Irmgard Heiss

(06.04.1897 Münster – 21.04.1944 Lemgo)

„I do not know, if I have already lived properly, anyway not consciously, I am still waiting for this. Only partly sick and inhibited; and free but frowned upon.“*

„I do not know, if I have already lived properly, anyway not consciously, I am still waiting for this. Only partly sick and inhibited; and free but frowned upon.“*

Irmgard Heiss is born on 6 April 1897 as the third child of Helene and Carl Stellbrink at Münster. Her two elder siblings are Helene, born 1892, and Karl Friedrich, born 1894. Carl and Helene Stellbrink married, after Carl’s first wife, Caroline, had died in childbed. The two almost adult children, from the first marriage, Heinrich (1882–1900) and Hilda (1883–1961), are already being trained for a profession, when Irmgard is born. Hilda attends the (female) teachers training seminar; Heinrich is missed since his first voyage as a ship’s boy on a freighter in 1900: The ship had sunk. In 1902 daughter Magdalena is born, Irmgard‘s younger sister, as the last child of the couple Stellbrink. In 1903 the family moves to a new-built house in Detmold. The father, Carl Stellbrink, works in Münster as a customs officer in the service of Prussia, but on account of a “nervous affection” he is temporarily retired.

1904 Irmgard goes through an illness, in the course of which the parents almost give her up. Only when she has come through this illness, Irmgard, now already eight years old, is sent to school. Irmgard attends the secondary school for girls at Detmold. She is considered a good pupil and gifted in the fine arts, she plays the piano well. She is popular, but conspicuously keeps “to herself”. Irmgard says about herself that had dreamt a lot at school, later had lost the delight in learning. The parents describe her as „recalcitrant”, „renitent“, and difficult since puberty.
In 1906 Karl Friedrich, to whom Irmgard feels closest among the siblings, is sent to the boarding-school of the Protestant Johannisstift (seminary) in Berlin-Spandau at the age of 14.

In 1915 Irmgard breaks off school prematurely in spite of good achievements and leaves the girls’ school at Detmold. She gets engaged, but breaks the engagement later again. In the same year her brother Karl Friedrich has to interrupt his training as an overseas parson, which he does in the diaspora seminary at Soest: He goes to war as a soldier.

In 1916 the nineteen-year old girl attends a teachers training college at the behest of her mother. The local instructors have good opinion of Irmgard, but the daughter asks the family to sign her out there.

Several attempts follow on her part to put herself on her own feet and to leave the house of the parents: In Halberstadt she is to learn house-keeping in a captains’ family. In November 1916 she is registered in Detmold again, in Hubertusstraße 10. Since 12 April 1917 Irmgard lives in Potsdam, where she works as an educator in a family. For a short time she changes to Berlin, where she takes private jobs and works in the giro service. Caused by the war the father – as a reactivated civil servant – and her sister Helene, who finds a position in a savings bank, also work in Berlin.

In November 1917 Irmgard returns to Detmold and lives in Hubertusstraße again. Again by entreaty of her mother, she attends a commerccial school, which she also does not finish.

In 1917 her brother Carl-Friedrich is severely wounded as a soldier, and additionally falls seriously ill and is treated in hospital in Berlin.
He becomes engaged with Irmgard‘s close girlfriend Hildegard Diekmeier from Detmold.

In 1919 Irmgard answers a marriage advertisement and, against the will of her family, marries Hugo Hess, a miner. The family believes Hugo Heiss as standing „beneath their status “. Irmgard moves with her husband to Langendreer, which lies between Bochum and Dortmund. In 1920 the son Ewald is born, 1923 the birth of the second son Hugo follows.

In 1923/24 the Ruhr District experiences the occupation by France, there are riots there and a difficult supply situation. Hugo Heiss loses his job and gets in trouble with the law. He has to serve a time in prison.

Irmgard goes to Detmold with her two children and asks to be received there. She is pregnant again. In 1925, 2 February, her daughter Meta is born. In the maternity ward a great restlessness is noticed in the mother; she is afraid that the baby might starve. She quarrels with the senior physician about breastfeeding periods. The district physician, Dr. Carius, commits her on 4 May 1925 to the Lindenhaus. Meta is taken to a caring home in Bethel.

