Back to Peter Lehmann Publishing

Originally published in German in: Lothar Jändke / Don Weitz / Alfredo Moffatt / Peter R. Breggin / Bonnie Burstow / Wolfgang Fehse / Sylvia Marcos / Gisela Wirths / Peter Stastny / Theodor Itten / Sabine Nitz-Spatz / Kerstin Kempker / Thilo von Trotha / Uta Wehde: "Persönliche Beweggründe für antipsychiatrisches Handeln", in: Kerstin Kempker & Peter Lehmann (Eds.): Statt Psychiatrie, Berlin: Peter Lehmann Antipsychiatrieverlag 1993, pp. 382-420 [Lothar's part: pp. 382-388]. Original arcticle in German

Lothar Jändke

Personal Motivation for My Antipsychiatric Acting

I was born on February 15, 1917 in Berlin-Steglitz, the son of the book printer Fritz Jändke and his wife Elsbeth, whose maiden name was Hahn. I was considered a ›psychopath‹ from early on in my childhood.

At birth, I had cataracts in both eyes. Between the age of 3 and 10, I suffered from epileptic seizures. Sometimes, I had 12 attacks in a row, which left me disoriented. Dr. Rettberg and Dr. Senkpiel told my mother that her son would not survive beyond the age of 18. How mistaken they were! I just reached the age of 76 this February (1993).

Dr. Löhlein, as well as his associate Dr. Harms from the Eye Clinic of the University of Berlin, located on Ziegelstraße, examined me thoroughly and recommended eye surgery. At the time, my parents were not able to afford the surgery. I was not covered by health insurance and the welfare system would not pay for it. Thus my operation was postponed until I was 18 years old.

Between the age of 10 and 14 years, the local youth agency in Steglitz provided schooling for me at home after a thorough examination conducted by the school physician Dr. Sewike. I received home schooling from Harry Küper, a teacher from the local public school because the program for children with learning disabilities was found to be inappropriate for my problems: cataracts and epilepsy.

On April 2, 1935, when I was 18 years old, the youth agency admitted me to the madhouse named Brandenburgische Provinzial-Landesanstalt in Potsdam. My parents did not protest because they thought I would be in good hands and that I would learn a suitable occupation. But, unfortunately, the opposite happened.

Upon admission I was placed on a ward that was mainly for foster care children although I had been sent there because of physical diseases. I received no sympathy. I had to endure all manners of torment. For example, during bath hour, the other residents submerged my head under water so that I almost drowned. I barely managed to break loose from them and get my head above water. On that same day, they locked me into a cell and attacked me with a broom. Over and over, they opened the door only to close and lock it again. The nurses didn't do anything to prevent this and just stood there watching passively. It was more than I could bear; I was exhausted—at the end of my rope. When I asked the nurses to help me, they turned away and even ridiculed me. One of the chief instructors, Mrs. Wally Leucht, now Ms. Kirchmeier, said to me: "You won't leave this institution until after your hair is gray." This turned out to be true.

I had to do housekeeping work and the so-called nurses used to hit me when a chore did not meet their standard, although they knew that I could barely see because of my eye condition.

I didn't perform the Nazi drill and was punished because I refused to say: "Heil Hitler." This was considered such a big crime that they threatened to put me in jail or in a concentration camp.

On the admission ward, I befriended another patient named Helmuth L. because he, too, was being harshly treated. He was 11 years old und completely blind. The nurses spread the rumor that we were engaging in improper conduct, in other words, homosexual activities. This was a defamation of character.

In the madhouse's workshop where we did basket work, I developed a severe finger infection. When I was transferred to the St.-Joseph's Hospital in Potsdam for the eye surgery, they also operated on my finger so that it could be saved. When I returned to the madhouse they accused me of having my finger treated without permission. In the madhouse we had to do physical exercises in the mornings together with the mentally disabled patients. Constant "run, march, march, march!" Since the mentally disabled patients knew that I couldn't see well, they used to put bricks on the track so I would fall, which happened a lot.

I was assigned to the basket workshop, which was located in a humid basement area. The supervisor was very rude and offensive to the patients. If we didn't immediately find what he wanted, we were hit on the head with rods. During the cold tree planting season, we didn't get warm clothes and were always freezing. The basket workshop's supervisor's name was Edwin Mäuselbach. During the tree planting, we were closely supervised by the nurses. If we didn't work fast enough they kicked us with their feet and hit us with their fists.

