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Marie Burke (née Sponagel) * 1898

Chrysanderstraße 33 (Bergedorf, Bergedorf)

JG. 1898
"VERLEGT" 2.11.1943

Marie Burke, neé Sponagel, born on 17 April 1898 in Lauenburg (Elbe), deported from the Nursing and Care Home Hamburg-Langenhorn to the State Nursing and Care Home Meseritz-Obrawalde on 2 Nov 1943, murdered on 17 Nov 1943

Chrysanderstraße 33 (formerly Brauerstraße 33), Bergedorf

Marie Burke was born on 17 April 1898 in Lauenburg on the Elbe as Marie Karoline Dora Sponagel. She was married to police officer Franz Reinhold August Burke, born on 15 Nov 1896 in Selberg, District Schlawe, formerly Pommerania. Initially he was a member of the Hamburg Constabulary, then of the Hamburg Criminal Investigation Department and, after 1933, of the Secret State Police (Gestapo). The couple had two daughters, Margarethe Marie Meta, born on 8 Jan 1927, and Ursula Emma Bertha, born on 6 April 1929.

In March 1939, at that time the family was living at Brauerstraße 33 – now Chrysanderstraße – in Bergedorf, Marie Burke was admitted to the State Hospital Hamburg-Friedrichsberg (Staatskrankenanstalt Friedrichsberg) following an attempted suicide. We do not know the reasons for the suicide attempt. From the childhood memories of daughter Ursula, we at least know that her mother showed no enthusiasm for National Socialist idea since she was from a Social Democrat family and that, in particular, her personal experience as a maid in a Jewish family led to a critical attitude towards the persecution of the Jews. The relationship of the couple is said to have suffered a lot from this and it is said to have been a contributory factor to the depression and the suicide attempt.

Marie Burke was diagnosed with "endogenous depression”. After one month at Friedrichsberg, she was transferred to the now renamed State Hospital Langenhorn (Staatskrankenanstalt Langenhorn) on 18 April 1939. At the time of her admission to Langenhorn, she displayed "the impression of a severe nervous agitation and depression” which was also noted in her patient record in 1940. On 30 July 1942, she was transferred to the Regional Nursing and Care Home Lüneburg (Landes- Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Lüneburg). No reason for this has been recorded. On 4 Sept 1943, Marie Burke became a patient of the now called Nursing and Care Home Langenhorn (Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Langenhorn) for only two months.

On 2 November 1943, she was transferred to the Regional Health Centre Meseritz-Obrawalde (Landesheilanstalt Meseritz-Obrawalde) in Brandenburg (Meseritz – today Miedzyrzecz in Poland). According to information from daughter Ursula, this transfer is said to have been known to Franz Burke before. In a conversation (overheard by the daughter) with the domestic help at that time, later his wife, he should have said that the misery with his sick wife would come to an end soon.

Marie Burke was murdered in Meseritz-Obrawalde at the age of 45 on 17 November 1943, only 15 days after her arrival.

A great number of the patient files from the former Institution Meseritz-Obrawalde are still stored in the archive of the near by town of Gorzow Wielkopolski (former Landsberg an der Warthe). In the introduction to the inventory of the archive collection no 256, it is explained regarding the Institution: "Its task (that of the original hospital) was the healing of the sick and the provision of simple jobs to handicapped people (a form of therapy). After Hitler came to power in 1933, the activity of the hospital took a radical change. From 1939 onwards, the institution in Obrawalde became a transit point through which sick people passed who were destined for mass extermination. The patients who were already in the Institution were transferred to other institutions for mentally ill people (…). In their place, sick people from all over Germany – Saxony, Rhineland Palatinate, Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Pommerania – were transferred to Obrawalde with the aim of killing them. The official line was that the patients would benefit there from better conditions for their therapy. The year 1941 marks another turning point in the history of the institution when Wiktor Grabowski became its director. He was instructedto implement the so-called Euthanasia programme regarding the incurably sick as well as the ‘immediate eradication of worthless and seriously sick people’ by means of extermination programmes planned in advance. The institution in Obrawalde started to carry out this order in 1942.

