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Already layed Stumbling Stones

Walter Carl Stein * 1935

Eißendorfer Pferdeweg 12 (Harburg, Heimfeld)

JG. 1935
"VERLEGT" 1943
ERMORDET 24.9.1943

further stumbling stones in Eißendorfer Pferdeweg 12:
Peter Harms, Uwe Anton Hinsch, Ewald Kuhlmann, Alfred Rahnert, Herbert Thörl

Walter Stein, born on 12 Aug. 1935 in Hamburg, committed to the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) on 7 Nov. 1939, transferred to the "Eichberg sanatorium and nursing home” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg”) on 7 Aug. 1943, murdered on 24 Sept. 1943

Hamburg-Heimfeld quarter, Eissendorfer Pferdeweg 12

Walter Stein was born on 12 Aug. 1935 as the child of the unemployed worker Walter Erich Helmuth Friedrich Stein and his wife Anna Paula Stein, née Hornig, in Hamburg. The first two years of his life, he spent with his parents on Mozartstrasse and on Friedensstrasse in Hamburg-Barmbek.

However, it took not even 15 months until the youth welfare office apparently felt obliged to become active. Walter Stein Sen. had lost his eligibility to receive unemployment benefits because he had turned down a job offer. The family lived from the unemployment benefits of the mother and from child benefits for the boy, by then one year old. An employee of the welfare office called on the family in Nov. 1936, establishing in the process that the parents "had completely neglected” their child. The boy was totally "soiled and filthy.” Allegedly, Paula Stein was overtaxed as a mother and "unable to cope with her task as … the child’s nurturer.” After the parents had ignored the request for a follow-up talk about means to remedy these deficits, their right of care and custody was withdrawn from them by them by the Hamburg District Court (Amtsgericht) on 10 Feb. 1938. Paula Stein had been legally incapacitated two weeks earlier because according to a medical diagnosis, she suffered from feeblemindedness (Schwachsinn) and in the view of the welfare office, she was not capable of leading a proper life. In light of his problems, her husband, the reasoning went on, was rather a burden for her in coping with this task than a help. Based on a ruling of the Hereditary Health Court (Erbgesundheitsgericht), both parents had been sterilized by then.

On 20 Dec. 1937, Walter Stein was admitted to the "waiting school” (Warteschule), a kindergarten and day care center, of the Anscharhöhe foundation. In the course of the psychiatric admission examination, Dr. Fischer found that mentally and physically the child had not developed appropriate to his age.

"Thus far, the boy has not spoken a distinctive word, only uttering barely enunciated words. During examination of the throat, initially he keeps his lips tightly closed, though afterward grabbing the spatula in a friendly manner and playing with it. So far, he has not played in the care home yet but looked on while others played and smiled when they turned their attention to him. He has eaten well.”

On 18 May 1938, Walter Stein was transferred to the children’s home on [Eissendorfer] Pferdeweg. The reasons for this relocation to the south of Hamburg are not known. It is also unclear whether his parents were still interested in his further development, and whether they visited him from time to time – or not at all.

This measure obviously turned out to be a wrong decision. The boy’s development showed no advances. Nurse Paula Reiche was convinced that it would be impossible to do anything about his delayed development in the future either. At the home, he attracted attention due to his aggressive behavior, which caused the other children to suffer as well. Therefore, he required constant supervision. Moreover, he was still not potty-trained. The nurse urgently asked for a different solution because according to her opinion, the boy was "completely unsuitable for this home.”

On 1 Sept. 1938, Walter Stein was transferred to the Lobetal children’s home in Lübtheen near Ludwigslust. For part of the way there, he had to be carried because apparently he was often very clumsy. This home for mentally disabled and also socially neglected children had been founded in the small Mecklenburg town in 1928. By this time, his father was at the Farmsen workhouse while his mother lived in the care home (Versorgungsheim) on Oberaltenallee.

In Apr. 1941, all of the 150 occupants of the Mecklenburg children’s home were transported to the children’s ward of the Schwerin Hospital on Sachsenberg and murdered there. A memorial installation made of sheets of glass has been serving as a reminder of their violent deaths for a year now.

Walter Stein had already returned to Hamburg before the transport took place. The deaconesses of the Lübtheen children’s home had also realized quickly that he behaved more like a one-year-old than a three-year-old child.

