The Girl in the File: Margarete Schaffer under Nazi Psychiatry

By Edith ShefferJanuary 1, 2019

The Girl in the File: Margarete Schaffer under Nazi Psychiatry
This piece appears in the latest issue of the LARB Print Quarterly Journal: No. 20  Childhood

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In the three-year period between 1941 and 1944, 13-year-old Margarete Schaffer was taken from her home in Vienna and institutionalized three times. The teenager had been acting frech or “cheeky,” and her mother no longer knew what to do with her. Margarete’s first stop was the clinic of Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician and a pioneer of autism research. At the time, Asperger ran the Curative Education Clinic at the University of Vienna Children’s Hospital. Asperger’s clinic was only one of the many institutions that fed into the Nazi “euthanasia” program, which murdered over 5,000 young people and children who were considered to have physical, mental, or behavioral defects.

The Third Reich can be seen as a diagnosis regime, obsessed with sorting the population into categories, the godlike power of assessment and the dangers of the file. Officials cataloged individuals by race, politics, religion, behavior, and biology, compiling massive “hereditary inventories” of the population. By 1942, Reich Health Leader Leonardo Conti estimated that 12 percent of the population had been indexed, 10 million people. These records, then, slotted citizens for treatment, sterilization, internment, or extermination. One’s label determined one’s fate.

Asperger has long been considered a source of mercy in the midst of this systematic tragedy. He had a reputation for rescuing children from the killing program, and some even believed that he emphasized the special abilities of children in order to protect them, developing the autism diagnosis as a psychiatric Schindler’s list. The archives, however, expose a very different story. They show, instead, that Asperger was complicit in the Reich’s racial hygiene policies, and that he approved the transfer of dozens of children to Spiegelgrund, Vienna’s killing center — many of whom died. He deemed the youths irremediable, a drain on the Reich.

Margarete managed to survive Asperger’s clinic, though she was not home for long. She was ultimately moved from one psychiatric institution to another, diagnosed, prodded, and assessed by the various doctors, nurses, and officials. After her stint in Asperger’s clinic, she was sent to Spiegelgrund, the child killing facility. Later, she spent several months at the adult euthanasia center Steinhof.

Margarete’s shifting placements hinged upon shifting labels. Within three years, Margarete’s diagnoses ranged from “waywardness” to menstrual problems to “manic depressive insanity” to schizophrenia. She was also in danger of being killed. In September 1941, she was “introduced” to Spiegelgrund director Erwin Jekelius and transferred to Spiegelgrund the same day; in January 1943, she was designated for Spiegelgrund’s Pavilion 17, where children were placed under observation for death. Ironically, the second director of Spiegelgrund, Ernst Illing, decided Margarete was fine and returned her home.

Margarete’s file is comparatively robust, but it is also bitter, and vexing. Readers may be struck by how fragmentary it feels. It’s jerky and confusing; it raises more questions than it answers. The reports do not add up to a flesh-and-blood child. It is impossible to know what Margarete was really like — how she looked, the sound of her voice, what she said exactly. It is also impossible to know what officials and clinicians were really thinking. We only have their stilted pronouncements, without knowledge of their private conversations, pressures, and motivations. And yet, you can still feel the harshness of the reports, the arbitrariness of the judgments, and sense the absolute power of the professionals who sent Margarete ricocheting around Vienna’s ghastly children’s institutions. Notice how there is little sense of Margarete herself in the pronouncements. Outside of her color drawing and two short letters, Margarete is defined by the words of others.

The trace is slim, but it is enough to put together some semblance of a story. From her spirited letters and drawing, as well as consistent reports of talking and joking, Margarete comes across as full of life, full of activity. After stays at the killing centers of Spiegelgrund and Steinhof, she seems more anxious and eager to please. She degrades herself, depicts herself as small and isolated, and is reported to crouch and fear poisoning (this was not sheer paranoia — patients were in fact poisoned in that clinic). Her file suggests the extensive psychic trauma Nazi psychiatry inflicted on its child victims.

Margarete’s file also reveals the lethal stakes of Reich social values. She faces death for violating feminine norms of docility and propriety. She is too “cheeky,” too “talkative,” and associates with too many boys too late at night. In the eyes of officials and clinicians, these gender transgressions warrant institutionalization at Vienna’s killing centers. Despite agreement on her offenses, each expert reaches a different conclusion. Margarete’s diagnoses run the gamut: from schizophrenia to menstrual issues to nothing at all. Her prescriptions run the gamut, too: from release home to sterilization to observation for killing. This was the deadly arbitrariness of Nazi child psychiatry.

