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Rolf Haubenreisser (undatiert)
© Karen Haubenreisser

Rolf Haubenreisser * 1935

Hemmingstedter Weg 162 (Altona, Osdorf)

JG. 1935
1943 "VERLEGT"
TOT 16.5.1945


Rolf Haubenreisser, born 6/12/1935, admitted to the Alsterdorfer Anstalten on 3/13/1940, transferred to the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Mainkofen on 8/10/1943, murdered on 5/16/1945

Hemmingstedter Weg 162 (Liliencronweg)

It was Karen Haubenreisser who in 2011 broke the silence about the death of her uncle Rolf Haubenreisser: "It was a taboo that there had been a handicapped child in my family. A child who was killed – we kids always knew there was something bad, but neither my sister nor I would have ever asked our grandparents about it. The fate of Rolf is hardly bearable. His murder shows what ostracism in its most extreme form can cause. It always shows how ostracism became possible in a quite normal family, in a quite normal neighborhood – ruptures and contradictions hidden under speechlessness and silence.”

Rolf Haubenreisser was born on June 12th, 1935 as the son of n Ernst Albin Haubenreisser and his wife Käthe Mathilde Frieda, née Hinsch. Ernst Haubenreisser, the son of a cabinetmaker, was a postage stamp dealer. Käthe Haubenreisser came from a seafarer family, her father was a seaman. The Haubenreissers lived in Altona-Osdorf at Liliencronweg 162 (now Hemmingstedter Weg), at the corner of Jenischstrasse. Karen Haubenreisser has positive memories of Rolf’s parents: My grandmother was a thoughtful, caring woman, open-minded to people ion need of help, especially to a handicapped lady next door; and she was child-friendly like her husband. Both were very sociable, with lots of neighborhood contacts.”

Rolf in his first year repeatedly suffered spastic attacks. His development may have been impaired due to top complications during his birth. He learned to walk when he was a year and a half, but he could not speak. His parents had him examined at the Altona Municipal Hospital; the chief physician of the psychiatric department was Karl Stender. On March 13th, 1940, assistant doctor Dräsche referred the four-year old boy to the Alsterdorfer Anstalten in Hamburg. The explanatory statement read: "The boy is an erethismic, imbecile child with organic spasm attacks. […] As a younger brother and also his mother suffer heavily under the Pat.[ient], we consider permanent placement an urgent necessity.” Erethicism is defined as abnormally increase irritability. Käthe Haubenreisser at the time had to care for her two boys alone, as Ernst Haubenreisser had been drafted into the Wehrmacht. The parents were interviewed by the Alsterdorfer Anstalten at the time of Rolf’s admission on March 13th, 1940. A doctor recorded their answers on the "interview sheet”: "Severe forceps delivery”; Rolf was "very excited”, his mood "always screaming.” He noted down that Rolf "probably” recognized his mother. The chief deputy physician Gerhard Kreyenberg on the same day noted in Rolf Haubenreisser’s record: "Pat.[ient] was assigned to the monitoring ward as newly admitted. […] His nature is loud and skittish. He is wild during body care, toys he immediately throws away. Very clean regarding body and clothing, his preferred toys are objects that can be spun.”

The monitoring wards ("Wachsäle”) had been established in 1931 as departments for "excited imbeciles” as part of Kreyenberg’s concept for modernizing the institution. Were designed for intensive therapy based on punishment, isolation and degradation. Permanent baths, sleep and fever cures, and aggressive insulin and cardiazol shock therapies were administered there in the assumption that "imbecility” could be "cured” by such methods. There was no special needs education for the mentally handicapped boy. The following undated entry in Rolf’s record reflects the boy’s reaction to this treatment: "The child is extremely excitable, screams […] Throws toys, does not occupy himself, screaming and romping are so violent that he can hardly be held.”

The parents themselves accounted for the expense of their son’s placement in the Alsterdorfer Anstalten. They corresponded with the institution, and Käthe Haubenreisser visited her son once a week. In 1941, Rolf’s parents asked the institution to give them a coupon from his nutriment ration card: "Our son Rolf likes chocolaty sweets, so we would like to buy im some.” The request was refused. On June 17th, 1942, Kreyenberg wrote in Rolf’s record: "Pat.]ient] needs held for body care, is able to eat on his own since a few weeks, cannot speak, but hums tunes for himself.”

