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Harry Becker * 1913
Conventstraße 4 (Wandsbek, Eilbek)
1943 HEILANSTALT EICHBERG
Harry Becker, born on 26 Dec. 1913 in Hamburg, murdered on 29 Oct. 1943 at the Landesheilanstalt Hadamar
Harry Becker was the second child of the commercial clerk Johann Becker, born in Hamburg in 1884, and the ironer Adelheit, née Hattendorf, who was one year her husband’s junior. The two had been married on 9 May 1912. By then, Adelheit no longer lived with her parents on Schellingstraße in Eilbek but in a household on Kottwitzstraße in the Hoheluft quarter.
Harry Becker was born at the Eppendorf General Hospital and baptized at the local parish five days later, on 31 Dec. 1913. Possibly, it was a baptism in extremis, with his mother and a male nurse serving as godparents.
Harry Becker lost his father when he was not even four years old. Johann Becker had fought in World War I as a "replacement reservist” in the 3rd Company of the 187th Infantry Regiment, and he was killed in Flanders by a direct artillery hit on 1 Dec. 1917. It is not known when Adelheit learned of her husband’s death. Only after the end of the war did his regiment give notice of Johann Becker’s death with the appropriate records office.
At the age of six years, Harry was not ready for school yet. Two years later, he was enrolled at a "special school” ("Hilfsschule”), passing and completing all grades without difficulties in the course of eight years. Despite graduating from school, Harry was unable to begin any kind of apprenticeship or job due to his poor performance at school and a few personal peculiarities. In contrast to his older brother, who by then had started training as a potter, Harry was interested almost exclusively in streetcars, and in a nearly autistic manner, he spoke to himself or some imaginary person opposite, and in doing so, he would sometimes become rather vehement. Physically, the conspicuous features were the asymmetrical shape of his head as well as lacking hair on the back of his head. Harry was of medium height and medium weight, and seemed to be weakly. The youth welfare office and the social welfare authority took care of him and arranged for his committal to what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) on 7 May 1930. The welfare authority covered the costs.
Harry spent the first two weeks at the asylum lying still in his bed most of the time. This changed after a month. Driven by great motor hyperactivity, he was very difficult to keep in his ward. He suffered from the first of several furunculoses and skin diseases. After they were cured completely, he was given housework to keep busy, which he left, however, as soon as possible to move about in the yard or garden. While doing so, he played the harmonica loudly and with tenacity. He attended the institutional school. From this time, his handwritten career aspiration has survived: "What I would like to do when I am discharged from the institution. I would like to train as a shoemaker. Then I can earn money. The money I will give to my Mom.”
Harry’s mother maintained close contact to him, they obviously meant a lot to each other. For vacations at home, she picked him up from Alsterdorf until she was no longer able to pay for the fare. Against the will of the institutional administration, she had him come by himself, which went well. If his vacation was cancelled when he was ill, Harry would be very upset. When his mother missed a visit once, he hurled insults at and threatened her in her absence.
Harry was given weaving to keep busy, work he carried out eagerly, switching from there to the mat-weaving shop, and then returning to weaving again. His increased motor activity persisted. Vis-à-vis his fellow patients, his behavior changed within a few moments from hurling insults at them to embracing them.
In 1934, Harry Becker turned 21 and thus came of age, which raised the question of legal incapacitation. Since according to the medical administration he would continue to require institutional care, legal incapacitation was not put into effect. The corresponding notification to the war victims’ pension office (Versorgungsamt) was the basis for continued payment of his orphan’s allowance, "as long as (Becker) is incapable of supporting himself due to his ailment.” In the following year, Harry Becker was classified as unfit for military service and in 1939, he was forcibly sterilized at Eppendorf Hospital.
In 1940, after he had stayed at Alsterdorf for ten years, the file on him read, "The patient takes care of his personal hygiene independently, and he is, strictly speaking, clean and neat. In terms of his character, he is generally calm and good-natured. At times easily agitated, he calms down again quickly, however. He is willing and ready to render small assistance tasks, also helping weaker patients. He obeys the instructions by care staff.” He had gained weight from 50 to 57 kilograms (approx. 110 to 125 lbs). For the years from 1941 to mid-1943, no major changes except for a few relocations are noted down in the record. The last transfer occurred to Ward 11, the observation room, as his care had become difficult.
"Observation rooms” ("Wachsäle”) had already existed in the 1920s. At that time, restless patients were isolated and treated with continuous baths, sleep and fever therapies. In the course of the 1930s, their function changed: Now patients were primarily immobilized, partly with medication and partly using restraints and other measures. The persons affected often felt this to be a punishment.
After the large-scale air raids on Hamburg in July/Aug. 1943, Harry Becker was transferred on 7 Aug. 1943 on the first of three major transports from the Alsterdorf Asylum to the "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg,” a sanatorium and nursing home in the Rheingau.
Harry Becker’s mother was also bombed out during the destruction of Hamburg by air attacks. She moved to Lübbecke in Westphalia and lost contact to her son. The institutional administration in Eichberg learned of her address only when she sent a parcel to Harry in Dec. 1943. By that time, Harry had already been transferred to the "Hadamar State Sanatorium” (Landesheilanstalt Hadamar) and murdered there.
The contents of the parcel were supposedly distributed to needy patients of the Eichberg institution. The institutional administration in Hadamar demanded that a birth certificate of Harry Becker be sent in order to issue the death certificate and left it up to his mother to transfer a one-time sum of 50 RM (reichsmark) for care of the grave. She would be able to visit her son’s grave no. 366 on the institutional cemetery at any time. Adelheit Becker put aside the sum mentioned from her widow’s pension, which amounted to 101 RM (reichsmark) and asked for a report from the institutional administration concerning her son’s last hours. As a reply, she received the following: "Your son died of pleurisy. He was already very weak and wretched when he was transferred from the Eichberg institution. Death occurred without any death throes. The deceased did not express any special wishes.” Harry Becker reached the age of 30.
Status as of Feb. 2014
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Hildegard Thevs
Quellen: Ev. Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, V 113; StaH 332-5 Standesämter, 9546-280/1912; 8050-142/1918; Jenner, Meldebögen, in Wunder, Genkel, Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene; Wunder, Abtransporte, in: Wunder, Genkel, Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene; ders., Exodus, ebd.