And within the confusion, every expert appears omnipotent, writing reports that send Margarete in and out of Vienna’s lethal institutions in a flash. The file exposes the process of Nazi extermination: perfunctory evaluations efface the child’s individuality, a psychiatric dehumanization that paves the way toward death.

This may feel like a different world from the one we live in today, but it is in fact, eerily similar. Teachers, administrators, and doctors determine what our children learn, what medications they take or don’t take, and what doors are open to them. My son was diagnosed with autism when he was 17 months old. Ever since then, his personality has been plotted in detail, with ever-advancing goals and treatments. Reading the cold paper trail, you would never recognize the kid who loves puns and hugs me hard. This inevitably affected our relationship. For years after my son’s diagnosis, I treated him more as a therapist than a parent. Experts are essential of course; but there is always danger in deference, in fixed labels, and in pathologizing behavior.

What happens when you write a narrative out of fragmentary files? Narration can bring the past to life, but you lose the rawness of the documents. Here is the horror of the medical file. What follows is one girl’s case history; some sense of a child’s story.

note on the following documents

While I want to portray the roughness of the file, this reproduction shows the historian’s hand. There are notations. Deleted text is indicated by ellipses, grammatical errors with sic, and illegible words with dashes and question marks. For readability, I cut the file in half and arranged it in chronological order. For context, I included notes in italics before each document. This translation cannot convey the jumble of flimsy papers, the inky smell, the illegible handwriting, and the harshness of Nazi-era German bureaucratese. It cannot convey the sense of holding horror in your hands.


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document 1

The commissioner of Vienna’s 22nd district referred Margarete on August 21, 1941, for psychiatric evaluation at Asperger’s Curative Education Clinic at the Universityof Vienna Children’s Hospital, charging her with delinquency, theft, and unruliness at home. In this document, he invokes numerous gender stereotypes of the time and surmises that menstrual cycles might play a role in Margarete’s misbehavior (never mind that she had not yet begun menstruating). He calls Margarete “cheeky,” or frech, suggesting that she violated feminine ideals of deference. The word frech— alternately translated as bold, brazen, sassy, and impudent — reappears numerous times in Margarete’s file. The commissioner also suggests that a single working mother might be unable to care for Margarete. 

B.H.2-B.J.A. 2/L.                                                                      Vienna, 8/21/1941

Subject: mn. Schaffer Margarete

To the
University Children’s Hospital
(Curative Education Department)     Vienna 9,
                                                                   Lazarett Lane 14.

The mn. [minor] Schaffer Margarete, b. 10/13/1927, resident in Vienna 2, Schönerer Street 4/7, has presented childrearing difficulties for about 3-4 years. She left fourth grade secondary school this year (July) and was placed in a tailor’s apprenticeship on July 28. The mn. worked with the master tailor for only one day, and ordered on that one day at the expense of the employer (Mrs. Maran, Vienna 7, Ziegler Lane) 30 RM [Reichsmarks] of flowers from a flower shop, and wares worth of 70 RM from a paper shop. […]  The 2nd day the mn. did not return to the store at all. The mn. justified her absence from work because she did not like it there, she gets home late and has no time to eat. The true reason however appears to be aversion to work.[…]

The mother no longer knows what to do with the child. Mn. is very cheeky with her at home, incites the siblings against her, and is very reluctant to help in the household. If the ch.m. [child’s mother] talks to the mn. about this, she just jumps out the window (apartment is at ground level) and runs away. Mn. often disappears in a flash and simply stays out for half a day. Furthermore, ch.m. stated that the mn. borrowed money from people in order to claim items she wanted at a shop. […]

According to the ch.m., the childrearing difficulties with the mn. occur periodically. (Mr. Soukoup, the master glazier, also made this observation). These appearances occur at intervals of 14 days to 3 weeks, then mn. does well again for a time. Menses have not yet begun for the mn., who is already turning 14. There may be a connection with the seemingly periodic disturbances of the mn.

The ch.f. [child’s father] Schaffer Franz, b. 6/6/1906, an unskilled laborer by occupation, has been convicted several times for theft. As of November 1940 he served a 2-year jail sentence from the district court for theft.

