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Helene Melanie Lebel
September 15, 1911 | Vienna, Austria
The elder of two daughters born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Helene was raised as a Catholic in Vienna. Her father died in action during World War I when Helene was just 5 years old, and her mother remarried when Helene was 15. Known affectionately as Helly, Helene loved to swim and go to the opera. After finishing her secondary education she entered law school.
1933-39: At 19 Helene first showed signs of mental illness. Her condition worsened during 1934, and by 1935 she had to give up her law studies and her job as a legal secretary. After losing her trusted fox terrier, Lydi, she suffered a major breakdown. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and was placed in Vienna's Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital. Two years later, in March 1938, the Germans annexed Austria to Germany.
"Euthanasia" centers, Germany 1940-1945
1940: Helene was confined in Steinhof and was not allowed home even though her condition had improved. Her parents were led to believe that she would soon be released. Instead, Helene's mother was informed in August that Helene had been transferred to a hospital in Niedernhart, just across the border in Bavaria. In fact, Helene was transferred to a converted prison in Brandenburg, Germany, where she was undressed, subjected to a physical examination, and then led into a shower room.
Helene was one of 9,772 persons gassed that year in the Brandenburg "Euthanasia" center. She was officially listed as dying in her room of "acute schizophrenic excitement."
Nazi Persecution of the Disabled (USHMM Special Focus)
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