Hamburg-Rothenburgsort (Privates Kinderkrankenhaus Hamburg Rothenburgsort)

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The Kinderfachabteilung in Hamburg-Rothenburgsort is unusual because it was established in a private children's hospital. It was one of two special children's wards in the city of Hamburg. The Kinderkrankenhaus was established in 1898 on the basis of a charitable foundation in the populated workers' district of Rothenburgsort. The building that housed the clinic and during World War II the special children's ward was built in in 1922 (Brahm 2007: 37).

picture of building in 1928
picture of bombed building in 1943
Source: Brahm, pp. 37, 57.

The Landgericht Hamburg noted in 1949 that 56 children died in the special children's ward. Based on G. Aly's first public study on the subject matter (1984; see also below) it was believed that the ward was not physically separated from other stations, and to have existed from between January 1941 until at least 1942, but the medical dissertation by Dr. Marc Burlon (2010) in particular shed new light on the special children's ward.

According to Dr. Burlon, 64 children were admitted to the special children's ward (this number includes 7 children who were admitted and/or treated in both special children's wards in Hamburg), of whom 60 died (2010, pp. 145-147), and three were transferred to the special children's ward Hamburg Langenhorn and from there to Meseritz-Obrawalde. The first of these children died in June 1940, but it is uncertain and perhaps doubtful whether this occurred as part of the Reichsausschussverfahren or was carried out before the special children's ward was in place (see Benzenhöfer 2008, p. 91). In 1943 the hospital was heavily bombed and the operation of the entire hospital ceased for some time in that year. The last child died in April 1945, indicative of the fact that the special children's ward existed until the end of the war. The admission records are no longer extant for 1942 and 1943, so that there is reason to believe that the number of admitted children was considerably higher (Burlon 2010, p. 149). The investigations of the Landgericht Hamburg in the post-war period referred to 200 children who had been admitted by the Reichsausschuss.

It does indeed appear that the special children's ward was not a physically separated entity. An usual circumstance of Hamburg Rothenburgsort was that the public health officer Dr. Hermann Sieveking provided a separate assessment of those children who had been reported to the Reichsausschuss about their "worth to live" before they were killed. (see Burlon 2010, p. 60 n. 213).

Dr. Wilhelm Bayer became the medical director of the clinic in 1934 after the previous medical director and his deputy had been dismissed for being Jewish. He was directly responsible for the special children's ward. As the new research by the journalist Andreas Babel shows,  he was assisted by the following assistant physicians:
Drs. Lotte Albers,. Ilse Bauer, Ursula Bensel, Ilse Breitfort, Ortrud von Lamezan, Maria Lange-de la Camp, Emma Lüthje, Ursula Petersen, Gisela Schwabe, and Ingeborg Wetzel.
A. Babel shows that four physicians declined becoming involved in "euthanasia"  crimes:
Drs. Lydia Fontana, Ingeborg Sammet, Margarita van der Borg, and Liesel Deidesheimer.
Dr. Helene Sonnemann was Dr. Bayer's deputy from early 1942 to October 1943, when after the fire bombing of the clinic she resettled with personnel to the city of Celle, where she was the director of the general hospital until 1951. In 1948 she admitted to having been personally involved in the killing of children in the special children's ward during her time there and is named in the indictment of the state attorney's office as having carried out most of the killings (see Burlon 2010, p. 89; Reiter 2011), but she was not prosecuted.

After World War II Dr. Bayer was suspended and dismissed, but the criminal investigations against him and others were stopped by the state court Hamburg in 1949, for the court held that "the shortening of life unworthy of living" does "not deviate from general moral law." None of the physicians lost his or her license. A further review in 1960 led to the same result: no trial was held. Dr. Bayer worked as a pediatrician in Hamburg and died in 1972 (Burlon 2010, p. 235). Dr. Sonnemann became director of the general hospital in Celle and deputy director. Her story is reported in a newspaper articles (1; 2; 3), and a definitive study on her was published in 2010 (Reiter 2010). She died in 1998. After World War II, Dr. Wetzel had a pediatric practice in Hamburg, marrying in 1963 a judge who was involved in the early investigations of the killings, Walter Tyrolf, who himself had asked for the death sentence for causa such as "racial defilement" as a prosecutor during World War II. Dr. Breitfort worked in the municipal children's clinic in Essen. Dr. Lange-de la Camp was a general practitioner in Hamburg (Burlon 2010, p. 235). Dr. Petersen continued practicing medicine at the Rothenburgsort children's clinic (see Thevs 2011, p. 160; the post-war careers of the other female physicians are described by Babel 2015).

