of Elvira Manthey (born Hempel)
at the The Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Psychiatry
June 30, 2001
(direct translation from German)
My name is Elvira Manthey. I was born in Magdeburg in 1931. My father was a criminal, a pimp. There were 15 children in our family but only 6 survived. One was born every year but one always died. My father stayed away for weeks – we were hungry, we were cold. My mother went along to the social office and applied for support. My four elder brothers were consequently taken away. My mother became pregnant again and she never took the baby with her, it remained in the home – that's my sister Lisa.
I didn't end up in the hands of the youth office – I stayed with grandparents. I didn't need to run around barefoot because other people had to run around barefoot winter and summer. My grandfather had lung disease. He infected me and I was taken to hospital and was taken away from there by the youth office. My mother wanted to pick me up but I had already been taken away. I was then given a guardian – this was the youth office in Magdeburg. I was then taken to a childrens home – that was at the age of four. I wetted the bed. I had infectious itching all over the body and this was then transferred to other children as well. At the age of five and a half I was put into school and made the next grade but then there was the legislation passed by the Nazis which was then applied to me. In the holidays as a result I was taken to a different home and this worked together with the youth office and the health office.
When my mother asked for assistance, a fire was set on the Hempels, because we were regarded as an inferior family. Therefore I was put in this childrens home. I spent four weeks in this home. During that time one of the assistants took me to Magdeburg by train – near Schoenebeck-Salzelmen. There was a Dr. Fünfgeld who worked at a hospital in Suedenbuerg in Magdeburg. He didn't examine me to see if I was mentally ill but to see whether I was Arian or not. My cranial form was measured, my eyes, their color, how strong my hair was, how light my skin was – my whole bodily structure was measured to see whether I was of Arian blood or not.
And then I came to Urtspringe in Land of Saxony-Anhalt. That was called a mental home at that stage. I immediately noticed what was going on there, these were handicapped people – mentally handicapped people – and a lot of healthy children were there as well. I had my sister Lisa there, who had never been at home at all. We had a huge dormitary and a small room where we had to stay during the day. We had to sit down. There was breakfast, lunch. After lunch we had to put our heads on the table and then sheets were spread out over us. Anybody who moved was hit on the back of the head. The room was closed the whole day. But now you try lying on your elbows, on your face like that without moving yourself – you move of course. And there we were then - shrashed as a result. We were not allowed to leave the room. Opposite was the toilet. That was the only room we were allowed to use.
Completely healthy children! So the handicapped children dissapeared and when a transport of children arrived, then emergency beds were put up in the dormitary. They also quickly dissapeared. A soon as a child had the slightest defect, it was murdered immediately. Many children had a nervous breakdown. A child who sat next to me started screaming. The door was then opened as a nurse came in and then a straight jacket was applied. The child was then taken out. There was one room involved, which was the rubber-room. And I heard her screaming, which I'll never forget for the rest of my life.
Then a man came along and spread out a sheet and a child was laid on it and was carried out. It was a nasty old man. I didn't want him to touch me and I didn't want to end that way. "I don't want to die!", I said. And I thought: "Ok, what am I going to do? If you stay here, you'll go mad". If you left the room, you were beaten – you weren't even allowed to use the toilet. So I said, either I go mad or I get beaten, so I just went out, took hold of a broom and cleaned the floor every morning and I was not beaten for doing that.
Behind the dormitary there were babies, completely healthy babies. When they were washed and fed, I helped. Wherever there was any work, I made myself available: cleaning away the dirty dishes after lunch and fetching the meals, taking away the dirty laundry. We had to move across the premises and we always encountered this "death man" with his trolley. There were two wheels on it and two handles and there were these bundles of rags. They were about this high but they were rags of the children – the corpses were there, tied up and heaped up on this trolley.
I spent two years in this home and then it was said: "Your sister is going to be removed". She was transported away one day before her fifth birthday and gassed in the prison in Brandenburg. There were two prisons in Brandenburg. One in Brandenburg-Havel - there was a gas chamber set up there and the other was in Brandenburg-Görden. One week later it was my turn. We were taken to a different building. There weren't very many children left – only about eight in the children's ward. We were taken to a different building. There was a stage there and a number of seats in the hall and the room was filled with grandmothers, only women and lots of children.
We sat there and there were a large number of files on the stage. And then it was said: out first the children. So we went out, outside the door. There were four busses. We got on board the busses but I can't remember what happened because the bus was full when it arrived in Brandenburg. The bus went into a building and we had to get out. I was always first. There was a small corridor – it was about as wide as a door-frame and at the end the door was open and there was light in the room, although it was daytime. So I went into the room and to give the children more place, I went well into the room. And there was a table there.
I will try to explain what it was like. If this is the room – of course it was much, much smaller – then here was the entrance and on this wall there was an iron door. Behind that there was a gas chamber. And then in the corner there was a table which reached out in the middle of the room, it was placed at an angle. Three women sat behind it. I stood behind this man and the children were right in front of this iron door and I stood on my own. To the left of me there was a man, a Dr. Bonker (?), he was a medical practitioner until 1985. I stood behind his back. Then to the right of me there was this pile of clothes and next to that a pile of clothes.
