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Uwe Oswald * 1939
Elsastraße 67 (Hamburg-Nord, Barmbek-Süd)
Uwe Oswald, born 20.12.1939 in Hoisbüttel/Storman, admitted Alsterdorfer Anstalten 16.1.1941, transferred 7.8.1943 Kalmenhof/Idstein, murdered 9.11.1943
Elsastraße 67 (left, in front of the park) (formerly: Mesterkamp 24)
Uwe Oswald was born prematurely in his parents' home in Hoisbüttel, Stormarn District, on December 20, 1939, and was immediately admitted to the children's hospital in Baustraße (today: Hinrichsenstraße) in Hohenfelde, the pediatric department of the St. Georg General Hospital. There he spent the first five months of his life in an "incubator".
Uwe's father Ernst Oswald, born Apr 10, 113 in Eickhof in Mecklenburg, had first completed elementary school and then an apprenticeship as a blacksmith. The mother Erna, née Minck, born Dec 31, 1917 in Hoisbüttel, had not pursued any further education after attending the country school there. They married on July 4, 1936, and initially lived in Hoisbüttel. Ernst Oswald described himself as a believer in God, and his wife belonged to the Protestant church. They did not have their son Uwe baptized. Uwe had a brother who was one year older.
On February 23, 1940, Ernst Oswald began working for Hamburger Hochbahn AG as a streetcar conductor and moved with his family from Hoisbüttel to Hamburg-Barmbek at Mesterkamp 24, where Uwe was laid off. Just two months later, on July 11, 1940, the mother had to go to the St. Georg Hospital for inpatient treatment. Since the father could not take over the care of the son, Uwe was placed in the infant home of the Hamburg Youth Authority at Winterhuder Weg. After only six days, he returned to the children's hospital in Baustraße because of a hernia operation.
The operation went without complications, but afterwards Uwe did not return home. The reason for this was that the parents' marriage had broken down and was legally divorced on November 20, 1940. The father was granted sole custody and wanted to have Uwe adopted. Until then, he was to remain in the children's home.
Uwe was and remained small for his age, but had a strikingly large head, hydrocephalus. He also suffered from severe rickets and anemia. The rickets was stopped by treatment with Vigantol, and the anemia was improved with iron supplements. However, the circumference of his head increased to a small extent. Uwe ate well, but despite the improvements in his health, he showed no progress in sitting, in movements at all, and in reactions to the environment. He cried a lot, but never laughed.
Therefore, on November 29, 1940, the Hamburg Youth Welfare Office arranged for a psychiatric examination to determine where Uwe should be placed in the future. The result of the examination was: "It is a case of feeble-mindedness in premature birth with severe physical underdevelopment and hydrocephalus." The corresponding report was drawn up on December 2, 1940, and contained a recommendation for his admission to the Alsterdorf Institutions of the time.
At that time, hydrocephalus was already one of the disabilities reportable to the "Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden" (RA). However, no report was made. Otherwise, Uwe would not have been admitted to the Alsterdorf Institutions, but to the "Kinderfachabteilung" (KFA) of the Rothenburgsort Children's Hospital, the only one existing in Hamburg at that time.
Uwe experienced his first birthday, Christmas and the turn of the year in the children's home. His behavior had improved slightly, he played with his toys and looked more understandingly at the world, but he still could not sit. In this condition and well equipped with clothes, he was placed in the care of the then Alsterdorfer Anstalten on January 16, 1941. The Social Administration of Hamburg took over the costs of his accommodation, initially until December 31, 1941.
When Uwe entered the Alsterdorfer Anstalten he weighed 6.7 kg. That it was recorded in the sick report for a one-year-old boy that he could be fed and kept dry with difficulty is surprising to today's readers.
Apparently, Uwe's mother and her relatives visited the boy, because the father explicitly stated to the institution management as well as to the relatives that only he was entitled to visitation rights and that he forbade the mother and her relatives to do so.
Ernst Oswald wanted to marry again and, in the interest of the family-in-law, wanted to know what the causes of Uwe's condition were in order not to father another child with such disabilities. Gerhard Kreyenberg, the senior physician, drew up a family tree of four generations on the basis of the information provided by the father, but this did not provide any evidence of a hereditary disability in Uwe, which was also in line with the psychiatric report. Nevertheless, he asked Erna and Uwe Oswald's obstetrician for information about the course of the birth, but the obstetrician could not be reached as he was a senior staff physician in the Navy.
Uwe Oswald contracted nasal diphtheria, a form of diphtheria frequently found in small children, less fatal than pharyngeal diphtheria, feared as the "choking angel of children" until the introduction of compulsory diphtheria vaccinations, but nevertheless dangerous. Uwe had not yet been vaccinated because of his general weakness.
That is why the subject of diphtheria plays such an important role in this biography. After a diphtheria bacteria positive nasal swab on March 11, 1941, Uwe was injected with a diphtheria serum and treatment of the nasal mucous membranes with brushings of lemon began. After the first negative result, the therapy was temporarily supported by chest compresses. The next smear was negative, but then several positive ones followed. Uwe suffered fever spikes of over 40°. After the fourth positive nasal swab, the therapy was changed and Prontosil was given. This was a sulfonamide developed shortly before, whose importance as an antibacterial remedy was made known by the award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1939. In Uwe's case, the disease initially worsened, the fever rising again to 40°, but then subsided, and after three more negative smears, treatment was terminated on May 17, 1941.