Following the preparation of an indictment against Lensch and Struve in 1973, the director of the Alsterdorf institutions and the director of the general department of health during the Nazi period, which resulted in the collection of a large amount of information on medical crimes in Hamburg, a group of historical researchers conducted a meeting under the title "Healing and Killing in the Exemplary Gau Hamburg" (Heilen und Vernichten im Mustergau Hamburg) with an exhibit in Hamburg in 1983, and a book followed a year later. In it, publicist G. Aly presented the first systematic investigation into the special children's wards in Hamburg. Still, a history of the clinic published in 1986 mentioned the killing of children but did so in the context of a rather exculpatory account of Dr. Bayer's activities as director of the clinic (see Burlon 2010, p. 53). Then in 1996 a member of the staff council (Personalrat) at the Hygiene Institut, which had moved into the building in 1986, saw a reference to the murder of children in the children's clinic in Rothenburgsort during the Nazi period (on that occasion of the clinic's closing in that year it appears that a look back at its history included references to the murder of children). The staff council took up some inquiries, and with the the support of the administration and under collaboration with staff of the institute as well as the former clinic, a commemorative display was placed on the wall next to the historical entrance to the clinic on 9 November 1999, the day of commemoration for the Jewish victims of the November pogroms in 1938. An event was also held on that day and a booklet was published. A recent history of the building exists as well (Brahm 2007).

picture of building memorial display - text
Source: author

The inscription reads: "In this building more than 50 disabled children were killed between 1941 and 1945. An team of assessors classified them as 'unworthy life' and admitted them to special children's wards to be killed there. The Hamburg department of health was involved in this process. Hamburg's public health officials supervised the children's admission and their killing. Doctors at the Children's Hospital carried it out. None of the parties were held criminally liable" (In diesem Gebäude wurden zwischen 1941 und 1945 mehr als 50 behinderte Kinder getötet. Ein Gutachterausschuss stufte sie als „unwertes Leben“ ein und wies sie zur Tötung in die Kinderfachabteilungen ein. Die Hamburger Gesundheitsabteilung war daran beteiligt. Hamburger Amtsärzte überwachten die Einweisung und Tötung der Kinder. Ärzte des Kinderkrankenhauses führten sie durch. Keiner der Beteiligten wurden dafür gerichtlich belangt). There is no entry for this memorial in the guide to Hamburg's memorials for victims of the years 1933-1945 (Garbe and Klingel 2008).

stumbling blocks Source: http://www.hamburg.de/nachrichten/1839886/stolpersteine.html

Almost ten years later, in October 2009, 35 "stumbling blocks" (Stolpersteine) were placed in front of the building of the former children's clinic, after 33 victims had been identified by name. Another stumbling block is in memory of its former director Dr. Stamm, and the 35th is for the victims who have not been identified. (The location is unusual for stumbling blocks, as they are normally placed in front of the home dwellings of victims.) Reports can be found here and here.

The names on the stumbling blocks are as follows:
Andreas Ahlemann, Rita Ahrens, Ursula Bade, Hermann Beekhuis, Ute Conrad, Helga Deede, Jürgen Dobbert, Anneliese Drost, Siegfried [Findelkind], Rolf Förster, Volker Grimm, Antje Hinrichs, Lisa Huesmann, Gundula Johns, Peter Löding, Angela Lucassen, Elfriede Maaker, Werner Mohr, Renate Müller, Harald Noll, Agnes Petersen, Renate Pöhls, Gebhard Pribbenow, Hannelore Scholz, Doris Schreiber, Ilse Angelika Schultz, Dagmar Schulz, Magdalene Schütte, Gretel Schwieger, Brunhilde Stobbe, Hans Tammling, Peter Timm, Heinz Weidenhausen, Renate Wilken, Horst Willhöft, and Dr. Carl Stamm.

