Many years ago I found this photo of a boy while doing research.
I was extremely haunted by this photo.
I kept referring back to it.
I am not sure what it is.
I saved it on my computer and even used it as a screensaver, as I wanted to look at him.
I wanted to see what he was seeing.
Something moved me.
Something drew me.
What a beautiful boy, but also a semi-smiling boy who knows something.
He knows something more.
And maybe in that knowing, one is moved by this?
I don’t know.
The photo relates back to 1944.
Of course one wonders, “What was he doing?”
“Where was he?”
When I began to research who he was and what had happened to him, one can see his photo in a different light, but still there is this sense of knowing.
And in that look.
There is something so defiant.
There is something that says “F…k you” with a small undefined smirk.
You sense this so very much!
In the knowing is the tragedy.
He did know a lot, what was going on around him and what would soon happen to him.
I did not begin reading the articles about him.
I simply had this sense of him.
When I began to look, I saw what it all meant.
And I was not the only one to be compelled by his photo.
Robert Domes also makes a point of saying that he felt Ernst Lossa had definitely seen too much during his years in various “homes”. He literally grew up in these homes under the NS Regime and all the laws were being developed and actualized during his time. He had experienced much, seen much as he was tested, assessed and looked at as an “asocial” no less a mentally disturbed being, when he was not. So he saw, he watched it all in front of him. As Robert Domes said “he was an unpleasant witness”.
This information is translated from German, found on a German website describing the book called NEBEL IM AUGUST/FOG IN AUGUST, by Robert Domes. In fact the article was written by Robert Domes.
(I did the best I could with translation, but honestly this is just paraphrased, so forgive the minor mistakes, this is the basic idea of the article in German). My German conversation is horrific, but I can truly read everything and get the main point from articles with the help of the dictionary. So forgive any mess up. I tried to be as general as I could.
The book is a biographical novel about a young boy born in Augsburg Germany in 1929. This was the beginning of the NS Regime. At 4 years old he was ripped away from his family, and brought up in two homes for orphans by the local authorities. He grew up with many difficulties, and it was stated he stole, lied and seemed truly troubled. (My note: well, I guess you would do the same if you had been dragged away from your parents!) At 10 years old he was forced by the nuns into a Nazi “Childrens Home”. He was labeled as an “asocial psychopath”. After 2 years he went into a mental hospital Kaufbeuren, although he was never disabled or mentally ill.
It seems that he continued to be assessed as non conformist and problematic, yet many workers at the hospital looked at him as kind, friendly and extremely helpful. He was said to help hungry patients with finding food by stealing. Workers at the hospital later stated that he had seen very clearly the whole system and seen through everything going on. He knew how patients were being killed. Witnesses from the hospital made these statements inferring that because of that reason and the fears on what he knew, the head doctors, Josef Frick and Dr. Falthauser used this motivation to make the decision to kill Lossa.
Lossa was 14 years old and died an agonizing death. In the mental institution Irsee in Bavaria he was deemed a “life unworthy of life”. He was one of 180,000 victims of the NS Euthanasia programme. He was given two injections of morphine and this took one day of suffering. His death date is August 9, 1944.
Dr. Michael von Cranach, then a Director of the Kaufbeuren Hospital had been researching for his book “Psychiatry under National Socialism” and found Ernst Lossa during this time. In the book one can find the five stages of this 14 year olds short life: first his childhood with his family, next his time in the orphanage in Augsburg, then in the Childrens Home of Markt Indersdorf, then the Kaufbeuren institution and last in the Irsee Mental Hospital.
He researched the archives of Kaufbeuren and Irsee and also just walking the footsteps of Lossa in his everyday life from the 30s and 40s.
There has been hardly any research done on these institutions and the story really never told from Markt Indersdorf from 1939 to 1945. But a lucky score of finding 40 boxes of pupil information / records allowed the writer to re-create the “everyday” life of a child like Lossa.
Also important to mention is the American documentation after 1945. They would examine the conditions in the institute and also documented the examinations of the witnesses, especially concerning Ernst Lossa. Many of the employees spoke of Lossa and he we get a picture of what they considered a “mercy death”.
In 1949 his murder was part of the Euthanasia Process against Doctors and Carers which came before the courts in Augssburg. All this was very well documented.
The hardest part of the research was looking at his family. He came from a “Jenischen family” (“white gypsy”?). This ethnic group which has about 100,000 members left in Germany, was a stain on the map of history. In Lossa’s documents it was stated “Gypsy family”.
Ernst Losss was born the same year as Anne Frank. Yet there is not much written about him. We learn of Anne Frank through her own words; her diary. We learn of Ernst Lossa through others. From transcripts, records, conversations coming from teachers, nuns, carers, experts and doctors. That is how we learn about him. They assessed him, they reviewed his failures, his performance, behaviour but no one had any interest to ask what he thought, felt or how he saw things in his short life.
Mr. Domes wanted to look at the real person Ernst Loss. So that is why he decided on a Biographical Novel. He wanted it told from his point of view. It was only this way that he could give these victims who have no face and no voice; feelings and thoughts.
In addition, a word on the historical exactness.
All figures in the story actually appear and existed. The teacher, the carer, the nun, the doctors and the educator. All correspond to the reality of what happened and what was stated. This applies also to the school friends, the patients and the pupils. Indeed not all the remembrances are exact given the time that has passed. Others because of privacy and protection did not want to be mentioned. Mostly the patients of the homes. And names were changed to protect these people.