The fact that Uwe survived the illness, given his general weakness, is due not only to the therapies but also to his otherwise good care and attention. He remained in the infirmary for the time being, but in October he was deferred from the diphtheria vaccination that was actually due until December 1942.
Ernst Oswald received a monthly child allowance of 20 RM for Uwe from the Hamburger Hochbahn AG. At the instigation of the DAF, the German Labor Front, he ceded it to the social administration in favor of Uwe's housing as of December 1, 1941.
One year after his admission to the then Alsterdorf institutions, Uwe had reached a weight of 10.3 kg. The social administration requested a report on Uwe because of the continuation of the maintenance payments. Gerhard Schäfer, the medical director of the institution at the time, justified the necessity of continued institutionalization as follows: "The pat[ient] suffers from hydrocephalus with imbecility. He responds when spoken to, but cannot play properly. He is fed a gruel diet, keeps his needs to himself." There was no further report after this one of April 15, 1942.
On March 9, 1942, Uwe Oswald was vaccinated against diphtheria for the first time, and on April 17 the second vaccination was given. On May 1, 1942, Uwe showed the first signs of chickenpox. It was alleviated by powdering and was over by the 15th of the month without complications. On August 21 of that year, he was transferred from the infirmary to Ward 10, a children's ward. There, on November 11, he received another diphtheria inoculation, the first successful one, which "fulfilled the legal obligation," as it was said, and with which the entries about Uwe's condition and behavior end, except for the weight at the beginning of 1943: 11.5 kg, after he had weighed almost one kilogram more in July of the previous year.
During the major Allied air raids on Hamburg in July/August 1943, the then Alsterdorf institutions were also damaged. Pastor Friedrich Lensch, the director of the institution at the time, took this as an opportunity to transfer over 450 patients to "air-safe" areas in order to achieve leeway for another use of the institution. With the approval of the Hamburg health authorities and in cooperation with the "euthanasia center" at Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin, he organized these transports. The first transport included 128 children and men and left Hamburg on August 7, 1943, with the destination of two asylums in the Rheingau. Uwe Oswald was assigned to it, apparently because he was in severe need of care and had made little progress in his mental development.
The transport was first taken, accompanied by Pastor Lensch, in buses of the GeKrat, the Gemeinnützige Krankentransport-GmbH of the "Euthanasiezentrale" in Berlin with its darkened windows, to the freight station Langenhorn, where those affected had to change to a train, i.e., Uwe Oswald and other children were carried, many of them in "protective jackets," colloquially called straitjackets.
In Limburg an der Lahn, the transport was divided up: 76 people destined for the Eichberg State Sanatorium and Nursing Home remained on the train, while the car with the children destined for the Kalmenhof near Idstein am Taunus was uncoupled. It reached its destination in the early morning of August 8, 1943. Uwe Oswald, now three years and eight months old, was among this group of 52 boys and girls between the ages of two and twelve.
The Kalmenhof was a formerly well-regarded institution that became involved in the euthanasia program in two ways: as a transit station to the "killing facility" Hadamar and, from the end of 1941, with the establishment of a "children's specialist department" of the "Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Hereditary and Congenital Serious Illnesses". Bypassing the complicated bureaucratic procedure associated with it, both children and adults were killed there.
After their arrival at the Kalmenhof, the 52 children were divided up: 20 were sent to the "old people's home," and the remaining 32 to the "hospital" on the opposite side of the asylum, which was adjoined by a field that served as the asylum cemetery. In the hospital, the children were gradually murdered with overdosed morphine/scopolamine or Luminal and then buried in the asylum cemetery.
It is not known to which of the two groups Uwe Oswald was assigned. On November 11, 1943, 48 of the 52 "Alsterdorf" children had already been murdered. Only one boy survived thanks to the efforts of the matron Loni Franz from the old people's home. (It was Hans Gerhard Meiners, born in 1932, who appeared in 1947 as a witness in the trial against the former director of the asylum, Wilhelm Großmann.)
In March 1944, Ernst Oswald again turned to the management of the then Alsterdorfer Anstalten, after he had received no reply to letters of December 1943 and January 1944. "I am of the opinion that my letters were lost through enemy action. For the trains from the southeast to the German homeland must always pass through Serbian band territory. ... I kindly ask you ... to inform me about the findings and possible whereabouts of my son Uwe. Since we cannot count on leave, you will not deny me my wish.
Ernst Oswald as father and legal guardian".
The answer was very sober:
Private Ernst Oswald, field post no. 425 65 D
"In reply to your letter of 21.3.44, we inform you that your son Uwe was transferred to the sanatorium and nursing home Idstein in Taunus via Eltville on 7.8.1943 as a result of severe damage to our institutions by enemy action.
Ernst Oswald returned to Hamburg after the war. He withdrew the declaration of assignment for child benefits on May 8, 1946.
After his death on October 30, 1970, the guardian of his estate made inquiries about Uwe's whereabouts. The management of the Alsterdorfer Anstalten at the time did not provide any information beyond the transfer of Uwe Oswald to the Kalmenhof home for special education on August 7, 1943. It was not until the 1980s that the events following the transfers became known.
Translation by Beate Meyer
Stand: January 2022
© Hildegard Thevs
Quellen: Ev. Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, V 72; Meyers Enzyklopädie in 25 Bänden, Mannheim 1972; Wunder et al.: Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr, 3. Aufl. Hamburg 2016.