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Meta Becker * 1935
Schumannstraße 51 A (Hamburg-Nord, Barmbek-Süd)
Meta Hildegard Amalie Becker, born on 7 May 1935 in Hamburg, admitted to what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) on 13 May 1943, "transferred” to the "Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg – Heil- und Pflegeanstalt” on 16 Aug. 1943, died on 3 Dec. 1943
Meta Becker was born on 7 May 1935, the eleventh of twelve children of the Becker couple. Her parents Heinrich Becker, born on 25 Oct. 1888 (died on 20 Feb. 1945), and Amalie Annine Wilhelmine, née Bartelt, born on 18 Oct. 1896 (died on 23 Feb. 1958), had married on 18 Oct. 1919.
Heinrich Becker, who had learned the plumbing trade, was listed in the Hamburg directories as a "dock worker” and from 1932 as a "state worker.” The family lived at Schumannstrasse 51a in Barmbek-Süd.
After the birth of her seventh child, Amalie Becker had to undergo a serious navel operation. After that, she had five more children. Meta was one of them; the other four did not survive the first year of life.
The fact that Meta was "mentally retarded” was noticed at the age of six months, as can be seen from her patient file, which was later created in the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten; today Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf). After that, she remained physically "severely underdeveloped,” fell ill with diphtheria, and suffered from middle ear inflammation and pneumonia. She did not learn to walk until she was four years old, and she was unable to develop the ability to speak.
On 27 Nov. 1942, a medical officer of the Hamburg State Welfare Office deemed it necessary to place Meta, by then seven years old, in the Alsterdorf Asylum "on the basis of a personal examination last made on 30 Oct. 1942.” The reason given was "congenital imbecility with educational difficulties. In addition, the child poses a danger to a newborn sibling, as she is prone to assaults and dangerous pranks.” The costs were to be covered by the Hamburg social administration.
The management of the Alsterdorf Asylum initially refused Meta Becker’s admission without giving any reasons and sent her papers back to the social administration with the recommendation to contact the "Langenhorn institution” for Meta’s admission. This referred to the Langenhorn "sanatorium and nursing home” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Langenhorn”).
Six months later, on 13 May 1943, shortly after her eighth birthday, Meta was admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum as a "boarding pupil” ("Zögling”). During her admission examination, the nursing staff noted that Meta’s "things” (clothes) and body were "very dirty” and that her clothes were held together with safety pins. She was able to eat on her own, responded to her name, and heard what was being said.
In response to her inquiry, Meta’s mother was informed in June 1943 that her daughter was in good health, had settled in well, and was playing in a very lively manner. At the end of July, Meta fell ill with chickenpox.
Meta’s mother asked for information again on 9 Aug. 1943, and informed the institutional administration in a letter that she could no longer visit her daughter because she was currently in Schney near Lichtenfels in Bavaria. Presumably, Amalie Becker had lost her apartment on Schumannstrasse during the heavy air raids on Hamburg at the end of July/beginning of Aug. 1943 ("Operation Gomorrah”).
There had also been bomb damage to the Alsterdorf Asylum. For a few days, the institution also had to take in hundreds of homeless people and about 200 people injured by the bombing. Against this background, the director of the Asylum, Pastor Friedrich Lensch, with the approval of the public health administration, took the opportunity to transfer to other asylums several hundred patients who were considered "weak in labor performance, in need of much care, or particularly difficult.”
Meta Becker arrived with a transport of 228 girls and women on 16 Aug. 1943, to "relieve” the Alsterdorf Asylum, in what was then the Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt, a "sanatorium and nursing home,” also known as the Asylum "Am Steinhof.” Eight days after her arrival in Vienna, Meta Becker was one of the 14 girls transferred to the "Viennese Municipal Psychiatric Hospital for Children” (Wiener städtische Nervenklinik für Kinder) ‘Am Spiegelgrund’” on the same grounds, specifically to Pavilion 15, where "euthanasia” murders of children took place.
In this so-called "children’s special ward,” extensive examinations were first carried out on children before they were killed with excessive doses of medication.
On 29 Sept. 1943, the physician Marianne Türk wrote that Meta was a somewhat too small, delicately built girl in a somewhat deficient nutritional condition for her age. The child could stand and walk alone, but slowly and clumsily. She went on to say that Meta was quite pretty and polite in expression, but that she took little interest in what happened around her, although she reacted to being addressed and to hearing sounds. She voiced the word "Mama” only very indistinctly, hummed melodies at times, and her speech comprehension was limited. Finally, the doctor summarized in her report, "She is a physically slightly underdeveloped child, who does not look idiotic at first sight. She is mentally low on the scale, barely on the level of a one-and-a-half-year-old child.”
