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Günther von Borstel * 1919

Am Torbogen 4 (Altona, Bahrenfeld)

JG. 1919
"VERLEGT" 16.4.1943
ERMORDET 9.3.1944

Günter von Borstel, born on 5 Dec. 1919, committed on 7 Mar. 1942 to the Langenhorn institution, transferred on 16 Apr. 1943 to the Meseritz-Obrawalde institution, murdered there probably on 9 Mar. 1944

Am Torbogen 4 (Drosselweg)

Günter Paul Ernst von Borstel was born on 15 Dec. 1919 as the son of Heinrich Joachim von Borstel, born in 1887, and his wife Alwine, née Heins, born in 1889. The parents had married in 1914.

The mentally disabled boy lived with his family in the Steenkamp residential area in Gross-Flottbek at Drosselweg 4 (today Am Torbogen in Bahrenfeld). His father was a travelling salesman and his mother a piano teacher. Günter had attended special school for two years, before being dismissed as "uneducable” at the age of eleven. Sometimes he delivered milk and newspapers, helping in sales at a newsstand. Hence, he was able to move independently within the residential area and he seems to have been socially integrated there. Until the fateful incident on 13 Sept. 1941, he had not attracted the attention of police.

On that day, the 21-year old was observed masturbating in the green space between Cranachstrasse and Böcklinstrasse by one graduate engineer named Schmidt. He immediately notified the police.

On 10 Feb. 1942, the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) presided over by Regional Court Director (Landgerichtsdirektor) Karl Henningsen reached the following verdict:
"The accused has infringed Sec. 183 StGB [Criminal Code]. However, he cannot be held responsible for his actions. As his appearance and conduct before court alone reveal, and as also emerges from the expert’s report by Senior Medical Officer (Obermedizinalrat) Dr. Koopmann, he is an extremely feeble-minded person, not capable of understanding the injustice of his deed, and much less, of acting accordingly. The expert attests to the accused an extremely unfavorable prognosis. There is considerable danger of recidivism. In addition, there is the risk that, with him now having entered the age of puberty, he will indecently assault children, not even shrinking from violence in doing so. Therefore, committal to a sanatorium and nursing home appears imperative.”

Even today, section 183 StGB (Strafgesetzbuch, i.e., the German Criminal Code) concerns "causing a public nuisance.” In the period of National Socialism, the court-appointed expert witness Hans Koopmann was considered an authority on so-called "sex offenses” (Sittlichkeitsverbrechen), particularly on homosexuality, which was punishable at the time. In this context, he advocated abstruse genetic theories and extremely rigid sex morals, arguing for very harsh sentences and most often for castration of the offenders. His adverse prognosis, especially concerning Günter von Borstel’s alleged potential for violence, appears completely unfounded. The account of the incident in the judgment of the Regional Court also produced no clues as to danger or pedophilia.

Nevertheless, on 7 Mar. 1942, Günter von Borstel was committed in accordance with Sec. 42 b StGB as a "criminal mental patient” to the Langenhorn Asylum (Heilanstalt Langenhorn) in closed quarters because he had perpetrated his "criminal offense,” i.e., one-time masturbating in public, in the state of mental incapacity. The so-called "42ers” had little chance of being discharged. The committal to a mental institution virtually spelled the death sentence for most persons, for the patient group of the "criminal mentally ill” was deported to the killing centers as a matter of priority.

Nazi doctors denied that disabled or psychologically ill persons were "worthy to live.” The first phase of euthanasia, the "T4 operations” ("T4-Aktionen”), named after the evaluation center at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, cost 70,273 people their lives through killing by gas. The end of the euthanasia through gassing after protests by the population, especially following the famous sermon by the Bishop of Münster, Count of Galen, in Aug. 1941, did not mean the end of patient murders. These continued undiminished, though by then, the killings were carried out – more discretely – through administering drugs and intentional starvation. Overall, up to 300,000 persons were murdered in connection with "euthanasia.” In the period from Aug. 1939 to Mar. 1945, 4,097 mental patients were transferred from Langenhorn to the killing centers, which earned the hospital the name of "nerve center of death” ("Drehscheibe des Todes”).

The transfer of Günter von Borstel to Meseritz-Obrawalde was reviewed and supported by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office (Oberstaatsanwaltschaft) in Mar. 1943. The parents must have been informed of this. Perhaps they had a premonition of danger, for in early April the father sent a letter to the Langenhorn physician Friedrich Kerl, urgently asking for Günter’s discharge:
"Dear Doctor, My son Günter has been in the local institution since 7 Mar. 1942 and he has conducted himself well throughout. He is a quiet, harmless person who has never hurt anyone. He does not understand and he also does not know that he is supposed to have made himself liable for prosecution by causing a public nuisance, and that this is the reason why he is in an institution. After some reflections, my wife and I have become convinced that if we supervise him, and we can do that well, it will not be possible for this incident to recur. Therefore, we ask you to advocate that Günter be discharged from there. We would give a full guarantee that there will be no cause for any further complaints. We tell ourselves that Günter is accommodated best with us and that the institution is relieved of one person. We live in a four-bedroom house with a garden; Günter has a room of his own. We would be very grateful to you if you granted our wish. Heil Hitler, Heinrich von Borstel.”