The ch.m. Schaffer 6/17/1905, is a janitor, runs the household, and cares for 3 children. She makes a nice impression, cares for the children well, is however at present not up to the childrearing difficulties of the mn. Margarete. […]

The District Commissioner:

On behalf of:Stichl[?]


document 2

Two days after the district commissioner’s referral, Asperger and his colleague, Dr. Luckesi, issue a more damning judgment of Margarete. They claim that she has a psychiatric condition — a neuropathy — rather than mere menstrual issues or misbehavior. They recommend that Margarete be removed from her home and become a ward of the government, placed in a “welfare education center.” In Vienna, the best-known welfare education center was the Municipal Youth Welfare Institution at Spiegelgrund — where at least 789 children were killed during the war.


Univ. Children’s Hospital in Vienna                              Vienna, 8/23/1941

9, Lazarett Lane 14                                                       n. 4888


S c h a f f e r Margarete, b. 10/13/1927. Vienna 2, Schönerer St.9.

Concerns a neuropathic girl, very unsettled and distracted. Volatile and erratic. Completely reckless, uncritical, and unreliable. Without internal stability. Very impulsive. Has only superficial interest, dismisses everything offhand. On the whole still quite infantile.

Intellectually about average.

The mother, who also has three smaller children, despite her best intentions cannot supervise the girl adequately, because she always knows how to escape and get up to all sorts of mischief. Since the girl is particularly endangered due to her nature, we recommend housing her in a welfare education center under the jurisdiction of Welfare Education.

Dr. Asperger hon.          Dr. Luckesi hon.


document 3

A month after Asperger’s harsh evaluation of Margarete, the district commissioner informs Vienna’s Child Intake Office, which was responsible for welfare services, that she has been sent to Spiegelgrund. She was apparently “introduced” to Spiegelgrund head doctor Erwin Jekelius on September 19, 1941, and transferred the same day. Jekelius was notorious for scouting Vienna’s institutions for children. Although the commissioner had reported the previous month that Margarete’s mother “made a nice impression,” he now describes the mother as “moronic” and incapable of caring for Margarete, thereby justifying the girl’s institutionalization. The document does not, however, issue a medical diagnosis, but a moral failing. “Deceitfulness, pathological dishonesty” is written at the top of the page, by hand, scribbled after the report was typed.

Vienna, 9/24/1941.

Mn. Schaffer Margarete,

  1. 10/13/1927,

To the
Child Intake Office

Danger of waywardness (deceitfulness, pathological dishonesty, staying out for hours)

The mn. has presented childrearing difficulties for about 3-4 years. The mn. stole a bottle of perfume worth 25 Pf in the department store “Falnbigl”. School attendance was favorable at the time, the matter remained at a strict warning. Lately childrearing difficulties have become more frequent. Mn. is especially cheeky with the ch.m. […] The ch.m. has to lock up everything from her, otherwise the mn. will sell or tradethings < or collects them for others. […] The ch.m., who is moronic, is no longer up to the rearing the mn. at all. The mn. was evaluated at the University Children’s Hospital on 8/23/1941. On 9/19/1941 she was introduced to Chief Physician Dr. Jekelius. The report is enclosed. The mn. was taken on the same day to the welfare institution “Am Spiegelgrund.”

Application: Transfer to municipal care.

            Stichl [?]                                               Vod[?] i.V.


document 4

Margarete spends nine months at Spiegelgrund. During that time, doctors Margarethe Hübsch and Helene Jockl diagnose her with “schizophrenia with manic-depressive phases.” They see evidence of mental illness in virtually all aspects of Margarete’s behavior and order institutionalization in neighboring sanatorium Steinhof, which was a center of adult euthanasia. They also advocate sterilization. They note that Margarete had “delusions of poisoning.” Children at Spiegelgrund were, in fact, poisoned: staff issued overdoses of barbiturates until they grew ill and died, usually of pneumonia. Hübsch and Jockl were themselves tried after the war for killing children in this way.

Child Intake Office/Youth Department
Schaffer Margarete, 10/13/1927

D u p l i c a t e   of the summary assessment of Margarete Schaffer from the Spiegelgrund institution 14, Baumgarnerhöhe 1 from 5/4/1942.

Concerns a mental illness of the mn. S c h a f f e r Margarete. Periodic mood changes, together with other signs of manic disturbance present in the assessment (inclination to rhyming, stringing together words of similar meaning and volume, elevated self-esteem, and similar) would suggest a diagnosis of manic-depressive insanity. […]

In the present manic phase, the facial expression is remarkably empty, even in seemingly lively conversation, the line of thought appears to be hindered, leading often to unmotivated laughter, to light grimacing, the gail [sic.] is stiff and mannered.

