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Peter Harms * 1941
Eißendorfer Pferdeweg 12 (Harburg, Heimfeld)
Peter Harms, born 24 June 1941 in Hamburg, committed to the Alsterdorf Institution on 24 Nov. 1942, transferred to the "Kalmenhof Mental Hospital” near Idstein on 7 Aug. 1943, murdered on 8 Sep. 1943
Eißendorfer Pferdeweg 12
Peter Harms was born on 24 June 1941 in the Finkenau Women’s Hospital (Frauenklinik Finkenau) in Hamburg-Eilbek. His mother, Käthe Harms, was 19 years old when she gave birth to him, and she worked as a packager. She was not married to her son’s father, the labourer John Ehlers, who was almost twice her age. Because Ehlers denied paternity, Käthe Harms instituted maintenance proceedings against him.
Immediately after the birth, the mother and son first went to live with Peter Harms’s maternal grandparents at Große Gärtnerstraße 7. The two new co-residents were able to stay here only temporarily, however, for reasons that are not known. Because Käthe Harms, as a single mother, evidently had no success in her search for a suitable flat, she was forced to entrust her son, not even three months old, to a home for infants in Aug. 1941.
Käthe Harms found a new place to stay, at Schanzenstraße 10 in Hamburg-Altona. Why her little son, a few weeks later, was turned over to the Harburg Children’s Home (Harburger Kinderheim) on Eißendorfer Pferdeweg is not known. When he fell ill for a time in Nov. 1941, he spent a few days in addition in the Harburg Hospital (Harburger Krankenhaus), which at that time was situated near the Irrgarten park between Eißendorfer Straße and Denickestraße. But his stay in Harburg, too, was short-lived. From here, his path led back across the Elbe to the Winterhuder Weg Children’s Home (Kleinkinderhaus Winterhuder Weg) in the suburb of Hamburg-Uhlenhorst. The constant change of place seemed to have come to a happy end for the little boy when he was taken in as a foster child by a married couple named Westphal. But the foster parents brought the child back to the Winterhuder Weg Children’s Home on 11 July 1942 because, according to a physician whom they had consulted, he was "suffering from rickets and quite retarded.”
The administrators of this home concurred in this diagnosis after the little boy’s return. Scarcely one year after birth, he was assessed as a "child not appropriately developed for his age, both physically and mentally,” who resembled "in his mental development, as well as constitutionally, a child of approximately six months of age.” The child-care workers noted that the boy, at the age of one year, could "not yet sit up” and always took "only liquid nourishment.” Allegedly, he was barely able to occupy himself and spent the greatest part of the day "quietly in his little bed.” Any toys that were handed to him were quickly tossed aside by him a short time later.
On 25 Aug. 1942, the public medical officers Dr Hülsemann and Dr Gräfe paid a visit to the little child on behalf of the Hamburg Youth Authority and ascertained at the time that the boy reacted "to light, but apparently not to sounds.” In addition, they found him to be "quiet, lethargic and uninterested.” Overall, they regarded him as "mentally retarded to a significant degree.” In genetic terms, both physicians assigned him to Value Group 4 of the Hamburg Youth Authority, intended for people who were deemed "of low value,” both "mentally and with respect to character.” In conclusion, the two physicians recommended that the 15-month-old child be placed "in an institution for the mentally ill, feeble-minded and epileptics” at the expense of the Hamburg Social Services Administration.
On 16 Nov. 1942, Peter Harms, not even 18 months old, was admitted to what was then the Alsterdorf Institution (Alsterdorfer Anstalten). Dr Schäfer, in the medical opinion he wrote after the admission examination, cited mental deficiency as the reason for admitting the little patient to this facility.
Obviously, in the following months, little was done here to encourage the child’s positive development, as the sparse entries by the doctors and nurses in his patient file lead one to assume.
Nine months later, the little patient had to say farewell again. On 7 Aug. 1943, Peter Harms was one of the 52 "useless” boys in the Alsterdorf Institution who were transferred from Hamburg to the Kalmenhof Mental Hospital (Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Kalmenhof) in the Taunus Mountains. One month after arriving in Hesse, he was dead.
Just under three years later, the Hamburg authorities learned upon inquiry that Peter Harms had died on 8 Sep. 1943 in the Kalmenhof Institute for the Handicapped (Heilerziehungsanstalt Kalmenhof) in Idstein in the Taunus Mountains of "imbecility, chronic gastroenteritis, symptoms of collapse and circulatory insufficiency.” As in the case of many others who died during the National Socialist period, the information regarding the true cause of his death should probably be different.
The short life of Peter Harms ended soon after his second birthday. He had to die because those who killed him regarded him as "unworthy to live.” For them, the measure of all things was solely the productive labour a person could perform. Led astray by the delusion of creating an idyllic world without sick people, they embarked on their misanthropic work, the destruction of all unhealthy life. Instead of curing their sick patients, many physicians violated this commandment during the National Socialist period by intentionally killing the weak and helpless.
Since 29 Apr. 1984, there has been a memorial on the grounds of the Alsterdorf Evangelical Foundation (Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf) that calls to mind the fate of the patients who were sent from here to their deaths between 1938 and 1945. Their names are recorded in the memorial book that is on display in the entrance hall of the St Nicholas Church (St. Nicolauskirche) in Alsterdorf. The name of Peter Harms is also perpetuated on one of its pages.
Translator: Kathleen Luft
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: October 2016
© Jana Schlemm/Klaus Möller
Quellen: Gedenkbuch der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf; Peter Harms´ Patientenakte, Archiv der Evangelischen Stiftung Alsterdorf (V054); 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