Irmgard‘s transfer to the Lindenhaus is ordered the authorities. Reason: The parents are not to be expected to receive their daughter, since she is incompatible with the family. In the admission talk in the Lindenhaus her mother speaks of a conspicuous change of Irmgard’s mood after the birth of little Meta. According to the patient’s file, Irmgard states in this admission talk that she has had to starve a lot and lives in divorce.

In 1925 Hugo Heiss, Irmgard’s husband, tries to get into contact with her and to win her back, also because of the children. But Irmgard rejects him and denies any contact. In December Meta dies at the age of eight in Bethel.

When the doctors of the Lindenhauses want to release Irmgard Heiss, she again asks for reception in the house of her parents in Detmold, but the attempt fails. She now tries for a short time to live alone and earn a living. Her children are accommodated in foster families.

At the beginning of 1926 she is transferred to the Lindenhaus, again by order of the authorities. The father, Carl Stellbrink, begins to correspond with the doctors and decidedly declares that the family could not accept the daughter, that she had in any case to be accommodated in a sanatorium. The family starts divorce proceedings, to which Irmgard does not contradict.

In 1926 Irmgard Heiss is transferred to Gütersloh, escapes from the institution and tries to beat her own way under a false name (Anni Bentheim). She does factory work at various places in Lippe. During that time she tells, in a letter to her mother, that she visited the tomb of little Meta. Upon the doctors’ inquiry she declares that she would under no circumstances continue the marriage with Hugo Heiss, but rather earn her living alone.

In 1928 she becomes conspicuous in Münster and is taken into police custody in a bad health condition. She is hospitalized with a strong bronchitis. In the clinic she wants to break a cupboard with medication with a suicidal intention. Thereupon she is transferred to the psychiatric institution Marienthal, where Irmgard makes false statements on her life. She is here described as inaccessible, melancholic and endangered. During a subsequent stay in the institution Warstein she has alienation experiences and visions.

In 1929 the parents initiate proceedings for incapacitation. The elder sister Helene becomes her guardian. In the proceedings for incapacitation the consultant Dr. Friedländer of the Lindenhaus declare that the former diagnosis “psychopathy”, has developed into a veritable “dementia praecox”.

In 1930 the couple Heiss is divorced. Hugo Heiss endeavours to achieve sole custody for the sons. Yet the grandparents and the guardian Helene challenge this possibility by all means. Karl Friedrich Stellbrink and Hildegard, who has shortly come back from a stressful overseas ministry in Brazil, having been entreated by the grandparents, declare their willingness to receive Ewald and Hugo into their family. Also they meditate to receive Irmgard, too, but the doctors advise against it. Irmgard Heiss is now patient in Lengerich and will spend the next ten years there. Carl-Friedrich [Karl Friedrich?], the foster father, keeps close contact to the doctors.

In 1938 the institution declares, upon inquiry of the district doctor, that Irmgard is „capable of reproduction“, but „risky as to reproduction“, but the enforced sterilization of the forty-one-year old woman remains undone: „The sterilization mania of the health authorities has anyway decreased considerably, since the preparation for killing patients has secretly got into top gear.” 1

In 1940 the elder son Ewald has to go to war immediately after finishing grammar school and dies.

In the 1941 the patient is sent by a special train together with other long-term patients to the institution Weilmünster in Hesse.

In 1942 Karl Friedrich Stellbrink is arrested on account of his resistance activities in Lübeck together with three chaplains of the Catholic Church Herz-Jesu-Gemeinde and condemned by the Peoples’ Court. The verdicts for the four clergymen are: death by guillotine. On 10 November 1943 the executions are enforced in Hamburg.

In January 1944 the sisters Helene and Hilda in Detmold receive a message from Weilmünster that the state of health of their sister is worsening dramatically. The message is first addressed to Karl Friedrich. The sisters then travel to Weilmünster. According to the patient file Hilda takes the responsibility to take Irmgard with herself to Detmold.

Overtaxed by the care of her difficult and moribund sister Helene delivers her to Lindenhaus on 21 April 1944. Tuberculosis is soon diagnosed. On 3 October 1944 Irmgard Heiss dies in Lindenhaus of tuberculosis of the lungs – a consequence of the treatment she was exposed to in the starvation institution.
* Handwritten marginal note of Irmgard Heiss in a letter addressed to her by her son Ewald of 10. 6. 1939.

1 Götz Aly (Hrsg.): Aktion T4 1939–1945. Die „Euthanasie“-Zentrale in der Tiergartenstraße 4, 2. ed., Berlin 1989.

to Top