Alsterdorf Institution. The alternative would have been the Friedrichsberg State Institution, but Hans’ parents chose the Lutheran foundation, on the recommendation of Pastor Heldmann and because of their own beliefs, as can be seen in Frieda’s letter: "We now give over our dearly beloved child into the hands of the esteemed Alsterdorf Institution, with the words of Christ: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ May God send those who work with our child His thousandfold blessing for their works of mercy.” The Güllendorf family belonged to the Church of the Trinity in Hamburg-Horn. Hans was christened there on 17 June 1923, and his parents chose Isaiah 43:1 as his christening Bible verse: "Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”

When Hans was admitted to the Alsterdorf Institution on 7 July 1930, the diagnosis was changed from "feeble-mindedness,” which was explained as a result of his parents’ nervousness, to "mongolism,” what we now call Down Syndrome. Hans was described as "typical”: jolly, funny, nimble, clever, and agile, he wanted to touch and hold everything, but was clumsy with his toys. He needed some help in caring for himself. Shortly after Hans’ admission, the Institution administration wrote Carl Güllendorf, saying that Hans had settled in well and that he was well-liked among the other children. It was impressive how well he had learned to do household chores, and that everything seemed easy for him. He was not homesick, probably because life in the institution was so eventful.

Hans attended a playschool. At first he seemed uninterested, but he was "tender and caring” to the other children. He became ill several times, and had several bouts of pneumonia, so that he was often in the hospital for shorter or longer periods of time. While he remained happy to do chores and diligent in doing them, he did not make any meaningful progress in the playschool. Although his speaking ability improved only somewhat, he could readily make himself understood. He was generally calm, compliant, and affectionate, and he developed idiosyncrasies: sometimes he indicated illness by touching his forehead, as if he were feeling for fever, or he propped his head in his hands. He used a stick to conduct imaginary music or as a violin bow, as he had done while living at home. When there was real music, he danced.

Hans’ puberty had the "normal” ups and downs, which sometimes startled the attendants, considering the sexual views of the time, but his behavior was not an extraordinary burden. Despite some willfulness, Hans never put himself or others in danger, and was thus allowed to take walks with his visitors outside of the Institution’s premises. The doctors recommended that the family take Hans home to visit for several days at a time, and they did so whenever possible. Carl Güllendorf died on 21 May 1938, aged 71.

At 18, Hans had reached conscription age, but was, as expected, exempted from serving in the military. The Social Services Administration requested a medical report about Hans Güllendorf’s health. Gerhard Kreyenberg diagnosed "mongoloid idiocy,” and certified that he was physically healthy and had a very childlike, compliant, friendly and helpful nature. Six months later, on 19 August 1941, the Hamburg Social Services Administration approved Hans’ continued residence in an institution until 30 November 1945. He died six months before this date.

Frieda Güllendorf lost her home in the firestorm in Hamburg at the end of July 1943 and was evacuated to Schwarzenbach in Upper Franconia. The buildings of the Alsterdorf Institution were heavily damaged in early August 1943. In order to make room for victims of the bombings and other war victims, Pastor Lensch, the head of the Institute at that time, in cooperation with the Hamburg Public Health Authority and the "Euthanasia Central Office” in Berlin (called "T4” after its address at Tiergartenstraße 4), transferred several hundred residents to distant institutions.

On 11 August, 113 male children, youth, and adults were transferred to the Mainkofen Institution near Passau. The Gemeinnützige Krankentransport (GekraT – "Charitable Ambulance Service”), the T4’s transport service, drove the patients to the Hamburg Central Station in their dreaded gray buses. There they were put onto a hospital train. The reasons that Hans Güllendorf was chosen for this transport are not indicated in his hospital records. There is a group photo of four boys, three girls and an attendant who all had Down Syndrome. One of the girls, Ida Langmann, was also transferred. She was sent to Vienna, where she died.

Frieda Güllendorf learned of Hans’ transfer in September 1943, and planned to visit him in Mainkofen, but she was unable to do so. Instead she sent him a package and asked for information about his condition. She was told that Hans’ "condition was unchanged, he had acclimatized well and showed agreeable behavior.”

Hans Güllendorf lacked a few of the abilities to qualify as a "boys’ aide,” a patient who helped other patients, but he could be assigned to help with household chores. This saved his life in the next two years, until he developed an intestinal tract infection in April 1945, which led to his death on 2 May 1945. It cannot be determined if the infection was the result of a deliberate starvation diet and consequential exhaustion.

At this time, during the last days of the war, it was impossible to telephone or telegraph Frieda Güllendorf. She was sent a letter informing her of her son’s death and his burial at the institution’s cemetery on the morning of 4 May. It is not known when she received the letter. Hans was 23 years old when he died.

Translator: Amy Lee

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Hildegard Thevs

Quellen: Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 332-5 Standesämter, 7205-594/1938; Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, V 409 und Erbgesundheitskartei; Wunder, Michael, Ingrid Genkel, Harald Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr. Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus, 2. Aufl. Hamburg 1988.

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