Die Hempelsche


Elvira Mathey née Hempel

first edition 1994
our edition 2005

Book review by a member of MeTZelf’s German-speaking section

This is the chilling story of the only known survivor of the T-4 program. It is a chronicle, a stringing together of events, intricately described. Surprising is in how much detail the memories are recorded, considering the author was only six years old when separated from her mother.

Nowhere does she explain why in 1940 at age 8, when she was already standing naked at the gas chamber door, she was permitted to dress and was brought to a juvenile hall. Maybe she herself never knew the reason. She was also not sterilized as so many others were under the heredity health law.

The main reason she was originally incarcerated was that her mother had appealed for help from the youth assistance service. Her father was unemployed and had a drinking problem. In accordance with the prevailing heredity science this was sufficient reason for physicians to declare the child insane. She was frequently transferred from one institution to another for no clear reason. As she was considered insane, no education was provided to her. In some institutions there were staff members who behaved almost humanely, but she would not be allowed to stay there long, or the humane staff member herself would one day suddenly disappear.

The author’s younger sister, Lisa, occupies an enormous space in her heart. Lisa was removed from the family home before the author was, but they found each other in one of the institutions in the town of Uchtspringe. Lisa was less “lucky” than the author. On grounds of the same law, she was gassed before her fifth birthday.

In 1941 the by then 10 year old author was returned to the care of her mother. The reason is not clear. Possibly the mother retrieved her herself because she did not trust the care her daughter was being provided. In any case at the time the goal of killing 70,000 persons deemed insane was achieved and gas chamber staff was to be transferred to the east.

As an adult the author maintained contact with her mother and father who were by then divorced. Being illiterate, she tried to support herself with various unskilled jobs. At age 19 she bore a daughter who was taken away from her because she had no money, education, or spouse.

In addition this book documents the author’s many years of struggle for the restoration of her dignity; revocation of the medical file from 1938 by Dr. Fünfgeld MD PhD that certified her insane; and abolition of the hereditary health law. Not only was she herself abased by this law, but so was her daughter, in spite of a study establishing that the author was an intelligent woman. The book ends in 1997 with the words “I won’t give up.” Although the hereditary health law was already no longer applied, it was not officially repealed until 1998.

The book contains several illustrations of the author’s experiences. The drawings are cute in stark contrast to the horror of the events they depict. It also displays several documents and photographs.

Ms. Hempel later married Heinz Mathey whom she called her private teacher. To him she dictated a large part of the manuscript due to her lack of confidence in her own writing skills. Although the book leaves many questions unanswered, it is of incalculable historical value.

We at MeTZelf appeal to you, if you are fluent in both German and English, to translate this book so the content will become available to the non-German reader.

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