Following her acclaimed memoirs Against the Stream and Out of Passau, Anna Rosmus revisits the crimes perpetrated in her German hometown during the Second World War
Passau, a small Bavarian city situated along the border with Austria, had gone decades without acknowledging the roles—however small or large—its citizenry played in the atrocities of World War II. When Anna Rosmus attempted to rectify this oversight, she was met with praise from everywhere but Passau itself, where threats and vitriol from the local population eventually led her to emigrate from Germany to the United States. In Wintergreen, Rosmus writes of the prisoners of war and forced laborers, the Jews and other Eastern Europeans who lost their lives in Passau to the Nazi regime, and whose graves were hastily consigned to the cheapest plot of land in town.
Deftly researched and powerfully written, Wintergreen is a tragic history of the atrocities committed in and around Passau, a searing rebuke of those who seek to suppress them, and a moving tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and the importance of keeping their memory alive.
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By Anna Elisabeth Rosmus
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Anna Elisabeth Rosmus
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Mass Murder of the "Offspring of Alien Descent"
Between the years 1939 and 1945, close to ten million men and women from countries occupied by the German armed forces, or Wehrmacht (primarily Poland, the Soviet Union, and France), were deported to the German Reich and conscripted into forced labor. During the final years of the war female forced laborers were often assigned to work on farms. Many were sent to Lower Bavaria. In a hospital north of Passau, those who became pregnant were "persuaded" to have abortions. The children of those who managed to give birth perished in so-called children's homes.
When farmers were ordered to the front and asked to sacrifice their lives in a senseless war, replacements were needed at home. But as farm labor was grueling and poorly paid, workers were hard to come by. The Nazi regime considered various remedies, as local agriculture was at the time an essential industry and source of supplies. Initially the burden was forced on the prisoners of war. When their numbers became insufficient to fill the widening production gaps, however, girls and women from the occupied and plundered territories in the East were promised food and shelter if they would agree to sign up as "workers for the Reich."
Thousands enlisted to escape the starvation inflicted upon their homelands. Once in Nazi Germany, they received passports and work permits. When the first female forced laborers arrived in the Passau region in 1941, they were commended for their youth, their beauty, and their industriousness. "Nice girls, they were, and very respectable," some farmers still comment today. The farmers had to pay somewhere between eighty pfennigs and one reichsmark per woman daily, payable to the party, the NSDAP-a type of human rent for cheap labor. The girls were given a place to sleep and generally just enough food to be able to complete the work they were forced to do. But as the war dragged on and food became scarcer, the treatment of the so-called Eastern workers rapidly deteriorated accordingly. Thousands of women from Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia were then simply abducted and turned into slave laborers.
When inevitably some of the women, not infrequently as a result of having been raped by locals, became pregnant and fainted during work, Dr. Franz Oswald, who at the time was a doctor at the hospital in the nearby town of Gangkofen, ordered these women to return to their homelands, according to instructions he had received from the party. It is wholly conceivable that word spread among the women about this "ticket home," as there were significantly more pregnancies recorded by the year 1943. Accordingly, regulations imposed by Dr. Conti, chief medical officer of the Reich, became increasingly strict:
Pregnancy no longer disqualified women as unfit for work. Not even tuberculosis or epilepsy could get one sent home. When the children were finally born, these so-called offspring of alien descent were centrally registered and "removed," as determined by the state.
In the legal decree of 9 March 1943 (RGBI I Nr. 27), as ordered by the cabinet council of the Ministry of Defense, and as stated in paragraph 5, abortions as well as sterilization of Reichs Germans were strictly prohibited. Two days later, however, on 11 March 1943, it was revealed that Dr. Conti had made the pronouncement that the termination of the pregnancy of an Eastern worker or a Ukrainian woman would not be a punishable offense, as long as she consented to the procedure. To what degree this "consent" was actually a "forced consent" in the Passau region can no longer be definitively determined. As the decree issued by Dr. Conti was not made public until September, the German Bishops' Conference did not object until 24 September 1943. After all, the Fifth Commandment forbids the taking of innocent life. However, just one week later the Medical Association of the Reich in Berlin approved abortions being performed on Polish women as well. And so the mass murder of the "offspring of alien descent" had begun.
The Abortions in Hutthurm
Under the aegis of a medical decree issued by the district association of Passau, Dr. Franz Maria Clarenz of the hospital in Hutthurm, a small community twenty kilometers north of Passau, performed at least 220 abortions on Eastern workers between the end of 1943 and April of 1945. Dr. Clarenz was in private practice, but he also held an official position at the Hutthurm hospital. Approximately a dozen of the abortion cases were women from his own district; all others were referred to him by the administrative region of Lower Bavaria and other districts even further away. Later, the local newspaper Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) stressed that the "legal form" had been observed and that the medical commissioner of the government of the Upper Palatinate and Lower Bavaria, Dr. Max Hartmann, had "ordered" the abortions and was himself simply following directions issued by Dr. Conti.