This, along with the documented abnormalities […] — staring impassively before her, her lack of contact, hallucinations of a predominantly optical nature, as well as vague delusions of persecution, (the whole neighborhood mocked her and her family called her out), delusions of poisoning, together with the incoherence of thought, the flight of ideas that appears in her essays, the neologisms, the manner of expressing herself, and the type of drawings, leads to the diagnosis:

Schizophrenia with manic-depressive phases.
The mn. is mentally ill and requires permanent stay in a psychiatric institution.
Therefore her transfer to the Wagner von Jauregg sanatorium and care facility “Am Steinhof” is requested.
Sterilization appears to be advisable.

Vienna, May 4, 1942                                        For the director:

Department Physician
Dr. Helene J o c k l                               Dr. Marg. H ü b s c h

                                                            Institute Senior Physician


document 5

Margarete stayed at Steinhof from May 4, 1942, until October 7, 1942, when she was discharged home. Presumably, Steinhof doctors did not believe she had a mental illness. Margarete soon found herself in trouble again. A few months later, on December 22, 1942, a report from Child Intake Office complains that she has demonstrated “impossible behavior.” The biggest concerns are Margarete’s violations feminine propriety — disobedience with her mother and, most egregiously, hanging out with “various male acquaintances” on the streets at night. The letter states she was brought to Otto Pötzl’s famed neuropsychiatric clinic for evaluation, and that it pronounced “moral endangerment” rather than a mental illness. Officials designate Margarete for Spiegelgrund Pavilion 17 under second Spiegelgrund director Ernst Illing, the observation pavilion where children were evaluated for potential killing.

Vienna, 12/22/42

B.H.2-B.J.A.2/L.                                             Mn. Schaffer Margarete, 10/13/1927

                                                                                                2., Schönerer St. 9/7

To the Child Intake Office                                                                                                                                                      Vienna 9.,  Lustkandl Ln. 50

Child rearing difficulties, moral endangerment.

The mn,. was already committed once on 9/19/1941 due to her impossible behavior at home. […]

The mn. was released back home again on 10/7/1942. Already on XI/16/1942 at 1/2 past 9 in the evening she was apprehended near the Ostbahnhof station, where she was hanging about with a soldier. She was then returned to the ch.m. The mn. was employed as a laborer by Ketzer, XXI, Schenkendorf Lane 17/19 from XI/13/1942 to XII.15.1942. During this time she repeatedly stayed away from work for no reason and hung about in the streets until late at night. She also had various male acquaintances. At home she was cheeky with the ch.m. and did not obey at all. She stole the smoking ration card from her in order to give cigarettes to a lad she knew.

On XII/10/1942 this yr. she was brought to the Child Guidance Center: The assessment reads:

“Considering the clinical report (Pötzl’s clinic), extensive domestic difficulties, the ch.m., who is failing at child rearing and unable to cope with the child, and serious moral endangerment and workplace difficulties, the soonest transfer is requested to Vienna Municipal Mental Hospital [Spiegelgrund] Pav. 17 (Dr. Illing, with the investigation of whether the mn. is at all capable of work deployment.

Dr. Wüster hon.” […]


Frch. [?] Krummer[?]    Penkler    [Illegible]       


document 6

Margarete spent two months at Spiegelgrund, from January 13 until March 9, 1943. There, director Illing assesses her rather positively, declaring “there is no evidence of a mental illness.” This is striking since Illing was a notorious killer, finding reasons to put hundreds of children to death. Yet here Illing chides his fellow Spiegelgrund doctors Hübsch and Jockl for being too critical of Margarete, writing that “the medical history entries from then did not prove schizophrenia.” Instead, he faults Margarete for lack of feminine docility, being too “active,” “independent,” and, of course, “cheeky.” He releases her home again as “educable on a trial basis.”

Child Intake Office/Youth Department

Schaffer Margarete, 10/13/1927

D u p l i c a t e   of the summary assessment of the Vienna Children’s Municipal Mental Hospital 14 Baumgarnerhöhe 1 from 3/9/1943

Expert opinion on Margarete S c h a f f e r,  b. 10/13/1927

Due to knowledge of the files, as well as examinations and observations conducted here since 1/13/1943, concerns an endomorphic adolescent born in wedlock and in unfortunate household conditions, intellectually capable for her age.

  1. Sch. is hereditarily tainted (father a drinker, convicted of fraud and theft, father’s brother drinker). […]

There is currently no evidence of mental illness (schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, etc [sic.]). The previously issud [sic.] issued diagnosis of schizophrenia can by no means be confirmed by the present clinical observation.

