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Grete Detert * 1930
Spaldingstraße 130–136 (Hamburg-Mitte, Hammerbrook)
Grete Detert, born on 9 Nov. 1930 in Hamburg, murdered on 24 Sept. 1943 in Eichberg
Spaldingstrasse 130–136 (formerly: Spaldingstrasse 138)
In May 1937, Gerhard Kreyenberg, since 1928 a physician at what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) and from 1935 onward associate judge of the Hereditary Health Court (Erbgesundheitsgericht), drew a family tree of the child Grete Detert. She was six years old and had been admitted on 16 Mar. 1937 based on a diagnosis of "erethistic imbecility (increased irritability with concurrent mental deficiency), epilepsy.” The family tree with its details on illnesses, causes of death, school education, and lifestyle of previous generations was intended to give information as to whether her ailment was hereditary. The inquiry into the background showed that her illness could not have been inherited.
Grete Detert was the only child of Arthur Detert, born on 17 Apr. 1905 in Hamburg, and his wife Elisabeth, née Nierath, born on 8 Feb. 1905 in the manorial village of Sildemow in Mecklenburg-Schwerin near Rostock. Elisabeth Nierath’s father Wilhelm was a shepherd. She grew up with four siblings, the three sisters Käthe, Grete, Anni, and brother Willi, who became a shepherd as well. Elisabeth Nierath came to Hamburg, living at Mozartstrasse 44 Barmbek-South when she got married. A chauffeur by occupation, Arthur Detert lived alone with his mother Antonie, née Wiepel, at the same address after the death of his father. Arthur and Elizabeth were married in Hamburg on 3 May 1929.
Grete’s birth on 9 Nov. 1930 took its course without any complications. Her grandmother Emma Nierath and her aunt Grete, after whom she was named, acted as godparents when she was baptized in Barmbek-Uhlenhorst on 7 Dec. 1930. As a baptismal motto, Pastor Rode gave her Isaiah 60:1 along on her journey through life: "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.”
As an infant, Grete developed without any conspicuous features. The first symptoms of her ailment emerged in the second year of her life and were associated by her mother with a vaccination. Grete got into states of irritability, accompanied by screaming fits, and developed substantial hyperactivity. Along with all this, she continued to have a friendly and cheerful disposition. She showed great interest in her surroundings, learned how to speak, even though with unclear pronunciation. Her vocabulary remained small.
When Grete had not quite reached the age of five, her parents separated, and based on the decision by the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) dated 26 Feb. 1936, the marriage was divorced. The father married a second time that same year but his wife died shortly afterward. Being the blameless party in the divorce, the mother, Elisabeth Detert, got custody. She moved to Spaldingstrasse 138 in St. Georg with her daughter. Since Arthur Detert was unable to pay alimony for his divorced wife, she applied for welfare assistance in Apr. 1936. The welfare office looked into the cause of Grete’s mental underdevelopment and the possibility of admitting her to a daycare center so that her mother would be able to work. However, this solution was out of the question because Grete proved unable to integrate into a community of "normal children.”
Elisabeth Detert was referred to what was then the Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) to examine Grete’s state of health. In Dec. 1936, Gerhard Kreyenberg recommended permanent placement of the girl in his institution. The small children’s welfare service, which had observed Grete’s development for a long time, supported the suggestion, pointing out that the mother had "always given a good impression,” that she had to keep a close eye on Grete all the time in order to prevent her from causing harm, but that she was no longer able to get her under control.
On 13 Mar. 1937, the six-and-a-half-year-old girl was admitted to "Alsterdorf.” Thus, her mother was free to pursue gainful employment. Acquaintances found her a job as a housekeeper for the potter Walter Meyer at Horner Landstrasse 300, where she moved to occupy half a room. She managed the household to the satisfaction of the youth and welfare office and in particular, took care of the children, two of whom were supposed to be placed under the control of the public lung care service (Lungenfürsorge). "The children say Mommy to Mrs. D. and they try in a naïve way to convince her to marry Mr. M.,” wrote the female social worker in Apr. 1937. This did happen in early 1938, and Grete’s mother moved to the Steuben housing estate (Steubensiedlung) in Hamburg-Horn with her new family.