On 20 January 1949, the following headline appeared in the Pfarrkirchen edition of page five of the PNP: "The 'Master of ROTTAL' to Make Court Appearance." The person referred to in this article was the Birnbach physician Dr. Max Hartmann, who represented the last "big case" for the courts. Hartmann had held numerous distinctions within the district administration of Griesbach, having served as the Kreisleiter (district leader), as well as Kreisschulungsleiter (district training leader), Abschnittsleiter (section leader), Kreisbeauftragter des Rassenpolitischen Amtes (district deputy of the office for race politics), Gauredner (spokesman of the Gau), Gauobmann im Ärztebund (Gau deputy of the medical association), Oberführer of the SA (supreme commander of the SA), and Sonderbeauftragter des obersten SA Führers (special envoy to the SA leader). In three cases, Hartmann had issued orders for "protective arrests" and had had four persons deported to a concentration camp; in other cases he was accused of using harassment and the threat of financial ruin. He not only approved the abortions at Hutthurm, but in some instances had even ordered them himself.
Hartmann was ultimately sentenced to eight years in labor camp by the Passau courts. An article published in the PNP on 9 February 1949, with the headline "THIS IS DR. Hartmann," reported the following:
Last Sunday, a citizen of Birnbach wanted to take a look at a room that had been recommended to him and his family by the local housing authority and was located in one of the two houses belonging to the Hartmann family. When he tried to explain to Dr. Hartmann that he could only come to Birnbach on Sundays since he worked out of town during the week, the landlord [Hartmann], who had recently been sentenced by the Passau Federal Court to eight years in a labor camp, showed little sympathy. Max Hartmann refused to let him see the room. It was "against all common decency to disturb him on a Sunday," he said, adding: "I may have been indicted, but I still am Dr. Hartmann." These words were ringing though the hallway as he rudely dismissed the visitor.
Dr. Hartmann lived in Birnbach, where he remained in private practice as a general physician, until his death in the 1970s.
On 30 December 1943, Johann Winkler, the parish priest of Hutthurm, "respectfully" addressed the Episcopalian diocesan authorities in Passau. He "considered it his duty to report" that Dr. Clarenz
had taken a child from a Polish unwed mother. The baby was dismembered while still inside its mother's womb. The mother had supposedly given her consent. Other similar cases can safely be assumed to still be taking place. Polish mothers are being brought to the local hospital from surrounding districts. A doctor has to request permission for every single procedure of this nature from the appropriate authorities in Berlin. There does not seem to be a consensus among local doctors as to whether abortions may also be performed on married mothers of Polish descent.
According to Report 164/13, number 3904 from the State Archives in Landshut, Bavaria (hereafter referred to as StAL), Winkler clearly indicated that the Sisters of Mercy employed at the hospital had "assisted" with the abortions, and that these procedures would have been "impossible" to perform without the help of other personnel. On 4 January 1944, the nun who had at that time been matron of the Hutthurm hospital, along with the Mother Superior of the Convent of the Holy Ghost in Passau, were summoned to appear for a meeting with Vicar General Dr. Riemer. The meeting took place in Passau.
On 27 January Dr. Riemer noted the following: There have thus far been three cases of Polish women and girls where "taking of the fruit of the womb" has taken place for which the matron herself administered the anesthesia and another Sister assisted in the operation. Riemer commented further: "Both were aware of the fact that they could not perform these services with a clear conscience," and he added: "During the last procedure, an assistant Sister began to sob uncontrollably and declared that she was being subjected to an impossible conflict of conscience." However, since "not a single doctor in the entire area was willing to come forward to perform this kind of operation, several more such procedures can likewise be assumed to have taken place." In the third case, Dr. Clarenz "took the Sisters' concerns into consideration and decided not to dismember the fetus, which had already reached the age of seven months, while inside of the mother, as originally intended, but instead, he decided to bring it out intact. The child lived for about half an hour and therefore it was possible to baptize it in an emergency ceremony. It was understood that even in this case, the death of the fetus was intended."
Paragraph two in Dr. Riemer's report reads as follows: "The matron of the Hutthurm hospital directed an inquiry to the main convent as soon as the first case was announced. Due to various circumstances a reply was a long time in coming, and when an answer was finally received, it was suggested that the Sisters were no longer to assist in such cases, but that the doctors should, instead, request the services of a midwife. This was to be arranged through the doctor's office." In paragraph three Riemer notes that he himself had "made it clear to the matron in no uncertain terms" that these kinds of medical procedures "were equivalent to murder," and that "the nuns must have no part in it." The matron then pointed out, according to Riemer, "that the doctor himself had stated the fact that if he were to do this to a German woman he would be sent to jail immediately, but that, in the case of Polish women, he had received special orders."
"The Vicar General," Riemer said, referring to himself, "then formally pronounced an absolute and binding prohibition. The matron was instructed to declare to the doctor at the very next opportunity that the Sisters were not to assist in any further procedures of this sort due to a conflict of conscience, and that they were prepared to bear the consequences resulting from any refusal on their part." Riemer also noted: "The matron thanked me for my clear directives in this matter and promised to follow them."