On December 20, 1935, I was sterilized against my own and my parents' will. The procedure was ordered by the Potsdam Court with the cooperation of a chief physician named Dr. Ernst Illing. Dr. Lehmann, Dr. Kühnlein and Dr. Casparri performed the operation in the Potsdam madhouse. (After 1945 I visited the—now deceased—nurse Klara Herzog from the Potsdam madhouse. She told me that the former Head of the Potsdam madhouse, Dr. Hans Heinze, had been transferred to Görden in 1938 where, later, with the aid of a group of nurses, he killed and buried regular and mentally incompetent patients to make sure they wouldn't testify against him. And in 1948 I found articles in the newspapers, the Berlin Tagesspiegel and in the Telegraf, that stated that Dr. Illing, who had in the meantime been transferred to the Vienna madhouse Steinhof, had been sentenced to death—found guilty of killing many mentally retarded patients with morphine injections.)

Back to my involuntary sterilization in 1985. Because the procedure was not performed under appropriate anesthesia, I endured terrible pain. When I cried because of pain, the nurses mocked me: "You are not a soldier but a softie. You can't see well and you barely can hear." They also said: "You can't see further than pigs can shit." The surgeon had strictly advised against performing heavy physical work following the surgery because I needed time to recover but the nurses didn't follow his instructions. They had me doing hard work within two weeks such as, for example, carrying heavy iron pots filled with food from house to house.

From the admission ward I was transferred to another ward and into the hands of the male nurse, Willy Heinrich. He forced me to eat when I was full. I couldn't take it and began vomiting. When I wanted to defend myself he threatened me with punishment such as, for example, locking me in a cell. Out of fear I endured everything. Because of that, I developed a severe intestinal disorder from which I still suffer today.

After surgery on my left eye I was supposed to receive scopolamine drops (from the poison of atropine). When I came back from surgery for which I had received permission to leave the ward, there was an outbreak of scarlet fever. The nurses told me that all the scarlet fever patients had been transferred elsewhere but when I arrived back to the dormitory, it turned out that infectious patients had stayed on the ward. The male nurse Heinrich applied my scopolamine eye drops so carelessly that they dripped from the eye to my throat and stomach, leaving a bitter taste. The ophthalmologist Dr. Iwen had told me that scopolamine in high doses could be toxic. This soon happened in the form of an attack of stomach nausea and a racing heart. My face was white, the nurses told me, and there were big red spots on my knees. The nurses thought I had scarlet fever, but when no further symptoms developed I was told to leave my bed and return to work. From that day on, January 29, 1937, I suffered from persistent bloating in the abdomen coupled with green spots on my face, and constipation. When I asked for laxatives they refused to give me any. My parents had to bring them secretly to me during visits.

All the patients were poisoned being fed sausages that had gone bad. We all developed severe diarrhea. For lunch we often used to get moldy rice and unripe fruits.

Two patients on my ward killed themselves. One patient had hanged himself shortly before I was first admitted. Alfred Noack drowned himself on an outing into town. Karl Lorenz hanged himself in the basement.

All correspondence with family was monitored. Some of our letters were thrown in the garbage. This is why we couldn't say the full truth about the circumstances within the madhouse. For example, toddlers in the Potsdam madhouse were fed bad milk. As a result, they died in agony from severe diarrhea and vomiting.

On March 25, 1937, I was finally released from the ›mental hospital‹. My soul and body were ruined. On the following April 19, I was found incapable to serve in the military or to work. Beginning in 1938, I was voluntarily admitted to the madhouse Wuhlgarten on the East side of Berlin. I had been told that this was the only way I would be able to go to Bethel. In Wuhlgarten I was put on bed-rest for six weeks for observation although my mother had told them that I couldn't tolerate this because of my constipation. There I was also not allowed to use laxatives.

