Ingrid Wecker's story
Ingrid Wecker, whose father was "euthanized" by the Nazis, found solace for her father's murder through her art. From an early age, her father had encouraged her artistic zeal. Since our initial meeting, her artwork has continued to frame our dialogue. In 1995 she had copies made for me of her sketches, and at Christmas 1996 I received one of her original handcrafted and painted Christmas cards, her signature freshly inked in the corner.
Many of the women I interviewed connected their lives to me through some symbolic or real cultural dissemination. All had books that pertained directly to their Third Reich experiences; a few books overlapped in their respective collections. They referred, pointed to, or read from these books as "proof" of what they they had undergone. They held the words of these scholars, novelists, and poets in such high regard, as if their own stories could not be believed without the anterior accounts of "authorities"--if these writers had not spoken and been published, where would the women have gained the courage to speak?
Some of the women stressed the illustriousness of German culture pre-Hitler, when such icons as Goethe, Schiller, and Rilke made the Germans proud. By reconnecting to this preeminent artistic past, these women found a way to talk about Germany in a way that helped to assuage their mixed feelings toward their country.
Ingrid Wecker, born on August 2, 1924 in Hamburg, Germany, had a Jewish mother, and an "Aryan" father. In her story, her father is the one persecuted by the Nazis, which is another irony of the times. He was a lieutenant for the security police in Hamburg. Ingrid's family, including her brother who was born in 1928, lived in a six-and-one-half room flat that belonged to Ingrid's grandmother in the Grindelallee, which was the border for the Jewish part called Klein Jerusalem.
Ingrid said, "I had an 'Aryan' father, to repeat this horrible word, but surprisingly was raised in this big Jewish family."
Her father left the police in 1930. Actually, he was pushed out, and the reason was "illness." He could have remained in the police corps if he had divorced his Jewish wife.
My father had a very small pension. He was a forester by profession and was born in Bielefeld. We bought a house in the Lüneburger Heide, which was isolated. My father found a job--one can't call it a position-through friends as a private forester for a large hunting area.
After 1933, life changed. For example, when I walked the one and a half hours to school, I noticed that people in our village cultivated Hitlereichen ("Hitler oaks"), and at the village square they built a flagpole with a golden Hakenkreuz (swastika), the sign of National Socialism. My father was bothered by this display and couldn't avoid critical words. He was not loved in the village, especially among the farmers, because he was fighting against "poaching" in the forest.
One day, my
father asked the farmers: "Why do you have a swastika on your
flagpole in addition to that on the flag?" They said, "If
there is no wind, nobody could see the swastika on the flag, so
people may believe we are Communists."
My father had a flagpole on his property as well, so he mocked the village people and every Sunday hoisted his black-white-red flag, a conservative, German national flag.i Because our family's house was located on a little hill, people could see this flag very clearly. My father did this even after 1933, and the village people were angry about it.
A "false friend" tried to meddle in the relationship between my mother and father with the help of the "friend's" wife. My father's name was Karl Riemann, but the "friend" called him Karlos, and said, "Karlos, you don't deserve this. Get divorced from your wife. Kick her out (Schick Sie in den Wind) and you can work as a policeman again. You are a faultless civil servant." In this way my father got into conflicts; he started arguing with his wife because he was mentally tormented or influenced by these people.
My father had a vast array of weapons and guns. I think that my father wanted to kill his own family. He said, "There is no way out." Finally, my mother decided to return to Hamburg to my grandmother's big apartment, and she took us with her. My father stayed alone in this huge house in the Lüneburger Heide.
His "false friend" had no real profession, just a big property and his wife sublet rooms to summer guests. Suddenly this man got the idea to leave the village because he wanted to become a non-medical practitioner in Hamburg; apparently, he had problems with his wife. And, indeed, he opened his practice. So this "friend" was begging and imploring my father to move into his house, which my father finally did. My father stayed alone in this friend's house and neglected himself (went to seed) more and more until he wanted to commit suicide.
The mailman realized one day that my father's bicycle was missing. He had told the mailman previously, "I can't live without my family. I want to commit suicide." So the mailman ran into the village and asked the farmers to look for my father. For this reason, many members of the SA (party security force) started searching the forest, but they couldn't find my father. So, the village sheriff, a big Nazi, gave information to Hamburg's police, and the following message: "There is a man, a former police officer, who is armed with various weapons and wants to go to Hamburg to kill his wife and his children!"
My mother got this information from the Hamburg police, and policemen picked us children up from the school. That happened in 1935. My mother wanted the police to leave. She said, "I know my husband very well. I can deal with him." My father had suffered from malaria since World War I and got "malaria seizures" all the time.
The police left my mother's house and eventually my father did arrive. He was exhausted. My mother made him dinner and suggested he go into a hospital for a physical exam because he didn't feel well. He agreed, but suddenly the doorbell was ringing.
Police! They said, "Mr. Riemann, we have to take you into protective custody." But my mother made a fuss, complained about it, so that the police decided to take my father into a hospital for mental illness, to the infamous psychiatrist Bürger-Prinzii in the Hamburg-Eppendorf hospital. From then on he was "officially" mentally ill. He was incarcerated between 1935 and March 1941 in mental homes like Friedrichsberg, Ochsenzoll, and afterwards, he was moved to Lüneburg without any information given to the family.
