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Melitta Handorf * 1911

Schedestraße 17 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)

JG. 1911
"VERLEGT" 16.8.1943
ERMORDET 7.3.1944

Melitta Handorf, born 18.8.1911 in Hamburg, admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum (now Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf) on 29.7.1943, "transferred" to Vienna to the Wagner von Jauregg-Healing- and Care Institution of the City of Vienna ("Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt der Stadt Wien") on 16.8.1943, murdered on 7.3.1944

Schedestraße 17, Eppendorf

Melitta Handorf was born in Hamburg on 18 Aug. 1911. She lived with her parents until she was 31. The Handorf couple had married on 1 April 1925. Melitta's father Johann August Wilhelm Handorf was born on 3 April 1884 in Schmedshagen, district of Franzburg. He worked as a commercial clerk. His Christian name was Johann, but his wife always called him "Hans". Melitta Handorf's mother Eva Karoline Ida, née Griebe, divorced Malsch, was born on 27 Sept. 1890 in Tiessau, now a district of Hitzacker.

We know nothing about Melitta Handorf's childhood and youth. For example it is unknown whether she attended school or what happened to her in her young adult life.

She was admitted to the Alsterdorf Asylum (today Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf) on 29 July 1943. Her mother later on linked the admission to the bombing destruction at the end of July and the death of Melitta’s father during clean-up work. In a written communication dated 27 July 1943, a NSDAP district office had declared Melitta Handorf's admission to be necessary. No details about the background of this intervention can be found in the files.

When Melitta Handorf was admitted to Alsterdorf, the doctors diagnosed her with "idiocy". (This term, no longer used today, was taken at that time for a severe form of intelligence impairment). It was also noted that Melitta Handorf was ill with polio at the age of three. It only follows from the entries made about her later in the Wagner von Jauregg-Healing- and Care Institution of the City of Vienna ("Wagner von Jauregg-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt der Stadt Wien") that the polio had led to permanent movement restrictions. In addition, Melitta Handorf had apparently suffered from a deformity of her feet since birth.

During the heavy air raids on Hamburg at the end of July/beginning of August 1943 ("Operation Gomorrha"), the Alsterdorf Asylum also suffered bomb damage. After consultation with the health authorities, the management took the opportunity to get rid of some of the residents who were considered to be "weak in work, requiring a lot of care or particularly difficult" by transferring them to other sanatoriums and nursing homes. On 16 Aug. 1943, a transport with 228 women and girls from Alsterdorf and 72 women and girls from the Langenhorn Healing- and Care Institution left for Vienna to the "Wagner von Jauregg Healing- and Care Institution of the City of Vienna" (also known as the "Am Steinhof" institution). Among them was Melitta Handorf.

During her admission interview at the Vienna institution, Melitta Handorf was said to have appeared calm and content, but did not give any intelligible answers. As a result of her restricted mobility, she had only been able to walk with difficulty and strong support.
During her time in the Vienna asylum, Melitta Handorf spent most of the time in bed. Allegedly, she had to be completely cared for.

In response to a concerned letter from the end of January 1944, Melitta Handorf's mother was informed that her daughter's mental condition was unchanged, but that her physical condition had worsened insofar as abdominal bleedings had occurred in the last few days; however, the gynaecologist declared an operation not to be urgent for the time being. Nevertheless, Melitta Handorf was transferred to the nursing area of the institution at the beginning of February.

Melitta Handorf's mother wrote to Vienna on 3 Feb. 1944 that she had to assume that her daughter would soon come to the end of her life. "May God grant that my poor sick child will soon be released! Is there any possibility of seeing my daughter again? In the event of a sudden death, I wish her to be cremated and the urn transferred to the Ohlsdorf cemetery in Hamburg".

She then received the following notification in a letter dated 11 Feb. 1944: "The physical condition lately has not changed significantly, the abdominal bleeding has subsided; there is no immediate danger to life. You will be informed in time in the event of a significant deterioration. [...] Gez. Dr. Podhajsky".

Eva Handorf's fear that her daughter Melitta might die soon was not supported by the correspondence between her and the institution. It can therefore not be ruled out that rumours about the often surprising end of life of people in sanatoriums and nursing homes had already reached her.

Melitta Handorf died on 7 March 1944, allegedly of pneumonia.

The asylum in Vienna was an intermediate facility for the killing centre Schloss Hartheim near Linz during "Aktion-T4" (the name for the National Socialists' "euthanasia" programme, so called after the headquarters of the Berlin euthanasia centre at Tiergartenstraße 4). After the official end of the murders in the killing centres towards the end of August 1941, the murders continued on a massive scale in the previous intermediate institutions, i.e. also in the Vienna institution, through overdoses of medication and non-treatment of diseases, through neglect, but above all through deprivation of food.

By the end of 1945, 257 of the 300 girls and women from Hamburg had died, 196 of them from Alsterdorf.

The doctor Wilhelm Podhajsky (born in 1902 and a member of the SA) had worked in the Wagner von Jauregg-Healing and Care Institution of the city of Vienna since 1935. During the Second World War he took over the management of the women's nursing home there. After the war he became director of the institution. He retired in 1967 and died in 1994. Wilhelm Podhajsky never had to answer for his activities at the institution in Vienna.

Translation: Steve Robinson

Stand: March 2023
© Ingo Wille

Quellen: Adressbuch Hamburg 1942; StaH 332-5 Heiratsregister 3513 Nr. 177/1925 Johann August Wilhelm Handorf/ Eva Karoline Ida Griebe; Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv V 329 (Melitta Handorf). Stadtarchiv Dannenberg, Geburtsregisterauszug Hitzacker Nr. 83/1890 (Eva Karoline Ida Handorf). Klaus Böhme, Uwe Lohalm (Hrsg.), Wege in den Tod, Hamburgs Anstalt Langenhorn und die Euthanasie in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, Hamburg 1993, S. 425 ff., 490 ff. Zu Wilhelm Podhajsky: (Zugriff am 21.9.2022).

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