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Elli Wichmann * 1918

Harburger Ring 8 / Stolperstein in der Nähe (Harburg, Harburg)

JG. 1918
"VERLEGT" 1943
ERMORDET 14.3.1944

Ella Emilie Wichmann, born on 9 Mar. 1918 in Harburg, committed to the Rotenburg Institute of the Inner Mission (Rotenburger Anstalten der Inneren Mission), transferred further, murdered in the "Kaufbeuren-Irsee Sanatorium and Nursing Home,” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee”) on 14.3.1944

District of Harburg-Altstadt, Harburger Ring 8 (Friedrichstrasse 20)

Ella Emilie (called: Elli) Wichmann was born as an illegitimate child of the factory worker and prostitute Lina Ella Frieda Akelbein in Harburg. Her mother later married the worker August Wichmann and moved into an apartment at Friedrichstrasse 20 with him and his daughter (In the post-war years, this extension of Amalienstrasse fell prey to the construction of Harburger Ring and the associated redevelopment of the historic downtown of Harburg).

Elli Wichmann suffered from genuine epilepsy, a disease that was also attributed to her unknown biological father. Seizures occurring at irregular intervals were often followed by hours and sometimes even days of semiconscious states in which the girl was completely unresponsive.

Eilli Wichmann’s school performance was not very encouraging. In Aug. 1933, she left the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) without graduating. Her diligence and sense of orderliness left much to be desired, and her leaving certificate did not lack a reference to her "tendency to dishonesty and lightheartedness,” in which her parental home allegedly played a not inconsiderable part.

Her parents were soon deprived of their legal guardianship. At the age of 15, Elli Wichmann was committed to an institution of the Diakonie Himmelsthür. This facility was founded in 1888 by Pastor Bernhard Isermeyer in the village by the same name near Hildesheim, initially as a refuge for homeless women, and in the following years, it was also expanded for other disadvantaged people.

Elli Wichmann’s stay in this supervised children’s home did not last for long. On 5 Feb. 1934, she was admitted to the Rotenburg Institute of the Inner Mission due to increased seizures – initially for observation only. However, the diagnosis of "hereditary epilepsy and psychopathy” meant that this visit, originally planned only for a short time, became a permanent committal. Yet the following therapy did not lead to the hoped-for improvement in her state of health. The opposite was the case. While the seizures initially occurred only every four weeks, one year later, they occurred at weekly intervals.

Elli Wichmann also became increasingly conspicuous in her behavior over the course of time. At first she behaved – both at her workplace in the laundry room as well as in the living and sleeping area – still "hard-working and eager.” Soon though she caused more and more difficulties for her female caregivers and the other female patients. Repeatedly, she had to change her workplace for this reason. In a statement on a petition for discharge submitted by Elli Wichmann’s mother and her husband, Fritz Wening, the head physician at the Rotenburg Institute, remarked, "There have been several disputes between W. and the other patients that cannot be avoided in any institution among feeble-minded and epileptic women. In no case is W. innocent of the outbreak of the dispute.”

These problems would occur especially after the patient’s return from shorter or longer holidays with her parents and siblings in Harburg, as they did, for example, after the short holiday granted to her in Aug. 1938 to take part in her mother’s funeral: "The patient is highly susceptible to influence, which is in keeping with her insanity and her epilepsy. No significant difficulties would have arisen with her in the institution, or would arise, respectively, if she were subjected to the institutional education alone and were not subject to the unfavorable and inflammatory influence from home, which cannot be eliminated by us.” For this reason, the report went on, the Rotenburg Institute could under no circumstances consider discharging the patient, as her stepfather had subsequently requested once again.

When Elli Wichmann reached the age of majority, the state welfare office of the Hamburg Social Administration (Hamburger Sozialverwaltung) initiated incapacitation proceedings. The medical management of the Rotenburg Institute did not consider it necessary to comment in detail, "because it is imperative that she [Elli Wichmann] remain in the institution for an unforeseeable period of time. We would counter any requests for release from her side and on the part of her relatives with a committal order by the police.”

Under these circumstances, the young woman could not have expected that the representatives of the Rotenburg Institute would put in a good word for her when a medical commission of the Berlin T4 headquarters (see glossary) under the direction of Theodor Steinmeier appeared in the institution on 24 Apr. 1941 in order to "have the majority of the patients presented to them. In the months before, Pastor Johannes Burfeind, acting as the head of the Rotenburger Anstalten, had repeatedly tried to postpone the deadline for filling in Form 1 used to determine the "productive value” ("Produktivwert”) of all patients. When the Berlin T4 planners no longer wanted to accept this delaying tactic, they decided to take the reins themselves. In only four working days, in the presence of some representatives of the Rotenburg Institute, they examined a total of 1,150 patients in this facility.

On this basis, the management of the Rotenburg Institute was informed in July and Sept. 1941 of the numbers and dates planned for the scheduled evacuation of patients to other institutions, so that the buildings could be made available for an alternative hospital, as the official formulation went.

Elli Wichmann’s name was also on the list for the sixth transport of patients from Rotenburg to another institution. On 4 Oct. 1941, she and 69 other women were transferred to the "Günzburg Sanatorium and Nursing Home” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Günzburg”) in Bavaria. There, she spent the next two years until this facility also had to be evacuated for reasons allegedly important for the war effort.

On 17 Dec. 1943, Elli Wichmann and several other men and women were transferred to the neighboring "Kaufbeuren-Irsee District Sanatorium and Nursing Home” ("Kreis-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kaufbeuren-Irsee”), which was housed in a former Benedictine monastery. Nursing and care for the sick was mainly the responsibility of nuns from the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul (Vinzentinerinnen). This transfer was tantamount to a death sentence.

Valentin Faltlhauser, the "inventor” of the so-called "deprivation diet” ("Entzugskost”), was proud of his scientific achievements as head physician and director of this institution. From the very beginning, he was intent on "marching” at the forefront of medical progress in the field of institutional psychiatry and on testing recent and cutting-edge treatment methods. Elli Wichmann was one of the patients in his institution on whom he tried out a special variant of electroshock therapy, from which he expected good results in the treatment of epilepsy. But there were no positive changes in the young woman.

Two days later, the following note was entered in her medical record: "Eats very little. Looks pale. Evening temperature 39.8 degrees Celsius [103.6 degrees Fahrenheit].” Hans Mandel, the departmental doctor in charge, then sent her stepfather the following letter: "Dear Mr. Wichmann! Miss Elli Wichmann, born on 9 Mar. 1918, is regressing physically to a considerably extent. Her demise may be expected in the near future.” Nine days later, the public health departments in Kaufbeuren and Harburg were also informed accordingly. And another nine days later – on 14 Mar. 1944 – Elli Wichmann was dead. This fact was telegraphically communicated to her stepfather by the administration of the "Kaufbeuren District Sanatorium and Nursing Home.” He could not attend the funeral because his boss turned down a corresponding request for leave of absence.

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: May 2019
© Klaus Möller

Quellen: Gedenkbuch der Rotenburger Werke der Inneren Mission; Archiv der Rotenburger Werke der Inneren Mission, Krankenakte Elli Wichmanns Nr. 3530, Akte Nr. 123; Rotenburger Werke (Hrsg.), Zuflucht; Cranach/Siemen (Hrsg.), Psychiatrie Nationalsozialismus; Mader, Ernst T.: Sterben.

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