During the admission examination on 16 Mar. 1937, Grete showed neither fear nor any defensive disposition, was in a mood to kid around, though neither reacting to invocations nor admonitions. She merely wished to run about all the time. In the new situation, she became so restless and unruly that she was strapped to the bed. Still, she threw out her bedding. She allowed herself to be fed but she did not speak or listen to her name. Whether her hearing was ever checked does not emerge from the records.
After two days, she became more sociable, cried a lot, and on frequent occasions, she could be cheerful. She managed her personal hygiene alone with little assistance and she became very attached to care personnel. If she wanted to be picked up, she made herself understood by screaming. She ran from room to room, without, however, taking any interest in her environment.
After the settling-in period of two weeks, during which she had remained free of any fits, she was committed to the girls’ ward. She observed her new surroundings, spoke more than before, still continuing to cry a lot, tearing up things, and wetting herself. Three months after her admission, she suffered an epileptic seizure again, and at the end of Jan. 1938, she was considered in need of comprehensive care. The earlier state of greater independence came back again, but now she suffered from a series of infectious diseases, which meant transfer to the hospital ward in each instance. A serious bout of influenza in early 1939 turned into pneumonia.
In Mar. 1940, the summary of reasons given for the necessity of continued institutional care stated that Grete was a "seizure child” ("Krämpfekind”), a severe bed-wetter requiring comprehensive personal hygiene, and that she had to be fed as well. She played nicely by herself, it went on, but had to wear a "protective jacket” ("Schutzjacke”) because she liked to pull other children’s hair. By means of the "protective jacket,” called "straitjacket” ("Zwangsjacke”) in the vernacular, her arms were tied firmly to her body.
During the second half of the year, she once again suffered from infectious diseases, this time a diarrheic disorder and measles, and she continued to have fever even after they subsided. In early 1941, at the age of ten, the seizures increased and were alleviated with low doses of Phenobarbital (Luminal).
On 9 Oct. 1941, the institutional management asked the mother in writing "that she would want to pay one last visit” to Grete, as she had fallen seriously ill. Grete suffered from diphtheria with severe side effects that had necessitated surgical intervention. Grete survived this life-threatening situation as well. Nothing changed concerning her basic ailment.
As a child in need of care with a poor prognosis, she was transferred to the "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Eichberg” on 7 Aug. 1943, a sanatorium and nursing home in the Rheingau belonging to the ring of institutions that had done the groundwork for the Hadamar killing center during the first phase of euthanasia. This location had also seen the establishment of the so-called "children’s special ward” (Kinderfachabteilung) of the "Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses” ("Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden”). In the summer of 1943, the institution was completely overcrowded. In order to make room, patients were killed in a variety of ways, none subject to any regulated procedure. Children were murdered, without those responsible applying the procedure prescribed by the "Reich Committee.”
The heavy damage Hamburg sustained from Allied air raids affected the "Alsterdorf Asylum” twofold: Parts of the institution were destroyed or damaged, respectively; at the same time, persons buried in the rubble, the injured, and the homeless required care. In this situation, the head of the institution, Pastor Friedrich Lensch, applied to the Hamburg public health authority for permission to transfer more than 700 patients to regions "safe from bombing” ("luftsichere Regionen”). Once initiated, these transfers were handled within a very brief period by the transport company of euthanasia operations in Berlin. Grete Detert was one of 28 children having to leave the then "Alsterdorf Asylum” first, together with other patients of the institution. The transport went off in a chaotic manner and was delayed in Hattenheim because a number of patients escaped from the train and had to be returned. Meanwhile, quite a few children were forced to wait immobilized in their "protective jackets,” among them probably the physically active Grete Detert as well.
Conditions in the entirely overcrowded Eichberg institution were adverse to an extended length of stay and humane treatment of the patients. It is not known how Grete Detert spent the remaining seven weeks of her life. On 24 Sept. 1943, she died, allegedly, of "cardiac insufficiency accompanied by infirmity and idiocy [Siechtum und Idiotie].” In fact, she was murdered within the responsibility of Walter Schmidt, the physician in charge. She reached the age of 12.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Hildegard Thevs
Quellen: Hamburger Adressbücher; Ev. Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, V 37; StaH 332-5, 13043+246/1929; Wunder, Michael, Ingrid Genkel, Harald Jenner: Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr, Hamburg, 2. Aufl. 1988; ttp://www.gemeinde.papendorf.de, Zugriff 16.2.2013.