"Get undressed! Hurry up!" we were told to do. What I immediately noticed: T"there is something wrong here, I'm not going to get undressed here." So I stood quite still behind this Dr. Bonker. Then they got hold of the smallest child, tore the clothes off him, took the child by the upper arm and put him next to the table. So if this is the table here, this is where I was and I turned my head in this direction here toward the iron door and to the pile of clothes. So she stood, held the child by the upper arm, then turned around, took two or three steps – that's how small the room was – and this child wanted to run and try to move its legs but it couldn't move them properly. Then she opened the iron door and hurled the child into the gas chamber.
In the meantime, other children had been undressed. She took one child at a time, took it by the back of the neck in front of the table and then thrust one child after the other into the gas chamber. And I'm still fully dressed standing between this table and this pile of clothes. I'd been overlooked! And then the woman screamed at me: "Get undressed! Hurry up, otherwise you'll get beaten!". I had an awful dress on, but this dress had a large number of buttons on it and I opened the buttons very, very slowly, one after the other. And I said to myself:"I don't want to go into this room behind the iron door".
And then I took my dress off and threw it onto the pile of clothes. Good fortune again: I had shoes I had to untie. So I undid the laces very slowly and then threw the shoes on the pile of shoes and when I was completely naked I was grabbed by Dr. Bonker by my left arm. Then he pulled me around and then I stood naked in front of the table. Now because I worked in the old mental home, I had behind my name on the transport list a question mark. And that was why I was allowed to get dressed again. I was only asked how old I was. Eight years old I said. "What's your name?" "Elvira Hempel". "Get dressed again!", I was told.
The woman then took me across the courtyard to the other building and then I established that this was a prison, because there were bars in front of the windows. There were a few steps up to the building, the corridor. There was a door there which was open but was normally locked up and there were two children who were already there. Three children survived this transport. We embraced, as if we really knew, what we had just been spared.
We spent eight days in this prison, completely alone. At night the cells were locked up and were opened during the day. We played the sort of things that you play at that time. There were a lot of potties there at night – they used to be made of enamel and they had a rounding at the bottom and then we used them to play with. We didn't wash ourselves, we didn't comb ourselves, we didn't brush our teeth. And then the woman came along and brought us our food and said: "You are going to be taken away from here." So the next day there was a taxi outside the building. There was a partition between them. We three dirty, filthy children sat behind this partition screen and in front there was a chauffeur and a woman from the youth office. We were taken to Brandenburg-Goerden.
We were taken to school there. We stayed there for four months. But at that stage I didn't know the dataf - I didn't know what a month was. I only knew what a month was, I only knew what was warm and what was cold and what the season was. Then in Brandenburg we went for a walk in the woods and of course not on our own and not every day either. There were mushrooms. We had to collect mushrooms. And the state of Saxony didn't pay Brandenburg and therefore we had to go back to Urtspringe and there were eight children who were taken to Alt ........ by mistake. The girl who looked after us was from the welfare home and she tortured one of the children so badly that it fell ill. And you know what happened to ill children: that child was killed. So there were only seven left.
We then went back to Urtspringe. But I know that in Alt......... this was the wood beetles time so this must have been about that time of the year but I couldn't enter the date until after the reunification of Germany when I got the documents from that particular period. Then my mother struggled to get us free, or to get me free. I don't know how long I was in Urtspringe, but it can't have been that long. I was then taken to another home, where women had been previously and that's where we seven children were taken. And I came back home but my mother was not allowed to keep me. My father was in the army. The welfare officer said to her: "Mrs. Hempel, if your husband comes back, the same will happen again. You will only get your daughter back once you are divorced."
So I was then taken to a children's home in Magdeburg. That was a good time. There were deaconesses from the church. And then I was beaten again by the woman who looked after me there. I couldn't stand her either. But I went to school for a while there and I was beaten by this woman calle "Kathe" very frequently. In the meantime I was given leave before I was released from Urtspringe and went back to Magdeburg. I had a few months holiday and I knew all the children who lived with my mother and who went to the same class as I did and I told the children what had happened. My mother then fetched me from the school and we went to the youth office the next day. That was the 6th of October, 1942 on my eleventh birthday that I was released.
I spent seven years going through hell. I saw many, many murders by polishing the floor. I opened all the doors and was able to see how the children were injected by the nurses and they were infected by the "death man". I have never been able to come to grips with that the whole of my life. I have very little school education, I am a victim and it is the victimization that I want to have recognized and I'm fighting and if it's the last thing I do, to get recompense. I've written a book and it is called "Hempel. A german child, which was allowed to turn back from the gas chamber: 1940 - 1942". This is my revolting life which I have written down here. You can buy this book outside the hall and it is 300 pages long.
Thank you very much for listening!