Ernst wanted to be loved and accepted as he was. This is what he has in common with all of us, especially all children. So this story of Ernst Lossa has a meaning for all of us especially for our present day society. When we look at how society defines what is “useful” and what is “productive” when we view the disabled, people who don’t “fit in”, people who live outside of society who are not accepted, we have to reflect what are the basic values of our existence. We must think how their lives make our lives richer, brighter, more colorful but mostly make us more humane.
(I paraphrased the article written by Robert Domes)
Note: Ernst Lossa’s father was persecuted in Dachau Concentration Camp, died in Flossenburg Camp. His mother died in a hospital at 23 years old.
Best not to ask what happened on the subject of “seeking justice”. The typical scenario was the court proceeding and many, mostly the majority being given a few years sentence in jail. Most were given early release. Dr. Falthauser went on to live til 1961. I have a hard time talking, contemplating the whole “punishment” and “seeking justice” situation in post-war Germany. It is abysmal and simply pathetic. But another subject for another time.
My Note: I guess there is a zeitgeist, when you come upon something from such a long time ago, and then oddly enough you read that a film has just been made on this person. You realize the synchronicity, the alignment of stars and energy and coming upon these human beings that once lived, breathed and had meaning is part of a constellation of discovery. Strange, but I guess, no coincidence.
Director Uli Edel of “The Baader Meinhof Complex“ fame will be back in 2015, delving deeper into German history with “Nebel im August“ (“Fog in August”), after the novel by Thomas Domes. Germany, 1942: The Nazis‘ euthanasia program runs rampant. 13-year-old Ernst Lossa, son of travellers, gets separated from his family and caught up in the institutionalised race ideology of the Nazis. The film stars Sebastian Koch (“The Lives of Others”), Fritzi Haberlandt, and David Bennent.
Note: So, I know this post is quite late, given the film came out 2015/2016 in Europe, I don’t think this film has come out in America.
Putting Into Context the Use of Starvation as a Killing Technique by Euthanasia Doctors. (This occurred blatantly in Kaufbeuren and Ernst Lossa experienced this firsthand!! There is a scene in the film that celebrates this absolutely horrific method of slow death/killing!)
I think it is important to give the reader a bit of background of what really went on in these Euthanasia Centers, especially when mentioning Ernst Lossa. To really get the full spectrum of day to day life, I think many issues are left out especially when trying to be brief writing a blog. I used various resources, but mainly research coming from the tremendous Robert Jay Lifton book, THE NAZI DOCTORS,
First, it is important to know this: Starvation was used as a method of killing. It was decided in meetings by many renowned and highly admired doctors that this method was a very useful method. It was stated that mental patients were “useless eaters”. It was considered a “passive means of death”.
The idea of “not nourishing” was acceptable.
Dr. Pfannmuller was responding to such a mood when he instituted his method of starving children to death. In 1943, at the Elfling Haar “Hungerhauser”/”Starvation Houses” were set up for an older population.
On November 17, 1942, the Bavarian Interior Ministry held a conference with various directors from mental hospitals. It was stated that Walter Schultze ask the directors of these hospitals to provide a “special diet” for hopelessly ill patients. Dr. Valentin Falthauser who had directed the Child Euthanasia Programme at Kaufbeuren and severd as a T4 expert since 1940, passed around a Kaufbeuren menu which was “totally fat free” consisting of potatoes, turnips cabbage cooked in water. He stated, “the effect should be a slow death which should ensue in about three months”.
As a result of this meeting, on November 30, 1942, on orders from Berlin, “in view of the war related food situation and the health of the working asylum inmates, it was no longer justified to feed everyone equally, whether they contribute productive work or are in therapy or whether they are merely being cared for without accomplishing any useful work worth mentioning”. The privileged patients were to be those performing useful work or in therapy, children capable of education, war casualties and those with senile diseases. Directors were ordered to institute such a programme without delay.
Pfanmuller had carte blance on whom to choose for starvation. There were no forms or questionnaires. In the words of Gerhard Schmidt “it was a method of killing that in the classic sense is no killing, not one action with a recognizable cause or conclusion” he would chose who had been considered insufficiently ill to be sent to the gassing centers. The motto at Egfling- Haar “we give them non fat, then they go on their own”. The diet duplicated the Kaufbeuren model with the addition of a slice of bread a day. When this proved ineffective (and indeed the kitchen staff sometimes added fat or meat to the soups against orders) rations were cut even further.
Dr Schmidt took over the directorship at the end of the war and encountered 95 survivors. 95 survivors on the two wards and a scene he would never forget “huge dark halls, silent, no noise nothing. The people showed no sign of life. A few stood. They said nothing, like half corpses”.
Doctors treating these surviving patients found that they experienced hallucinations of ghosts coming at night and eating their food, feelings of guilt over having done something bad for which they were now being punished and dreams of food. The slow starvation method led many patients to believe they were getting the same wartime rations as everyone else and few seemed to understand they were singled out for starvation. Estimated 444 Egfling patients had died from this method.
(This is taken from Selection in der Heilanstalt 1939 to 1945 Stuttgart, 1965 Testimony from Dr. Gerhard Schmidt
ZUM ANDENKEN VON LEBEN AND STERBEN DES ERNST LOSSA