A Childhood Behind Barbed Wire


In March 1950, the Mother Superior of a hospital in the city of Leipzig Mrs. Naumann was summoned to the police station to receive a secret announcement. The police president Winkelmann told her that she would immediately have to make special rooms for children in her hospital because that evening 20 - 30 children would arrive at the hospital.

.."The children have no names; they fall under the category of 'Children of the State Government.'  It is forbidden to maintain a file on them.  Take care not to let word of this get out."

.. Even in a hospital, one had to have a ration card to get food.  To get ration cards for children without names was impossible, and Mrs. Naumann had to remember not to let word of the children get out, or she might be subject to punishment herself. But even the reference from police president Winkelmann didn't help. Finally the Mother Superior got numbered tin tags for the children; these hung around the neck of the bigger children and on the bed of the smaller ones. This number entitled the children to ration cards and also issued shoe ration cards, because all of them had entered the hospital barefoot, or with only socks. 

.. She told the police doctor that she would need the names of the children in case of them died.  She emphasized that the cemetery custodian would not take a body without a name.  If she tried to have one of the children buried, this might draw attention to the fact that children were being kept in the hospital and this is exactly the type of exposure the police wanted to avoid.  The doctor, obviously not knowing how to handle this ethical dilemma, absolved himself of responsibility by simply leaving the children's files sitting on Mrs. Naumann's desk for about an hour.  Naumann feverishly copied all of the information that she could about each child.  She easily got the names of the children, but she also noted the convictions and sentences against their mothers:
"Illegal border crossing, espionage, sabotages etc." 5, 10 and 25 years.  The mothers had all been interred in Sachsenhausen first, arrested while pregnant, children born in prison and then cared for by German medical personnel or Russian guards

... almost each child also had a hidden heart-rending letter from his mother (torn notes written in coal or mortar) with special requests for the caretakers to treat the child well such as: 'Sascha has slept only in my arms' or 'Dug [doesn't know how to] sleep in a bed, please be good to him.' Mrs. Naumann and the nurses tried to comply with these wishes, but in the first few days it was very hard, because the children cried out for their mothers day and night.

... In the end, 16 children remained in the hospital; the police president scornfully remarked that they were the ones "nobody wanted to have". After many futile attempts in November 1950 she managed to get the children into various children's homes in the Leipzig area.

... As ordered by the president of police, each child was given a document with its real name but the wrong place of birth: Waldstrasse Hospital. The children were treated as orphans. All documents with the council and the relatives were handled to the East German police. It's now nearly impossible to find these children, because of a ministry of the Interior regulation of 1952; the children had to stay in East Germany.

(Report from a Document, found in the archives of the "Diakonisches Werk" of West Berlin by the Mother Superior of a hospital in Leipzig she gave in 1953, after she fled to West Berlin)


Copyright © 2005 by Alex Latotzky,