One day later, Johann Winkler personally reported to the vicar general that shortly after her return, the matron was informed by Dr. Clarenz that both she, as well as her assistant, were to prepare for the next abortion. The matron then refused, stating a conflict of conscience. Dr. Clarenz is said to have then consulted with Dr. Zagel, the district administrator of Passau, "who then contacted the district administration." As a result, the woman who was to be "treated" on 26 January was initially sent away. The district administrator admonished the matron to make her decision as to whether she would be participating in future procedures by 27 January, at 4 P.M., upon which she telephoned the headquarters of the religious order of the Holy Vincent von Paul in Munich, and on 28 January she traveled there for a verbal consultation. Dr. Riemer noted this fact in his records (Report 164/13, number 3904, StAL) and further wrote: "Another fact worth mentioning is that the threat had been made that in the case of a refusal the matter would be handed over to the Gestapo," a state of events that "would have resulted in the worst possible consequences for the entire order."
On Saturday, 29 January 1944, the director of the Sisters of Mercy presented to the diocesan authorities in Passau written documentation of the legal circumstances pertaining to the cases, which she had received from Cardinal Faulhaber. It stated, among other facts, that, "On 18 October 1943, the Reichskirchenministerium [ecclesiastic ministry of the Reich] of the Bishops' Conference was able to ascertain that even though the prohibition of abortions was not immediately applicable to foreigners, there had been no known cases proving that any doctor had been forced to perform an abortion performed against his will. As a matter of fact, the Reichsgesundheitsministerium [ministry of health of the Reich] had specifically prohibited the use of undue pressure in this matter."
Cardinal Faulhaber's findings, as documented in the letter, are as follows: "Thus, the Sisters employed in the care of the sick similarly may not be subjected to undue pressure on their conscience. For the conscience of the Sisters, the same principles apply as previously expressed in cases of assistance ... with procedures of euthanasia ... and sterilization." Based on these guidelines it was agreed that the Sisters would help with certain preparatory procedures for such operations and that they also would take over the care of surgery patients, but that they would object to direct participation for reasons of conscience. In Report 164/13, number 3904, StAL it is stated that, "Threats such as the one that the Sisters would be relieved of their duties in the care of the sick at this or other hospitals will therefore not be taken seriously. It has to be acknowledged, however that with the attempt to rape the conscience of the Sisters, this issue has tremendous, as-yet unresolved, repercussions for the collective morality of the German people." The matron told Dr. Riemer that she would be discussing the issue with the chief surgeon of the Hutthurm hospital, Dr. Worlitschek, as well as with the head of the Passau district administration office, in order to raise awareness about the fact that abortions were strictly prohibited by Christian ethics, and that for this reason the Sisters of Mercy would not be participating in these procedures. Two days later the matron reported to the diocesan authorities that chief surgeon Dr. Worlitschek did not care for the fact that the abortions were being performed at the Hutthurm hospital. According to Riemer's 9 February 1944 note in Report 164/13, number 3904, StAL, Dr. Clarenz, on the other hand, was initially still attempting to involve a particular Sister in assisting with the anesthesia and its supervision, but had finally relented, so that in the future the Sisters would not have to have anything to do with the process, "if indeed any further abortions were still to take place."
On page 8 of the 22 October 1949 issue of the PNP, it was reported that, "The diocesan authorities of Passau and the Cardinal of Munich" had "submitted a complaint addressed to the Reichsinnenministerium [ministry of the interior of the Reich] with the result that the ministry left the decision as to whether abortions were to be performed on Eastern workers to the discretion of the individual physician in charge. However, neither the Ärztlicher Bezirksverein [medical district association] nor Dr. Clarenz were ever informed about this new regulation issued by the ministry."
On 17 March 1944, Johann Winkler again wrote to the Passau diocesan authorities. "Most respectfully and most obediently" he reported that the hospital matron was complaining about "harassment." The consulting midwife who in the meantime had been brought in was unable to attend the fifteenth abortion. Because the Sisters refused to assist, Dr. Clarenz was forced to work alone. He became very enraged and rudely began to insult the Sisters. "If I only could get rid of you!" he said, calling them "bitches" and adding: "They should deal with you like they do with these Poles." Whether he was referring to the Polish children or to the general treatment of the Polish people was not clear. In Report 164/13, number 3904, StAL, Johann Winkler reported to have encouraged the women "not to take these insults" and at the very least, "to ask for a consultation with their superiors at the main convent."
Excerpted from Wintergreen by Anna Elisabeth Rosmus. Copyright © 2004 Anna Elisabeth Rosmus. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
Foreword by Ignatz Bubis,
Chapter 1 Mass Murder of the "Offspring of Alien Descent",
Chapter 2 The Plattling Camp,
Chapter 3 The Murdered Russians,
Chapter 4 Pocking Waldstadt,
About the Author,