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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

Second admission to Neinstedt protects Ruth from Forced Sterilization

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

View of Neinstedter Anstalten on a vintage postcard.

After a year of living at home with her family, Neinstedt Hospital contacted Ruth's parents, Emma and Paul, and notified them that there was going to be a new class starting that Ruth could attend and continue her education. Ruth's parents must have been happy that their daughter would continue to get an education. And Ruth enjoyed her time at Neinstedt.

The documents at Neinstedt report Ruth as doing well in her class and fitting in socially, so she most likely enjoyed being at Neinstedt and attending class with her peers. Postcard scenes of students in class at Neinstedt (although exact years are not known, they are believed to be from the early 1900’s):

Neinstedt kept Ruth’s records in a file after she left the institution in 1934.  We know this because at the bottom of the same letter announcing her release to her parents on May 15, 1934, (see copy of actual document below) there is a handwritten note recording her readmission: “Re-uptake [readmission] communicated on January 11, 1936.”  (Ruth's actual readmission was May 16, 1935; I guess government documenation takes a long time everywhere. )

Author’s translation of above letter:

The administration of the State Sanatorium

                                                         At Neuhaldensleben


                                                  According to the order of the Governor of the province of Feb. 23 and Feb. 27, 1932 – Gesch. N2 H.gen.1.9.1/32 , we are pleased to announce that patient of the Elisabeth Foundation, Ruth Mühlmann from Magdeburg, born on July 11, 1920 in Magdeburg, is released to her parents, Paul Mühlmann in Magdeburg, W., Walbecker Straße 37 II, on May 13, 1934.

                                                  Heil Hitler! The Board of the Neinstedter Elisabeth Foundation

Ruth was readmitted to Neinstedt in May 1935.

Ruth in Magdeburg in December 1932.
While Ruth was home with her family in 1934 there were events that happened in Germany that would directly impact her future.

First and foremost, Adolf Hitler rose to power. On August 1, 1934, having been informed that President Hindenburg was on his deathbed, Hitler’s cabinet enacted The Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich which merged the offices of Chancellor and President.  The law provided that upon the death of Hindenburg, Hitler would assume the title of Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor, thereby abolishing the need for a President.  

Another event was the Sterilization Law. In January 1934, the Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses, the “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring”was enacted. The law was the brainchild of Ernst Ruden who headed the German Institute for Psychiatric Research (later known as the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry).  Rudin, known as HItler's Racial Hygiene Mastermind, was an early proponent of the “dangers of hereditary defectives” and was the German representative to the First International Congress for Mental Hygiene.  Two years later, he became the president of the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations.  The legislation was created following the formation of the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy.   The committee's findings were used as the scientific justification for sterilization.  

This law would be the prototype upon which further eugenic and racial legislation was based. 

It was designed to, in time, eliminate “hereditary diseases” from the populace, thereby creating a more superior society.  Specifically, the preamble stated that an individual with one of an enumerated list of diseases could be sterilized if “medical knowledge indicates that his offspring will suffer from severe hereditary mental or physical damage.”  The enumerated conditions were the following: 

(1) congenital feeblemindedness (popular among eugenicists to describe a wide variety of issues), 
(2) schizophrenia, 
(3) epilepsy, 
(4) Huntington’s Disease, 
(5) manic depressive disorder (today would include bipolar disorder), 
(6) hereditary deafness, 
(7) hereditary blindness, 
(8) severe alcoholism,  and 
(9) severe hereditary physical deformity.  

The years 1934 through 1936 saw an astounding 168,953 men and women forcibly sterilized.  437 citizens were officially reported to have died from the sterilization procedures during the same time period (the actual number is believed to be higher).  During the twelve years of Nazi rule, the conservative figure is 375,000 forced sterilizations, or 0.5% of the entire German population.  Holocaust researcher and author Michael Burleigh estimates the count to be higher, “Between 1934 and May 1935, about 400,000 were actually sterilized.”  And, “in the case of asylum inmates, who comprised 30-40% of those compulsorily sterilised [sic] between 1934 and 1936.”