In his diagnosis of March 16th, 1943, he described Rolf as "lively, likes to climb on tables and benches, needs help for dressing and undressing. […] He keeps his clothes reasonably clean, but has the habit of chewing on the collar of his jacket. He likes to play alone.”

Pastor Friedrich Karl Lensch, director of the Alsterdorfer Anstalten, and Dr. Kreyenberg were advocates of the Nazi concept of "racial hygiene." In the war years, Kreyenberg supported all the momentous decisions of the management of the Alsterdorfer Anstalten who were involved in the Nazi program for the "extermination of worthless lives.” Thus, he participated in the registration of patients in the reporting sheets of the central "Euthanasia” murder office at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, called "Operation T 4.” He developed an increasingly more severe concept of selection. The first phase of the "Euthanasia” murder in gas killing institutions outside the mental hospitals had been stopped following protests by the church, especially after an outspoken public sermon by Cardinal von Galen, the Catholic archbishop of Münster.

In the second phase, however, the murders continued at more than one hundred mental hospitals by leaving patients to die of starvation, cold, non treatment of diseases, lacking care or administration of overdoses or inappropriate medications. When the buildings of the Alsterdorfer Anstalten were damaged in the bombings of July, 1943, the management took the opportunity of getting rid of a part of the especially feeble patients .who were especially frail and dependent on help or considered incurable or "poor workers.” Under the pretext of making room, 469 patients selected by the management in agreement with the health authorities in August, 1944 were transported to four faraway state-owned institutions within one week: Eichberg in the Rheingau, Kalmenhof in the Taunus Mountains, Mainkofen in Lower Bavaria and Am Steinhof in Vienna. The transfers were not necessary on account of the war.

On August 10th, 1943, eight-year old Rolf Haubenreisser and 112 other men and boys were taken to the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Mainkofen near Deggendorf in Bavaria. In his own handwriting, Kreyenberg made the following entry in Rolf’s record: "Transferred to Mainkofen on account of heavy bombing damages to the institution.” Now Rolf was out of range of his family. His parents tried to find out how their son was doing. On October 30th, 1943, Ernst Haubenreisser wrote to the institution in Mainkofen: "We would now like to hear something from our child and kindly request you to inform us in writing, and we mean without distortion, not in the usual style.” The records do not reveal if the parents ever got an answer.

On December 14th, 1942, the interior minister of Bavaria had issued an order "for immediate execution "to all state mental institutions, including the management of the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Mainkofen: "In view of the food shortage due to the war and also with regard to the health of the working inmates of the institutions, it is no longer acceptable that all inmates of the institutions should receive the same rations, regardless if, on one hand, they are performing productive work or getting therapy, or, on the other hand, are merely being kept at the institutions without doing any productive work worth mentioning. It is therefore ordered that those inmates of the institutions who perform useful work or are in therapeutic treatment, as well as the still cultivable children, war-disabled persons and old patients suffering from dementia should benefit from quantitatively as well as qualitatively better rations at the expense of the remaining patients. This is to take effect immediately.”

This ordered starvation, the so-called starvation order, was realized by the low-calorie "3 B diet"- lower quantities, no meat, no fat, causing the patients to die slowly of malnutrition. The entry in Rolf’s record of October 3rd, 1944 reads: "The Pat.[ient) is very shy when called up, answers no questions, does not even say his name. He only shows a bit of interest for the consultants coat pockets, but cannot be motivated to look at him. In the ward, he behaves amicably, is friendly and agreeable to the other patients, does not tear anything, eats on his own and properly.” The last entry about Rolf Haubenreisser’s condition is dated May 16th, 1945: Compared to the entry of 10/3/1944 there is no substantial change in his mental condition nor his visible behavior, with the exception that the Pat.[ient] for some time has tended to hear his shirt or other clothing or to bite on it. Since about 3-4 weeks frequent conspicuous diarrhea and severe deterioration of the nutritional condition.”

The next line records his death: "Died today at 11:35 a.m. Cause of death: intestinal catarrh.”