His next station was the Johannes-Petersen-Heim on Averhoffstrasse in Hamburg. On the occasion of a "psychiatric follow-up examination” on 25 July 1938, the medical officers Dr. Hülsemann and Dr. Gräfe noted again that the boy was "underdeveloped” overall. They encountered a "friendly boy,” who smiled constantly” and eventually began to play spontaneously. However, he barely comprehended any requests and he was still unable to articulate himself by means of language. According to their assessment, the nearly four-year-old boy was "a highly feebleminded [schwachsinniges] child suffering from hereditary feeblemindedness.”

The following period saw two more medical examinations, on 21 Sept. 1939 by Dr. Schär, and on 7 Oct. 1939 by Dr. Flothmann, clarifying that Walter Stein was not deaf and dumb. He was definitely able to hear but because of his mental deficiencies, he could not comprehend what was meant and what he was supposed to do when he was told so. Dr. Flothmann confirmed the diagnosis of feeblemindedness, which in his view was reinforced by the fact "that both parents [were] feebleminded and that according to the principles of heredity, in such a case 90–100 percent of all offspring in turn [would be] feebleminded.” Both physicians also established a fundamental change in the boys’ conduct. Whereas in the past, he had behaved in a reserved and friendly manner, most recently he increasingly acted extremely aggressively.”

"Before, he was good-natured, now he is becoming malicious. W.[alter] … tears up clothes, bites, spits, and knocks down other children with his head, he scratches himself very much, always showing bloody patches on his skin; moreover, he picks his nose with sticks.”

For Dr. Flothmann, with this behavior the boy constituted a public danger ("gemeingefährlich”), as a result of which he deemed it necessary to apply for his admission to what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten). He explained that the boy was not to be fostered mentally and he assessed his genetic value as zero (Category VI, not educable). The social administration of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg agreed with Dr. Flothmann’s recommendation and took the corresponding steps.

On 7 Nov. 1939, at the age of four, Walter Stein was admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum. During the admission examination, Dr. Schäfer confirmed the diagnosis: "feeblemindedness, destructive urge.”

Once again, the boy had to get used to unfamiliar surroundings and other fellow human beings – children and adults. For two years, he had been shifted back and forth by the authorities. Frequently, he had "to pack his suitcases again,” before having settled down even to a reasonable extent. Under these circumstances, close relationships to other persons were out of the question. He was and remained alone. He probably barely experienced any loving care or none at all. He could never feel really at home anywhere. He was always a stranger everywhere.

Not surprisingly, during the first weeks he did not show any interest in his surroundings in Alsterdorf either, keeping to himself most of the time, as an entry in his patient file reveals. Certainly, a contributing factor was the fact that he was still unable to speak and that this state did not change either over the years ahead.

In terms of personal hygiene, even at the age of five, he was still entirely dependent on the help of others. In the morning, he was dressed, and in the evening, he required comprehensive care as well. He continued to interact very little with the other children, and when he did join their circle, conflict was virtually inevitable because he took away their toys and fooled around with them.

In 1942, he was, as his medical file shows, quite often ill but in other respects, no significant changes were observed. Another entry dated 1 Apr. 1943, however, sounds like a minor miracle:

"Pat.[ient] cannot speak, understands everything though, and is pleased about every nice word. He likes to carry out small services, helps clear the table. With his companions, he likes to romp about and have a scrap, all the while displaying considerate behavior, however. His potty-training is almost perfect. He is independent when it comes to eating; personal hygiene requires attention by personnel.”

Was this really the same boy that had been described as "dangerous to the public” when admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum? What had resulted in this change? We do not know and unfortunately, we are unable to explain it anymore, for on 7 Aug. 1943, Walter Stein was among the 28 children and 48 adults relocated from what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum to the "Eichberg sanatorium and nursing home” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg”) near Eltville on the Rhine. He was murdered there six weeks later, on 24 Sept. 1943.

Almost impossible to outdo in terms of awkwardness is a letter from the Hamburg Social Administration dating from Aug. 1947, in which the Alsterdorf Asylum was asked to break the news of his mother’s death to the boy gently.

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

Stand: January 2019
© Gerrit Liebing/Klaus Möller

Quellen: Gedenkbuch der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf; Walter Steins Patientenakte, Archiv der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf (V016); Michael Wunder, Ingrid Genkel, Harald Jenner, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr. Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus, Hamburg 1987; Ruth Baumann, Charlotte Köttgen, Inge Grolle, Dieter Kretzer, Arbeitsfähig oder unbrauchbar. Die Geschichte der Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie am Beispiel Hamburgs, Frankfurt a. M. 1994.

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