The actual number is almost impossible to ascertain. In Reinhard Neumann’s history on Neinstedt, Nächstenliebe unter einem Dach, he reveals that the application of the Sterilization Law in Neinstedt can no longer be fully reconstructed due to lack of primary sources. Too many documents were deliberately destroyed after 1945.  In confirmation of this, in 1989, a volunteer archivist at Neinstedt discovered that since only a part of the patients’ personnel files were still available, exact numbers and dates of sterilizations cannot be derived.  However, it can be derived from the data a considerable number of patients, female and male, were sterilized. And the victims of sterilization at Neinstedt were predominantly disabled residents residing in the Elizabethstiftung house. (Both the Johannenhof and the Madchenhaus was part of the Elizabethstiftung section.) As a doctor at Neinstedt, Dr. Wittenberg, whose signature is on so many of Ruth's documents, may have been responsible for some of the forced sterilizations that were performed there. 

Exact figures for the sterilization cases in the Neinstedt institutions can no longer be determined. Statistics have been preserved for 1934/35, which show 107 cases. Other names of twenty-six sterilization victims will appear in the administrative records until June 1937. After that, there are no further clues. Between 1934 and the middle of 1937, at least 133 people in Neinstedt institutions became victims of the Nazi Law on Injustice."

Reinhard Neumann

During our visit to Neinstedt on June 10, 2022, Neinstedt Employee Natalie Gaitzsch pored over the documents with us. Natalie was able to show us two documents Neinstedt had pertaining to Ruth and sterilization. 

The first, the Board of Directors reported that Ruth had gone home with her parents and suggested that the District Physician of Magdeburg make the decision on whether or not to sterilize Ruth in accordance with the law. 

Author’s translation:

May 15, 1934

To the District Physician of Magdeburg: 

In accordance with the Law on the Prevention of Hereditary Offspring, we are very humble to inform you that the patient Ruth Mühlmann, born July 11, 1920, who suffers from mental deficiency, went to her parent, Paul Mühlmann, on May 13, 1934 in Magdeburg-West, Walbecker Straße 37 II. We ask you to decide there about a possible sterilization.

Heil Hitler!

The Board of Directors of the Neinstedter Elisabethstift.

Neinstedt then sent another letter 15 days later:

Author’s translation:

To the chief public prosecutor at the district court in Magdeburg:

On our acceptance notice from 16.5.35.

Transcript of the medical statement.

Ruth Mühlmann from Magdeburg, who was born on July 11, 1920 and was admitted to the local institution on May 11, 1935, suffers from congenital dementia of a higher degree. Significant improvement and healing can already be ruled out. Since the patient still requires institutional care, the application for sterilization can be postponed for the time being. 

signed Dr. Wittenberg.

We have provided the registration card that was returned to us with the details of the parents' apartment and attached it again.

Heil Hitler!

The Board of Directors of the Neinstedter Elisabethstift.

As best as we can tell from interpreting the hospital documents that remain, it appears Neinstedt was successful in protecting Ruth from a forced sterilization.  That was a huge relief to us to know that hopefully Ruth did not undergo a painful, unnecessary operation. 

We were very thankful to the Neinstedt staff, especially Natalie Gaitzsch, who took the time to carefully examine each of the documents in Ruth’s folder with us.

Natalie Gaitzsch, William J. Prunka, and Ilka Knuppel examine Ruth's documents.

Natalie Gaitzsch, an employee of Neinstedt, explaining the documents in Ruth’s folder, translating for us as we went through the folder.  Her assistance was most appreciated. Screen shot from Neinstedt Documentary. Used with permission of Franziska Kruse of Mia Media May 2023.

And, while being enrolled at Neinstedt protected Ruth from forced sterlization....

Ruth would remain admitted in Neinstedt from May 16, 1935, until she was transferred on January 29, 1941, without her parent’s knowledge or consent, to the intermediate institution of Altscherbitz Psychiatric Hospital.

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