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Hedwig Haack
Hedwig Haack
© Archiv Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf

Hedwig Haack * 1909

Schanzenstraße 73 (Altona, Sternschanze)

JG. 1909
"VERLEGT" 16.8.1943
ERMORDET 13.10.1943

Hedwig Haack, born 10/17/1909, admitted to the Alsterdorfer Anstalten on 1/4/1926, transferred to the municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt in Vienna on 8/16/1943, died there on 12/10/1943

Schanzenstrasse 73

On October 17th, 1909, Frieda Haack, née Müller, gave birth to her third child, a daughter, who was given the names of her future godmothers Hedwig, Minna and Olga; Hedwig was the name by which she went. Hedwig’s two elder siblings were followed by three younger ones, of whom one brother died in infancy. Hedwig Haack was baptized at the Lutheran Church of St. Thomas in Hamburg-Rothenburgsort; Her father Johann Haack worked for the municipal gasworks nearby. Hedwig’s development as an infant was no different from that of her siblings. The children lived in Rothenburgsort, where Hedwig started school at the age of six. Her mother died young of pneumonia. Her father and his second wife were overburdened.

In November, 1918, the Hamburg youth welfare office admitted Hedwig to the hospital ward of the local orphanage, from where she was assigned to varying foster parents in Harburg County, where she also went to school. She stood out by her good memory that was in contrast to her slight power of comprehension. After eight years of elementary school, she was dismissed from sixth grade. Her foster families told the youth welfare agency she was friendly and willing, but slow and awkward at her tasks.

The regular medical examinations revealed no peculiarities, but her physical and mental development was now retarded compare to other girls of her age. At Easter, 1924, Hedwig Haack was confirmed at the church in Harmstorf, a small village near Harburg. Confirmation at the age of 14 marked the entry into working life. Hedwig stayed with her foster parents and was given simple tasks. In July, 1924, she had her first epileptic attack; in the following year, the attacks became more frequent, so that she was again admitted to infirmary of the Hamburg orphanage on April 22nd, 1925. Following a heavy epileptic attack, and three weeks later, she started taking Luminal, which blocked further attacks; the therapy ended after three months.

As after previous relocations, Hedwig Haack remained friendly and agreeable. She was now 16 years old and, in the doctor’s opinion, seemed to have reached the end of her development, a fact that, to the doctor, justified making a forecast of her future: "It doesn’t seem that her mental capacity and her ability to do useful work are to substantially expand any more. In addition, recidivisms of her epileptic attacks are well possible. This renders her incapable of achieving even a modest position in life on her own. Therefore, the only resort will be to admit her to the Alsterdorfer Anstalten.”

On January 4th, 1926, Hedwig Haack entered the Alsterdorfer Anstalten. Her sister Dora from Jesteburg kept in touch with her. Her father in the meantime had remarried and now lived at Schanzenstrasse 73 in Altona had remarried and now endeavored to bring his daughter home again. After the welfare agency had granted the necessary permission, her stepbrother came to pick her up on October 19th, 1926. Bur before the end of the month, she returned to Alsterdorf before the end of the month on account of continuous spasms to spend the second half of her life there. Hedwig Haack was an inconspicuous patient who cared for herself and her clothes well and led a quiet life, only becoming fierce and violent when an attack was imminent or when she felt assaulted. Hedwig carefully performed familiar household talks, but was unwilling to take new duties. Obviously, there was still contact with her family, because the management of the institution informed them, indicating the visiting hours when she caught pneumonia and shortly thereafter the flu in 1928. In April, 1933, Hedwig Haack received a letter from her brother Paul in Kirch Jesar near Ludwigslust, where he had entered the services of the local pastor in 1928. He was looking forward to the torchlight procession on May 1st, he wrote, and felt very much attached to the NSDAP like everybody else in the village.

Hedwig was very unhappy about the fact that neither her father nor her brothers and sisters came to visit her, even though the Mother Superior as well as the institution’s management had asked them to come. Other patients unsuccessfully tried to console her by sharing presents with her. In the course of the years, she became weaker and weaker on account of the regularly recurring epileptic attacks and acute illnesses, and back aches increased due to a distortion of her spine. When she was physically too weak to do housework, she was given sewing work. At the age of 30 she began to consciously suffer from her declining vigor and often cried about this.

Two years later, the nursing staff noted that she was so feeble, quiet, peaceful and diligent that she was hardly noticed in her ward, but she was meticulous regarding her personal care. This attitude endured almost until she died.

Following the partial destruction of the Alsterdorfer Anstalten in the first days of August, 1943, several hundred patients were transferred to "air raid safe” areas. Hedwig Haack was on the third transport that brought 228 girls and women to the Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt, the municipal mental hospital of the City of Vienna. There was no longer contact to her next of kin. In an attack shortly before her relocation from Alsterdorf, she had injured her right lower leg and her ankle. She told the doctor who received her in Vienna about it, but without remembering the attack that caused the injuries. An orientation test was part of the Vienna entrance examination. Hedwig answered questions regarding the cause of her transfer correctly but didn’t know where she was now.

She was able to produce basic knowledge after a bit of pondering but didn’t know where she was now. She was diagnosed with "epilepsy with imbecility”, i.e. moderate insanity. At the end of September, 1943, Hedwig Haack suffered an attack of erysipelas, a strep infection, which was cured. Only six days later, she was so feeble that she could no longer leave her bed and could do nothing on her own. The frequency of her epileptic attacks increased, leaving her stunned. October 12th began for Hedwig Haack without complaints, apart from her fever and feebleness. She was given Cardiazol drops against her epilepsy, a medication no longer in use today, but she was unable to swallow them. Shortly after midnight, she died of pneumonia; the diagnosis was confirmed by the autopsy. Hedwig Hack lived to be 33 years old.

Translated by Peter Hubschmid
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: April 2018
© Hildegard Thevs

Quellen: AB Hamburg; Archiv der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf, V 331; Wunder u. a., Auf dieser schiefen Ebene.

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