The medical case records from the time do not establish schizophrenia, but can moreover be interpreted as abnormal reactions of a characterologically deviant personality.

The main issue is her impulsivity. She is extremely active, talkative, and very easily distracted. Her overall mood appears equable. [sic.] cheerful, butwill [sic.] often be displaced by irritable short-term (reactive?) ill humor.

She craves validtion [sic.], always wants to be at the center of attention and, due to her aptitude for imagination, has a tendency to boastful, fantastically embellished lies. She is extremely independent, will not be influenced from any side, such that she is often outrageously cheeky to caregivers. […]

As a result of her mental irregularities, M. Sch. is  e d u c a b l e   o n  a   t r i a l   b a s i s.

Currently she does not necessarily require further stay at an insttution [sic.]. Her ability to work can at this time be affirmed. Return to the parents is therefore recommended on a trial basis.

Acting Director
Dr. Ernst I l l i n g,
Senior Medical Officer


document 7

 Eleven months after Margarete was released home from Spiegelgrund, on February 12, 1944, she ran away. The 16-year-old was apprehended four days later in Znaim and institutionalized at the Children’s Home Luisenheim. Vienna’s Child Guidance Center was apparently not sure what to do with the girl and an official requested that Asperger’s Curative Education Clinic conduct a conclusive evaluation.Margarete was admitted to Asperger’s Curative Education clinic on April 18, 1944, and taken to bathe. The nurse’s handwritten account suggests Margarete was desirous to talk  — sharing the hardships she had endured at Vienna’s children’s institutions and her fears for her future.

Schaffer Margarete, b: 10/13/1927          Admit. 4/18/1944

Immediately upon entering the bathroom she was very talkative. She was very surprised when she heard that she had to take a bath and said if she had known that she would have already bathed at the institution. The body was not very dirty, only it showed a lot of pimples. During the bath, Schaffer told me some things about her life. She was imprisoned and she does not like to remember the time in the cell. After her sentence she was in an institution where she had to work hard, among other things washing clothes.

Her desire is to become a nanny, but she doubts whether she can become one after all this.


document 8

On her second day at Asperger’s clinic, Margarete drew a picture of an idyllic home with bright, cozy rooms. She includes cheerful details: a bowl of fruit, a side table with flowers, a polka-dotted wall, a rocking horse, a patterned rug, and a framed mountain landscape. The kitchen and dinner tables are set with colorful tablecloths. The solitary person in the home appears far less cheerful, however. Tiny and isolated in the lower left corner, the figure sits in a large bathtub under a heavy jet of water, the head barely visible — as Margarete had perhaps felt in her bath the day before.  


document 9

These handwritten notes, only partially legible, were taken over time at Asperger’s clinic. The writer seems skeptical about Margarete’s good behavior and uninterested in either her stories or her jokes. Overall, the writer is displeased with how “talkative” she is. The notes also suggest that Margarete was worried about her standing with the clinic staff, anxious to hear what they were saying about her and even cowering before them.

Polite tone to the nurse, urges the children to be, she knows first [?] when they commit improprieties. Sits demurely in a corner, writes/knits[?] a lot, sings or narrates as she does so. […]

5/10. Sits at work as diligently as ever, but is still/otherwise[?] very talkative. Has fluent speech with hackneyed expressions. Tone talking to the nurse can be opposite, either hypocritical politeness or flat and indifferent[?]. The nurse seeks to correct, in words: “Please go, stop it, don’t be so cheeky.” Then her eyes light up triumphantly, when one e.g., shakes a finger.

Misses nothing, watches the nurse’s mouth to catch every word. When we report to each other about the children in the morning, she is always hanging around near us. Sometimes acts like the inmate of a workhouse. (crouches, because expects[?] better from it.)

Examined by Dr. Feldmann. Was embarrassed, sensitive, often cheeky. When asked about her offenses, she evades by reporting a lot of trivialities in detail, and never gets to the essentials. It puts the listener’s patience to the test. One is happy when she is finished a. no longer tries to get to the facts. Perhaps she does not do it consciously; because that kind of narration presumes a certain kind of personality.

Her mood has changed since this exam. Speaks a lot, makes jokes, does theater all the time, imitating one nurse or another, or an aspect of life at the institution in which the adults play somewhat of a laughable role. She has a lot of success with the children with this. To the adults she seems neither humorous nor intelligent, just unpleasant. […]


document 10

This is one of two scraps of Margarete’s personal writing in her file. In this letter to nurse Neuenteufel, Margarete apologizes for an apparent transgression, abases herself, and pledges to improve her behavior.