That was one of the stereotype phrases used to obscure the actual circumstances of a patient’s death. Rolf Haubenreisser was murdered at the age of nine years by systematic starvation. He died eight days after the end of the war and the liberation from National Socialism. Rolf’s parents were only informed of the death of their son a full seven months later by Pastor Lensch, who had officially resigned to avoid being dismissed by the military government, but still signed the death notice as the director of the Alsterdorfer Anstalten: "As we do not know whether you have already been notified directly, we must tell you that the management of the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Mainkofen has informed us that your Son Rolf has passed away on 5/16/1945 on account of a catarrh of the intestine. With cordial commiseration.”

Rolf Haubenreisser had been buried at the institution’s cemetery on May 19th, 1945 at 8:00 a.m. His parents had not been notified.

The cemetery of today’s district clinic Mainkofen had been neglected for many years, part of it had to make way for a park. Rolf’s brother Horst Haubenreisser had traveled to Mainkofen at the end of the 1980s and, according to Rolf’s niece Karen Haubenreisser, met "a wall of silence.” Karen herself visited the neglected cemetery in Mainkofen in and since then is engaged for the memory of the victims of euthanasia on Mainkofen. She and other supporters from Hamburg appealed to the Bavarian district government, to maintain the cemetery in compliance with the applicable burial law and to create a memorial; the media took notice and reported.

After almost 70 years of silence and oblivion, the Haubenreisser family in September of 2011 received a letter from the president of the district parliament of Lower Bavaria that for the first time officially confirmed the killing of the child.

After several months of correspondence, the Lower Bavarian Family Ministry in October of 2012 promised the family to create an educational and memorial site for the 1,336 men, women and children who perished at the Mainkofen mental hospital, giving the names of all the victims. The memorial was dedicated in October, 2014 in the burial field directly before the former morgue. The cemetery will be preserved, and the names of all those who were murdered on account of the "starvation order” or were deported to the killing institution in Hartheim near Linz in Austria are engraved on a plaque.

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

Stand: April 2018
© Birgit Gewehr

Quellen: Archiv der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf, Akte 407, Rolf Haubenreisser; Freitag, Rolf (9) – verhungert nach Plan; Michael Westerholz, Vergasen oder Verhungern; Hilt, "Viele wussten, wohin sie kommen"; Wunder u. a., Auf dieser schiefen Ebene, S. 97–125 und S. 189–201; Diercks, "Euthanasie", S. 56; Gespräche mit Karen Haubenreisser, November 2013, Mai 1914; Dokumente im Familienbesitz Haubenreisser.

Karen Haubenreisser
Speech at the inauguration of the "Euthanasia" memorial in Mainkofen on 28.10.2014

The past is not dead, it is not even past.
Remembrance work on the Mainkofen memorial.

Dear relatives, dear District President Dr. Heinrich, dear Dr. Wunder, dear Professor Schreiber, dear Mr. Schneider, dear ladies and gentlemen,

My uncle Rolf Haubenreisser would be 77 years old today. Born in Hamburg in 1935, he lived with his brother, who was three years younger, and his parents on the top floor of a small apartment building in Hamburg. Two years before Rolf's birth, in 1933, the National Socialists had passed the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases. It obliged doctors to report all children born with a disability to the health authorities. This also affected Rolf. After a severe forceps delivery, he suffered recurrent seizures.

In March 1940, on the advice of the family doctor, Rolf's parents put the four-year-old in what was then the Alsterdorfer Anstalten in Hamburg. "A younger brother and likewise the health of the mother would suffer severely from the patient, so that a permanent placement appears to be urgently necessary," says the physician in a stock note. Three years Rolf lives in the institution, his mother visits him every week. Rolf is a child who loves to play and climb over tables and benches, this photo here shows him together with neighborhood children in the snow. His mother stands behind him and he turns to two large dogs with interest and courage.

In August 1943, the Alsterdorf institutions deported 112 boys and men to Mainkofen, including Rolf. Two months later, his father writes a letter to Bavaria in which he expresses his concern and mistrust: "We would now like to hear something from the child and kindly ask you to write to us about him, and to do so completely unadulterated, i.e. not in the usual style."