The public Internet site of the city of Hamburg offers the document of the commemorative text of 1999 in full (see below) and provides references to news in reference to the "stumbling blocks."

Aside from Dr. Burlon's dissertation, in 2011, H. Thevs published a book on the biography of the victims, and R. Reiter a book on the biography of Dr. Sonnemann that contains a masterful analysis of her involvement in the murder of children.

On 12 September 2012 the remains of 5 children discovered in the archive of the neuropathological department (Archiv der Neuropathologischen Abteilung) of the university clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf were buried at the cemetery (see here). These children died in the Kinderfachabteilungen Langenhorn and Rothenburgsort. Their names are:
Gerda Behrmann (1939-1941)
Werner Hammerich (1940-1941)
Marianne Harms (1940-1941)
Dieter Kullak (1938-1942)
Agnes Erna Petersen (1938-1941)
A brief clip from an TV station is captured here (source: NDR.de; educational use in the context of "fair use" only).

In early 2014 an exhibit addressed "children's euthanasia." The exhibit is entitled 'Euthanasia: The Murder of People with Disabilities and Mental Illnesses in Hamburg during National Socialism" (Euthanasie. Die Morde an Menschen mit Behinderungen und psychischen Erkrankungen in Hamburg im Nationalsozialismus). The exhibit was accompanied  by a series of lectures and other activities. Information is provided in this flyer, and there is an exhibit catalog (Diercks 2014). The exhibit includes a section on "children's euthanasia" and features short biographies of the victims Ilse Schultz, Gebhard Pribbernow, and Hannelore Scholz (as well as minors Rudolf Haubenreisser, Alfred Rahnert, and Irma Sperling, who died elsewhere).

A Festschrift on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf in 2014 also addressed the involvement of Hamburg's "special children's wards" in medicine under National Socialism (Bussche and Bottin 2014).

In 2015 Andreas Babel published a book detailing the history of female resident physicians at Rothenburgsort, of whom 11 murdered children (Babel 2015). Stories about individual physicians have been addressed in the local press (for example, see here).


Babel, Andreas. 2011. "Der Fall Dr. Helene Sonnemann in Celle." Pp. 219-30 in Kindermord und "Kinderfachabteilungen" im Nationalsozialismus: Gedenken und Forschung, edited by Lutz Kaelber und Raimond Reiter. Hamburg: Lang.

———. 2015. Kindermord im Krankenhaus: Warum Mediziner während des Nationalsozialismus in Rothenburgsort behinderte Kinder töteten. Bremen: Edition Falkenberg.

Benzenhöfer, Udo. 2003. "Genese und Struktur der 'NS-Kinder- und Jugendlicheneuthanasie.'" Monatsschrift für Kinderheilkunde 151: 1012-1019.

———. 2008. Der Fall Leipzig Leipzig (alias Fall "Kind Knauer") und die Planung der NS-"Kindereuthanasie." Verlag : Klemm u. Oelschläger.

Burlon, Marc. 2010. "Die 'Euthanasie' an Kindern während des Nationalsozialismus in den zwei Hamburger Kinderfachabteilungen." Medical Dissertation, University of Hamburg. Available at http://www.sub.uni-hamburg.de/opus/volltexte/2010/4578/pdf/Kindereuthanasie_Hamburg.pdf

———. 2011. "'Ein erlaubter nützlicher Akt …': Die Tötungen in den Hamburger 'Kinderfachabteilungen.'" Pp. 77-90 in Kindermord und "Kinderfachabteilungen" im Nationalsozialismus: Gedenken und Forschung, edited by Lutz Kaelber und Raimond Reiter. Hamburg: Lang.

Brahm, Felix. 2007. Lehren, Heilen, Überwachen: Die wechselvolle Geschichte eines historischen Gebäudekomplexes in Hamburg-Rothenburgsort. Hamburg: Institut für Hygiene und Umwelt.