The decision regarding elimination was taken immediately after the arrival of the patients in the Obrawalde Institution due to their physical and mental condition. People who were incapable to work and from whom only limited productivity could be expected were selected on the spot for elimination, as well as small children. The healthy ones were sent to those sections of the institution where they had to do hard work, eg in the market garden or the sewing workshop before death struck them from the hands of the ‘doctors’.

Those patients who had been selected for elimination got sleeping pills and were taken to single cells in Block 18, 19 or 8 where injections with (for example) Scopolamine were administeredto them.

It may be assumed that, from 1942-1945, the Germans murdered approximately 10.000 patients in this way. Most of the victims were German citizens, but many Poles, citizens of the Soviet Union, French, Belgian, Italian and Dutch people, as well as forced laborers brought to Germany were killed in the Obrawalde Institution.”

Meanwhile, Franz Burke was living with his daughters at Suhrenkamp 25, not far from Suhrenkamp 98, the entrance to the Police Prison Fuhlsbüttel (concentration camp/ known as KolaFu) where he worked.

He received notification of his wife’s death through a telegram dated 17 Nov 1943: "Wife Marie Burke passed away peacefully. Burial Saturday (…). In case of transport or cremation at own expense wire message immediately. Send birth and marriage certificates immediately”. The authorities, however, did not wait for an answer. On 19 Nov 1943 a second telegram followed: "Cremation carried out in Frankfurt/Oder. Return Declaration of Intent sent by post completed and signed immediately. Send confirmation of the cemetery administration to crematorium that the urn can be buried. Also advance payment 250 RM to Master Carpenter Jürgens, Meseritz”.

In Fuhlsbüttel, Franz Burke was promoted to Detective Inspector. Here, he worked as a member of the Krauss Special Unit (named after Detective Inspector Peter Krauss) in the section "Combatting Opposition – Communism” (Department IV 5b). His main field of activity was the extortion of confessions. One of his victims was Herman Wolters (later a Senator in Bremen) who, according to the Hamburger Volkszeitung of 8 Sept 1949, was beaten in the face with a chain by Franz Burke and who could also testify to the mistreatment of other prisoners.

After the end of the war, Franz Burke, the former member of the NSDAP, was initially interned in a camp in Hamburg-Iserbrook for two years and three months, then in 1947 sentenced to ten months in prison for his "membership” of the Gestapo and dismissed from the civil service. He had received no salary since May 1945 and was evicted from his apartment. In the Denazification Process, he was initially classified as "Category III – Less compromised (Probation Group)”. In 1949, Franz Burke successfully launched an appeal against these and other penalties submitting a number of character references. He was now classified as Category V or "exonerated” and compulsorily retired with "only” half of his Gestapo time counted towards his pensionable age.

At the end of 1949, criminal proceedings were instituted against Franz Burke. The Hamburger Freie Presse reported on these on 8. Sept 1949: "The jury court found the former Gestapo inspector, Franz Burke, guilty of crimes against humanity combined with causing bodily harm and extorting of confessions during the execution of his duties and sentenced him to two and half years in a penitentiary and the loss of his civil rights for ten years. The Public Prosecutor had requested ten years penitentiary and ten years loss of civil rights.”

Franz Burke served the sentence in his former "place of activity”, the Fuhlsbüttel prison. In August 1951, at the request of his new wife and both daughters, ten months of the sentence were remitted in consideration of the 10 months spent in the internment camp.

Translation by Steve Robinson

Stand: November 2020
© Ingo Wille

Quellen: StaH 221-11 Staatskommissar für die Entnazifizierung und Kategorisierung (1945-1957) 49352 (Franz Burke), 352-8/7 Staatskrankenanstalt Langenhorn Abl. 1/1995 25882 (Marie Burke); Landesjustizverwaltung Hamburg, Schreiben vom 15.8.1951, Az.: Gns. 115/51 (Erlass von 10 Monaten Strafe); Gertrud Meyer, Nacht über Hamburg – Berichte und Dokumente, Frankfurt a.M. 1971, S.14 ff; Informationen des Verwandten Peter Brandhofer vom 10.7.2020; Archiwum Panstwowe w Gorzowie Wielkopolski, Findbuch zu Archivbestand Nr. 256.

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