The nurses walked all night long through the corridors with their heavy boots and lanterns so that we could barely sleep at night. Upon request from my parents, I was released in April 1938 and came home. Prof. Dr. Werner from Berlin-Steglitz requested an X-ray at the Schöneberg Hospital that showed that I was suffering from Hirschsprung's Disease which included very painful pylorospasm, an abnormally persistent contraction of the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach. I understand that this disease was the result of the way I had been treated. Dr. Werner was of the opinion that it could be improved with an operation. But the laws of the Third Reich did not allow this because I was considered mentally ill. Dr. Mette, a government doctor, stole a letter that Dr. Stein had written to Prof. Werner concerning my X-rays. I had gone to him to obtain a referral to a hospital to perform the operation. Instead he wanted to refer me back to Wuhlgarten. My parents opposed this because I hadn't been treated well there.

On August 13, 1938, I was admitted to the Wittenauer Karl-Bonhoeffer-Institutes upon request from the government doctor. Before going, an injection was administered supposedly for my stomach ailment. However this injection was an anesthetic. On top of that, my hands were cuffed. I was escorted like a dangerous criminal! (After 1945 I met a prelate who used to work in the park of the Institute. He told me that there were mass tombs in the back of the clinic).

Back to my time in Wittenau. I stayed approximately three weeks at the Bonhoeffer-Clinic and was transferred upon insistent requests from my parents to the Westend-Hospital, where I stayed for one month. The chairman of the hospital advised me to go home because he wasn't allowed to help me because of my alleged mental illness and because I was running the risk of being put back into a mental institution.

I was submitted to a forensic interview and examination conducted by Dr. Hommerich at the Robert-Koch-Hospital because a declaration of incapacity had been requested against my parents' will in Wittenau. He asked me questions that I would never be able to answer like questions about Marital Law and Divorce Law and the name of beach resorts in the Sudetenland. The court proceedings confirmed his decision and were held behind closed doors. Against my father's wish to nominate him as my guardian, a stranger was nominated. But my parents protested against this decision and my father became my guardian until his death on September 7, 1948.

After the fall of the Third Reich, I remained living at home. My mother died on August 12, 1945. I earned my living as a courier. Mr. Hans-Jürgen Henning from the Inner Mission Steglitz became my guardian after my father's death. He was able to reverse the guardianship because I had a job. The government medical examination conducted by Dr. Erbsen from the health department stated that there were no signs of mental retardation or mental disease. Due to my several ailments, I was acknowledged severely disabled in 1948.

Today it seems like a wonder that I survived even if severely damaged. I forgot to mention that in the years 1937/38 I transiently suffered from a circularly shaped hair-loss which my doctor told me was a very typical disease in mental institutions.

I don't want to leave unmentioned the fact that there were a few good moments during the time I was institutionalized. My doctor let me work on the grounds of the Potsdam madhouse located close to Gutsvogt Henning. He only permitted me do work that I was able to do and I was allowed to eat as much as I wanted from the fruit in his garden. I still thank him today for his good treatment. Also, the baker master Fritz Haschogk from Steglitz, Zimmermannstraße 7, in whose business I worked as a courier for some time always supported me whenever he could. He advised me when he was my guardian before my father. I still think with gratitude of him.

Because of my long and tormenting experiences, I work today in many groups and in open house events in mental institutions. I especially work to abolish involuntary commitments, isolation rooms and incapacity declarations. And that the people themselves can obtain access to their treatment records, that abuse of patients is forbidden and that cruel staff gets dismissed and punished. It is also important that the police and the courts decisively fight against wrongdoings in madhouses and make unannounced visits to these institutions, to check on the staff and the food. It should be supervised and monitored to make sure that inmates have enough clothing and pocket money. In all institutions there must be rooms for socializing, there should be houses available for shared living, partnerships should be possible without marriage, the remuneration for work in institutions for the so-called mentally disabled should be enough to live on, and all people with severe handicaps should have a right to a pension. People with motor handicaps should be accompanied for sight-seeing trips if they wish to go. Sick and old people should have the same rights as young and healthy ones and they also should have the right to come and go from the morning to the evening. From my visits to today's psychiatric institutions, I know that the various abuses of human dignity are oftentimes even worse than during Hitler's time. This has to change.

Lothar Jändke: Born 1917 in Berlin-Steglitz. Courier for bread and advertisements. Movie theater placement clerk. From 1935 to 1937 interned in three different madhouses. Before and after Word War II, he worked as a newspaper delivery clerk and as a courier. He dictated this article in 1993 while retired and living in Berlin-Steglitz. Lothar Jändke has since died.

English information about the book find at

Translated by Dr. Simone Silvestri Summer, 2005