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Helga Dietz * 1937
Geesmoor 21 (Hamburg-Nord, Groß Borstel)
Helga Dietz, born on 1 July 1937, admitted to the former Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten; today Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf) on 4 Feb. 1942, "transferred” to the "Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt, a "sanatorium and nursing home” ("Am Steinhof”) on 16 Aug. 1943, died on 13 Mar. 1944
Geesmoor 21, Gross Borstel
Helga Dietz was the older daughter of the married couple Herbert Eduard Johannes Dietz, born on 30 Nov. 1908 in Hamburg, and Marie Therese Dietz, née Richter, born on 11 Feb. 1907. At the time of Helga’s birth, the family lived at Hammer Deich 143 in the Hammerbrook quarter. The family also included Marianne, Helga Dietz’ sister, who was one and a half years her junior.
Helga was born in what was then the Bethesda Deaconess House and Hospital, located at Burgstrasse 39 in the Borgfelde quarter. At birth, the girl’s central nervous system was damaged. As a result, Helga Dietz suffered from Little’s disease, in which the brain is prevented from developing normally.
Helga initially lived with her family, but in Oct. 1941, her mother approached the Hamburg Social Administration with a request to place her daughter in a home. Helga’s mother, who according to a note by the authorities made an overworked and exhausted impression, stated upon Helga’s admission to the Hamburg juvenile shelter that she had had many difficulties in recent times and was physically and emotionally not up to caring for the child, especially since she still had to care for Helga’s younger sister. She could not take Helga with her on errands or leave her alone at home. In addition, Helga was too heavy to carry into the air-raid shelter. Moreover, the apartment had been damaged by bombs.
Helga Dietz began to speak when she was one year old, but at times, she stuttered badly, as the Hamburg Youth Welfare Office recorded. When she was three years old, she understood everything, was considered good-natured and affectionate. She could also signal when she had to go to the bathroom. The doctor from the Youth Welfare Office summarized the report on Helga as follows: "There is a reduction in intelligence to the degree of debility. The child is certainly capable of benefitting from support and in my opinion, she will also be able to attend special school later on; the only complicating factor is her motor clumsiness and restlessness. Character-wise, the child is also not grossly difficult.”
On 4 Feb. 1942, Helga was admitted to the former Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten; today Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf). During the time that Helga Dietz lived in the Alsterdorf Asylum, some 18 months, only two short reports were prepared about her development. According to these, she was "a tall, scraggy child in a poor state of nutrition,” that she was only able to walk and stand with support, knew her name and age, and that she had lived in Gross Borstel. In the picture book, she was able to name almost all objects, was friendly and approachable, already had quite a good vocabulary, but stuttered a bit. Her experience-based knowledge and life savvy was not appropriate for her age.
Helga’s mother visited her child in the Alsterdorf Asylum. Helga was denied home leave because she had chickenpox at the time. Further wartime events put a stop to the worried mother’s irregular visits. On 1 Aug. 1943, she wrote to Sister Martha in the Alsterdorf Asylum, "Unfortunately, we have been forced to flee Hamburg again. Our home is no longer a home. On Thursday, by a long detour, we ended once more at the grandparents’, where we will probably stay again. How is Helgali? Dear Sister Martha, please write to me how Helga is doing. The worries are so great now. My father-in-law also lost everything in [illegible, note by the author], I don’t know whether he is still alive. Our father is in Russia at the front. It’s so hard for me to find out anything from here. How cruel everything is. However, we are so powerless and have to wait. Hopefully, everything will end better than we think with the war. Marianne is happy that she can be with Grandma and Grandpa again. Dear Sister Martha, give Helgali my warmest regards and tell her to eat well, then Mutti will be back soon. Best regards” (signature of the mother).
Because the Alsterdorf Asylum had suffered damage during the heavy Allied air raids on Hamburg at the end of July/beginning of Aug. 1943 ("Operation Gomorrah”), the director of the institution, Pastor Friedrich Lensch, asked the public health authorities for permission to transfer 750 patients, allegedly to make room for wounded and bomb-damaged persons. With four transports between 7 and 16 August, a total of 468 girls and women, boys and men were transferred to the "Eichberg State Sanatorium and Nursing Home” ("Landes-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg”) in the Rheingau, to the Kalmenhof near Idstein in the Rheingau, to the "sanatorium and nursing home” in Mainkofen ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Mainkofen”) near Passau, and to the "Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt,” a "sanatorium and nursing home” ("Am Steinhof”). The transport of 228 girls and women to Vienna on 16 Aug. 1943 included Helga Dietz.
On 17 Aug. 1943, Helga was admitted to the women’s ward of Pavilion 24 of the "Vienna Municipal Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt.” There she was kept in bed from then on.
On 10 Oct. 1943, Helga’s mother wrote to Vienna: "... since my daughter Helga Dietz from Hamburg is in your institution, I would like to ask sincerely whether I could get news of how little Helga is doing. Perhaps I could get in touch with the nurse who is taking care of Helga. Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to visit Helga personally. We are expecting our third child next month. My husband unfortunately had to give up his young life for his fatherland. In Hamburg, we were able to visit Helga often, the child was very attached to us. Now I would like to continue to care for the children in the spirit of my husband. I would be very grateful to you if my wish were fulfilled.”
Helga’s admission diagnosis is summarized in the reply from doctor Podhajsky to Mrs. Dietz as follows: "Your daughter was brought to the institution here on 17 Aug. 1943. Unfortunately, it is a case of high-grade imbecility, so that a change can hardly be expected. Regrettably, she is also unclean, in great need of care. For the time being, she is constantly in bed.”
In the Viennese asylum "Am Steinhof,” patients were systematically murdered by overdosing on medication, by not treating illnesses, and above all by depriving them of food. Of the 228 girls and women from Alsterdorf, 196 had died by the end of 1945.
Helga Dietz died on 13 Mar. 1944, at the age of seven, allegedly of "bronchopneumonia” (pneumonia).
After receiving the death notice, Helga’s mother requested by telegraph that her daughter be given the last benediction by a pastor, adding, "Will arrive in Vienna on Thursday, 16 March, at 8:54 a.m. – funeral expenses for Helga Dietz to be borne by me.”
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: May 2021
© Ingo Wille
Quellen: Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf Archiv, Sonderakte V 362; 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. 283 ff. (darin insbesondere S. 331 ff.); Waltraud Häupl, Der organisierte Massenmord an Kindern und Jugendlichen in der Ostmark 1940-1945, Wien 2008, S. 58 f.