Bussche, Hendrik van den, and  Angela Bottin. 2014. Die Hamburger Universitätsmedizin im Nationalsozialismus: Forschung, Lehre, Krankenversorgung. Berlin: Reimer.

Diercks, Herbert. 2014. "Euthanasie": Die Morde an Menschen mit Behinderungen und psychischen Erkrankungen in Hamburg in Nationalsozialismus. Hamburg: KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme.

Garbe, Detlef, and Karsten Klingel. 2008. Gedenkstätten in Hamburg: Ein Wegweiser zu Stätten der Erinnerung an die Jahre 1933-1945. Rev. ed. Hamburg: Landeszentrale für politische Bildung.

Götz, Aly. 1984. "Der Mord an behinderten Hamburger Kindern zwischen 1939 und 1945." Pp. 147-55 in Heilen und Vernichten im Mustergau Hamburg: Bevölkerungs- und Gesundheitspolitik im Dritten Reich, edited by A. Ebbinghaus, H. Kaupen-Haas and K.-H. Roth. Hamburg: Konkret Literatur Verlag.

Grabitz, Helge. 1999. Täter und Gehilfen des Endlösungswahns: Hamburger Verfahren wegen NS-Gewaltverbrechen 1946-1996. Hamburg: Ergebnisse Verlag, pp.65-68.

Holthusen, Wilhelm, and Gerhard Ruhrmann. 1986. "Das Kinderkrankenhaus Hamburg-Rothenburgsort (1898-1982): Seine Entstehungsgeschichte und sein Ende (Teil I)." Hamburger Ärzteblatt 40, 10: 312-6; "Das Kinderkrankenhaus Hamburg-Rothenburgsort (1898-1982): Seine Entstehungsgeschichte und sein Ende (Teil II)." Hamburger Ärzteblatt 40, 11: 363-5; "Das Kinderkrankenhaus Hamburg-Rothenburgsort (1898-1982): Seine Entstehungsgeschichte und sein Ende (Teil III)." Hamburger Ärzteblatt 40, 10: 403-7.

Hygiene Institut Hamburg. 1999. Gedenkschrift zur Erinnerung an Kinderopfer in der NS-Zeit. Hamburg: Hygiene Institut Hamburg. Available at http://www.hamburg.de/contentblob/114616/data/gedenkschrift.pdf

Puvogel, Ulrike, and Martin Stankowski. 1996. Gedenkstätten für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, vol. 1. 2d ed. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Available at http://www.bpb.de/files/5JOYKJ.pdf.

Reiter, Raimond. 2010. Dr. Helene Darges-Sonnemann: Erfolgreiche Kinderärztin und Verstrickung in NS-Verbrechen. Celle: Stadtarchiv Celle.

Thevs, Hildegard. 2011. Stolpersteine in Hamburg-Rothenburgsort: Biographische Spurensuche. Hamburg: Landeszentrale für politische Bildung.

Topp, Sascha. 2004. “Der ‘Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden’: Zur Organisation der Ermordung minderjähriger Kranker im Nationalsozialismus 1939-1945.” Pp. 17-54 in Kinder in der NS-Psychiatrie, edited by Thomas Beddies and Kristina Hübener. Berlin-Brandenburg: Be.bra Wissenschaft.

———. 2005. "Der 'Reichsausschuß zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden': Die Ermordung minderjähriger Kranker im Nationalsozialismus 1939-1945." Master's Thesis in History, University of Berlin.

———. 2010. "'Meldung eines Falles von Idiotie Hydrocephalus': Die NS-'Kindereuthanasie' am Beispiel der Krankengeschichte von Ilse Angelika S." Pp. 189-205 in Krieg und Psychiatrie 1914-1950, edited by Babette Quinkert, Philip Rauh, and Ulrike Winkler. Göttingen: Wallstein.

Wunder, Michael, Ingrid Genkel, and Harald Jenner. 1988. Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr: Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus. Hamburg: Agentur des Rauhen Hauses.

Last updated on 8 February 2015