Dear nurse Neuenteufel!

Please forgive my nuisanse [sic]. I am still young and stupid. I don’t offer much even to people stupider than I am. My ambition is only one thing. Never again to falter in life. And I will try to rise up, alone and slowly. At 16-17 years old a person has a lot of stupid things in mind. Especially now in the war.

Well no offense
and head high.

Grete Schaffe


document 11

In this letter to her father, Margarete writes that she would like to live with him after her institutionalization and vows to “work diligently,” idealizing the future. This letter is striking, as all official reports focus exclusively on Margarete’s relationship with her mother and present her as the girl’s only residential option. This letter was apparently unsent.

Dear father!

I imagine my future back home again with you. From where I want to work diligently again. I like children, but I know that now in the war you cannot choose your work. I will therefore do what is required of me. I imagine how nice it would be if we were all together again. The denial of a job placement for me would have already hit the employment office.


document 12

These are scraps from Margarete’s testing at Asperger’s clinic — word associations and dictation.

House --------------- Sand, box[?], chair, bed, bench, table, blackboard, doctor[?], church, tower[?], spire[?], snow[?], stockings, warmth[?], dresses, limbs, bones, head, neck, hand, sister, brother, service, work, female worker, window, door, tool, suitcase, broom.

[Margarete’s handwriting]

Pride went for a walk one day. On his Purple colored [sic.] robe hung numerous gilded glass balls. He also wore a soap bubble on his head, which shimmered brightly and splendidly in the sunshine. He had put his flat feet in shoes with heels, and walked like a king.


(from Hans Asperger’s Heilpädagogik, p. 43)

Pride went for a walk one day.

On his purple robe hung numerous gilded glass balls.

He wore a crown of soap bubbles on his head that shimmered brightly and splendidly in the sunshine.

He had put his flat feet in shoes with enormous heels and walked on them as majestically as a king.


document 13

This final assessment from Asperger’s clinic concludes that Margarete did not have a psychosis, but was “operating at a low mental level with individual psychopathic features.” It calls her “primitive” twice. The report cites Margarete’s overly good behavior as problematic, as aimed to make “a good impression” rather stemming from “greater insight or ethical motives.” It also faults Margarete for being too “talkative” and calling attention to herself. Despite these character failings, the report concludes that Margarete was “very useful and capable” and should be deployed for work, either at home or in an institution. In the end, Margarete was sent to the children’s home at Luisenheim, her mother was apparently reluctant to take her daughter back home. 

Univ. Children’s Hospital in Vienna,                             6/13/44.

 IX Lazarett Lane 14.

Vienna District Youth Office,

Dept. F 2-Scha-5/44.


Schaffer Margarete, geb. 13.10.1927

Concerns a character that is very little differentiated, a personality operating a low mental level with individual psychopathic features, but not a psychosis.

The appearance of the yth. is very unmaidenly: she already has pronounced full feminine body forms, lacks youthful tone and turgor, her movements are rather cumbersome, without any grace, her speech is precocious, too wise; she uses stilted idioms, hackneyed phrases. She does not participate at all in the community of children, also not with the other older girls, but constantly sits in unflagging unnatural-looking diligence, an exaggerated zeal at work. This behavior is certainly not due to a disturbance of the contact ability, but arises from her efforts to make good impression. Her good, civilized behavior is determined in a primitive manner by expediency, not greater insight or ethical motives. Therefore, despite apparent improvement she remains completely unreliable. But job performance is actually good. She tests average intelligence. […]

As soon as she feels any kind of attention, at center stage, she becomes very talkative, makes jokes, and makes much of herself. This rapid change of her affect, her mood, does not signify morbid moods in the sense of mainic-depressive [sic.] psychoses, but is explained by the primitive reaction of her undifferentiated personality. […]

Administrative: since the girl is very useful and capable, another attempt to arrange employment seems appropriate to us. Should domestic circumstances make release to the family impossible, then that only leaves accommodation in an institution (Vie. Neudorf), but must also necessarily provide for sufficient employment.

Dr. R.



Edith Sheffer is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the prize-winning author Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna. 

LARB Contributor

Edith Sheffer is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the prize-winning author Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, which draws on Margarete Schaffer’s file, as well as the files of hundreds of other children who suffered in Vienna’s institutions. She is also the author of the prize-winning first book, Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain.


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