My mother and I visited my father every weekend in the hospital. Of course, he wanted to escape. Each time he tried to flee, or when he became loud--he had an officer's voice, which is very loud--they moved him to a new building with more observation. Finally they brought him into a house which had only one pathway in the shape of a snailshell. It was like a prison with just one little spot to look out.
My father became afraid of "white coats," and he said to his wife: "Wilma, please go into the administration building and say to the people there: I want to take my husband with me. He is not crazy. I will take care of him." I was ten to twelve years old and it broke my heart to see my father "losing his mind," because he was really tormented.
My mother still believed that my father was not ill, and I will never forget one day when a heavy doctor--he needed a special chair because he was so overweight--said to my mother: "Get divorced from this sick guy. You deserve a better life." Even later, members of the Gestapo tried to convince my mother to do the same. [Not certain if they were just pretending].
My father was moved to Lüneburg. From this time on, I couldn't see him very often.
He began to speak in a strange manner, but he still wrote letters to his family. These letters were censored; some parts were marked out. I remember one letter in which he swears about Hitler: "Wenn ich den Kerl zu fassen kriege, ich drehe ihn das Genick um" (If I can catch this guy Hitler, I will wring his neck). It was horrible inside this hospital. When my mother and I visited, the guests had to be in a big hall, and this was a Schlammgrube, muddy patch, because only severely mentally handicapped persons were running around and bothering the guests.
One day my father had red boils above his ears. He said, "I have to cover my ears because they are always talking insistently to me!" He had white hair at this time and was only forty-five years old. Furthermore, he said to me, "Ingrid, promise, you will never tell anybody about the following." "Yes, Papa, I promise." "I want to set up a new state. In this state only people with white eyes are allowed to live there, and you, Ingrid, you have white eyes, you are permitted to live in my state."
I will never forget this last talk with my father. He always covered his ears and said something about Todesstrahlen (death rays). My mother gave him a sweater with a zipper but he completely damaged this zipper and said: "Don't give this to me anymore. This zipper attracts death rays." By this time, he was "out of this world."
The next time my mother and I wanted to visit him, he had disappeared. So my mother talked to the director. She only talked to directors, never to persons below this position and I too have done this my whole life. She asked him about my father: "Has he died? Where is he?" The director answered: "He has been moved out with two other people to an unknown destination."
A fortnight later my mother got a letter from Burg Sonnensteiniii in Pirna near Dresden stating that my father had suddenly died from a brain-swelling, which was infectious. For this reason (infectious), they had to do the cremation immediately and the family could have the urn if they wanted it.
But the urn was never sent to my mother and me. I called this "sanitarium" in Burg Sonnenstein. I did almost everything for my mother because her name was Jewish: Wilma "Sara"; the Sara added to identify her as Jewish. A woman on the phone was upset about my calling. Some days later we got a parcel with the urn, and a 0.42 mark fee.
My father is buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg. None of our relations appeared and only one aunt wrote a letter of condolence.
A police officer from the place where my father used to work visited us. I asked him if my father should get special "honor words" on his gravestone because of good work for the police. The officer answered: "No way, Miss Riemann, because of your Jewish mother." I said [laughing], "Oh, I'm sorry. I almost forgot!"
At the funeral which my mother, my brother, a Jewish couple who were friends, and I attended, a cemetery worker came with the urn and said, "Mrs. Riemann, would you please confirm that it must be your husband in the urn." It was so ridiculous! My mother had a laughing fit until she started crying.
Basically, my father died because of this Euthanasia Program,vi which killed many Jewish and non-Jewish people in March 1941.
i. The black-white-red flag was the old Reichs flag, from the Kaiser era, which ended in 1918. Very conservative people, German nationals, Kaiser-true (those who still hoped the emperor would come back) still showed this flag during the Weimar Republic. In case those Conservatives did not like the Nazis either (which was often the case), they tried to show this old flag instead of the Swastika flag. But then the Nazis made the Swastika flag obligatory to show on flag days. The Communist flag was red with a hammer and sickle.
ii.Psychiatrist Hans Bürger-Prinz, military district doctor in Paris and Hamburg, conducted experiments on humans considered to be mentally ill. There was strong evidence that he was trained in killing activities, such as were carried out at Burg Sonnenstein, and tried to make money from it. After the war, he denied his activities and served as President of the German Society of Psychiatrists and Neurologists (GSPN) from 1959 to 1960.
iii.This was her father's final destination. It was one of six euthanasia centers opened April 1940 and closed May 1943. There were 20,000 victims. At first it was a sanatorium but the Nazis made it a killing center.
iv. "Within the context of Nazi eugenics, euthanasia became a term for the systematic murder of those deemed "unworthy of life." Initially, the plan was to sterilize the physically and mentally disabled. After the war began, however, the Nazis converted from sterilization to murder to speed up the eugenic benefits of the program&ldots;. In August 1941 the Euthanasia Program was officially terminated, due to the resistance of the German people and Church. In practice, however, killings on eugenic grounds-as well as medical experiments on concentration camp inmates-continued to the end of the war&ldots;. Throughout its existence (1939-1945) at least 100,000 people fell victim to the Euthanasia Program." In Abraham J. Edelheit and Hershel Edelheit. History of the Holocaust: A Handbook and Dictionary (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 229.
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