Rolf lives in Mainkofen for almost two years, under conditions that are hard to imagine, until he dies shortly before his 10th birthday on May 16, 1945, through systematic starvation. In Rolf's file from Mainkofen we find only two entries: in October 1944: "He is very shy." And on the day of his death: "No change except that he tends to bite his teeth. Since 3-4 weeks strong decrease. Died 11:35 today." Seven months later, in December 1945, Rolf's parents receive a letter from the Alsterdorfer Anstalten informing them that Rolf had died of intestinal catarrh. Signed: "With heartfelt sympathy Lensch, Director".

Rolf's brother, my father, traveled here to Mainkofen at the end of the 1980s alone and as a man who was already very ill. Here he came up against walls of silence. He came back beaten to death and without any results. There had been nothing there, he had been told in Mainkofen.

In April 2011, three and a half years ago, I traveled to Mainkofen myself and found the cemetery overgrown. There were gravestones lying loose, plants were growing over, half of the cemetery was no longer there because it had been leveled and turned into a park - which was obviously not in accordance with the German Graves Law. Only a flat memorial stone with evergreens existed at the entrance to the clinic. In eerie contrast, right next to it stood a towering memorial to the soldiers of the war, richly decorated with fresh flowers.

The cemetery, a symbol of forgetting and repression.
Immediately after my trip in 2011, my family asked the management of the hospital to prepare and maintain the cemetery as a public memorial. We had three goals in doing so: 1. The cemetery should be preserved as a memorial site. 2. the memorial should be publicly accessible to all people at all times, so that never again would relatives stand in front of closed doors, and: 3. every single victim should be mentioned by name. This was followed by a three-year struggle over the memorial and its design, in which lines of conflict can be found from which lessons can be learned - for further developments and reappraisals in Mainkofen and for developments in other places. I would like to briefly outline three areas of conflict:

1. Displacement in Mainkofen
The murder of people in Mainkofen was a blank space in the public discourse of the district and self-image of the clinic. The clinic's website, for example, described just four years ago the opposite of what had been: the sanatorium and nursing home had made an effort in difficult times to ensure that all people there were cared for equally, it said.

2. public commemoration
In the fall of 2011, we received a letter from the president of the district parliament, who for the first time publicly confirmed that Rolf had been killed in Mainkofen. He assured us that the cemetery should be preserved as a memorial. We also received suggestions for its implementation. Relatives, as far as available, could put memorial plaques in the wall. And: in a church a book with the names of the victims could be laid out. Not enough, we thought. Too few relatives would be there to leave a plaque. And never again should a person stand here in front of a closed door, even if it is that of a church.

3. commemoration by name
In the fall of 2012, one year later, we received the promise of the district government that all victims would be commemorated by name - except for the people who were deported to Hartheim. The reasoning: These victims were already commemorated there. After appalled feedback from Hamburg and support from the Hartheim memorial, the district government confirmed a few weeks later that these victims would also be named. And half a year later also this: that the dates of birth and death of all victims would be mentioned in addition. The reactions of the relatives who visited the memorial these days, even before the inauguration, confirm it: data protection in Mainkofen means protecting people from being forgotten, protecting the families who now find their relatives.

I am glad that we are standing here together today, even if the road was arduous and long, too long, 70 years. The inauguration today is an encouragement also for other places. For example, at present in Berlin Irmela Orland and fellow campaigners are working against considerable opposition to preserve a memorial cemetery on the site of the former Karl Bonhoeffer Mental Hospital. May the inauguration of this memorial strengthen the work in other places as well!

Rolf's story shows where exclusion in its extreme form can lead. It shows how exclusion was part of normal family life and part of normal neighborhood. It shows how normal doctors and normal nursing staff implemented a murderous system in well-organized processes, ministerially thought out and controlled down to the last detail. This memorial opens up space to ask questions: How was such a thing possible? And why is commemoration taking place here only 70 years later? Where do we find exclusion today in the midst of our very normal everyday lives? And what can and must we do today so that all people can participate in the good life?

Such is this place, such are these words of William Faulkner, reminder and hope in one: the past is not dead, it is not even past.

© Karen Haubenreisser

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