A few days later, on 8 Oct. 1943, Meta Becker was reported to the "Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses” ("Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung von erb- und anlagebedingten schweren Leiden”) in Berlin. Based on the registration forms, so-called experts determined the fate of the children from a distance. If they put two red plus signs on a report form, this meant in the Nazi diction the authorization for "treatment,” but in reality for the killing of the child.
The report for the "Reich Committee” was signed by Senior Medical Officer (Obermedizinalrat) Ernst Illing, since July 1942 the medical director of the "Viennese Municipal Psychiatric Clinic for Children ‘Am Spiegelgrund,’” and one of the main protagonists responsible for "children euthanasia” in Vienna. His prognosis for Meta Becker’s further development was negative: "The child is uneducable and will probably never be fit for work.”
In Nov. 1943, Meta underwent encephalography, an injection of air into the cerebral ventricles for taking X-rays, a risky and very painful examination method. Since she had been put on a "diet regimen of oatmeal” the month before because of diarrhea, her health was probably compromised anyway.
On 1 Dec. 1943, Marianne Türk sent a so-called warning letter to Amalie Becker in preparation for the news of her death: Meta had fallen ill with a severe case of influenza. Her condition was worrying. Only two days after the "warning letter” to her mother, Meta Becker died on 3 Dec. 1943. As in many other cases, the official cause of death was given as "influenza with enteritis and pneumonia.” In the necropsy protocol, the physician Barbara Uiberrak noted "diffuse purulent bronchitis and bronchiolitis.”
On 9 Dec. 1943, Meta Becker’s mother received the death notice from Vienna. She was informed, "The child had survived measles and enteritis well in October. On 30 November, she fell ill with feverish influenza, which already took on threatening forms on 1 December. A notification went off to you on this day. On 2 December, the diagnosis included pneumonia, to which the child succumbed on 3 December at 10:30 p.m. For the terminally ill child, death could only mean a release and she passed away peacefully and calmly. Assistant physician Dr. Marianne Türk.”
Dying at the "Spiegelgrund” was systematic; the children were barely fed and given overdosed medication, such as Phenobarbital (Luminal), which caused pneumonia.
Meta Becker as well as the other 13 girls from Hamburg had to die because they were classified as "unworthy of life” ("lebensunwert”). Their bodies were abused for anatomical research purposes; parts of their brains were prepared and preserved.
In 1996, Antje Kosemund, whose sister Irma Sperling had also been murdered in Vienna, and Michael Wunder of the Protestant Alsterdorf Foundation (Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf) succeeded in tough negotiations to achieve the surrender of initially ten brain specimens. They were buried in the burial and memorial site of the Hans and Sophie Scholl Foundation [Ehrenfeld der Geschwister-Scholl-Stiftung] on the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg. In Apr. 2002, more of the remains of about 600 children, also victims of "euthanasia,” were interred in a grave of honor at the Vienna Central Cemetery.
At the same time, a permanent exhibition about the patient murders, their background, execution, and consequences was set up on the grounds of today’s Otto Wagner Hospital (formerly "Wagner von Jauregg – Heil-und Pflegeanstalt der Stadt Wien”). Since the end of 2003, light steles have been commemorating the murdered children.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: May 2021
© Susanne Rosendahl
Quellen: StaH 332-5 Standesämter 2406 Nr. 3681/1896 Geburtsregistereintrag Amalie Annine Wilhelmine Bartelt; StaH 332-5 Standesämter 9962 Nr. 392/1888 Geburtsregistereintrag Heinrich Becker; StaH 332-5 Standesämter 6557 Nr. Heiratsregistereintrag Nr. 801/1919 Heinrich Becker/Amalie Annine Wilhelmine Bartelt; Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, Sonderakte V 385, Becker, Meta; Michael Wunder, Ingrid Genkel, Harald Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr. Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus, 3. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 284 ff.; Götz Aly, Die Belasteten, "Euthanasie" 1939-1945, Frankfurt am Main, 2013; Antje Kosemund, Spurensuche Irma, Berichte und Dokumente zur Geschichte der "Euthanasie-Morde" an Pfleglingen aus den Alsterdorfer Anstalten, Hamburg 2005.