The doctor’s answer was negative: "After reviewing the case and examination of the court record, we would like to inform you that a discharge of your son, the patient Günter von Borstel, cannot be supported on the part of the institution.”

On 16 Apr. 1943, Günter von Borstel was deported from Langenhorn to Meseritz-Obrawalde.

In Aug. 1943, the parents sent news that their house had remained intact, i.e., that it had not been affected by the bombing of Hamburg. Possibly, this was connected to further attempts to achieve Günter’s discharge home.

Only after the termination of the euthanasia gassing operations in Aug. 1941, the Meseritz-Obrawalde "sanatorium and nursing home” (Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Meseritz-Obrawalde) was converted into a killing center, something actively pursued by the administrative director Walter Grabowski, who had already been involved in the patient murders in occupied Poland. He also ensured a change of the medical management, for this purpose reactivating the retiree Theophil Mootz.

The systematic murders started in Meseritz-Obrawalde by the spring of 1942, which is shown by the Hamburg patients’ dates of death as well. In 1943, when an increasing number of large-scale transports began rolling in, the number of daily killings was stepped up from initially three to four all the way to 40. In 1944, the number of registered deaths was only slightly below the number of just under 4,000 new admissions.

The "selection” was carried out by the physician Mootz during his rounds by pointing with his finger. Nursing staff then administered the lethal drugs. Mootz and his assistant medical director, Hilde Wernicke, later initialed the death notices in the patient files and entered the alleged causes of death.

A first "selection” already took place when the patients arrived on the institute’s own railway platform. There, those assessed as fit for work were sorted out because their capacity for work was urgently needed. Guards armed with clubs and rifles prevented any attempts to flee.

In Meseritz-Obrawalde, drugs administered in large doses were used to murder. Either, the patients were given a lethal dose of barbiturates such as Phenobarbital (Luminal), Hexobarbital (Evipan), or Barbital (Veronal) dissolved in water, which cause death after several days, mostly accompanied by symptoms of agonizing suffocation. If death was to occur more rapidly, morphine or scopolamine were injected. Many people also died of hunger, debilitation, and poor hygienic conditions, without any drugs required to help the process along. The specific withdrawal of food, scarce as it was anyway, was a killing method as well.

Günter von Borstel was murdered. The death note dated 9 Mar. 1944 was signed by the physician Mootz. Frequently, the dates of deaths were defined after the fact, also in order to avoid increased incidences in the files during the day and on certain days. The basic conditions indicated are mental illness, congenital feeble-mindedness (Schwachsinn), as cause of death and secondary illnesses, gastroenteritis ("gastric flu”) with fever, furunculosis. These diagnoses are considered typical cover diagnoses related to murder in the context of euthanasia.

One day before the recorded death, Mootz wrote to the parents that their son’s state of health had significantly deteriorated. Such notifications and thus the preparation for the death notice are sometimes contained in the files of patients whose relatives made frequent inquiries. By that time, the killing had already been initiated through drugs, thus the murder was underway.

Upon receiving word of his death, Günter von Borstel’s parents telegraphed on 11 March, "We will come Monday morning to bid farewell.”

When the Russian Army arrived in Meseritz-Obrawalde 16 Feb. 1945, the soldiers found a recent mass grave containing about 1,000 corpses; further mass graves were suspected though not opened. The finds also included more than 2,000 ampoules of Barbital (Veronal) and 1,000 ampoules of morphine. Apparently, preparations had been completed for construction of a crematorium.

There are no verified details regarding the number of persons killed at Meseritz-Obrawalde. The estimate of up to 18,000 casualties is based above all on testimony by the head nurse Amanda Ratajcak, who was sentenced to death and executed, as was the physician Hilde Wernicke. Mootz and the administrative director Grabowski did not go to trial because there was no trace of them.

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

Stand: April 2018
© Dorothee Freudenberg

Quellen: Archiv in Gorzow, Archiwum Panstwowe w Gorzowie Wielkopolskim, Krankenakte Günter von Borstel, sygnatura: 66/256/0/414; Beddies, Die Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Meseritz-Obrawalde; Ebbinghaus, Dokumentation: Krankenschwestern; Faulstich, Hungersterben; Illiger, Sprich nicht drüber; Klee, Euthanasie; Klee, Was sie taten; Lohalm, Völkische Wohlfahrtsdiktatur; Rönn, von, u. a., (Hrsg.): Wege in den Tod; Schwarz, Hans Koopmann.

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