From the Frying Pan to Hell or A Never-ending Pain

The choice one has as an abuse victim is to be either in the frying pan or the fire. In either case, we are the one who is blamed and shamed and in this process we once again experience abuse.

In the late Fall of 1991, after being six months in the United States, I nearly believed the illusion, that I have left my past behind, the real reason why I left Germany. Just a few months earlier an incident triggered a feeling of fear I have known so well since childhood and tried for the same reason to deny again, just as I had done for many years before. It didn’t work.

Between fear and depression, I was in the middle of uncontrollable flashbacks. With no help available and my very limited English, I had to deal with my early childhood and later psychological wounds myself.

The only way I knew to cope was writing down each experience I was able to tell. Three months later I finished writing about the damaging psychological episodes of my childhood. Then I stopped writing. Not because of lack of memory. The bitter shame, guilt and feeling of worthlessness, the stigma of being a criminal was still present and did not allow me to address the time of my youth when I was in the institution in Germany.

The 14 years of my childhood were my private holocaust, marked with fear by the almost daily beatings, sexual abuse, oppression, and being sold into slavery by my mother. In spite of the imprint of childhood abuse, I never lost the sense of right and wrong. Even as a little child I instinctively stood up against what I believed was hurtful to myself or others.

But what I had to learn to bear in the institution was beyond endurance. The reason for my disobedience in the institution was similar to my decision to leave home, in search of more humanity and help. The abuse and mistreatment I received in the institution left a never erasable imprint of indescribable pain and permanent psychological consequences.

As a 14 year-old, I decided to end the daily endurance of terror in my parent’s house and for the first time, I ran away from home: I did not get very far. The police caught me and the child protection agency sent me back into the hell of my home. After having run away six times, I said to these cold-hearted bureaucrats that I would steal or commit murder if they sent me back home again. I believed, at the time, that a prison was a safer place than my parental home. The youth authorities gave in and I was sent instead to a home for teenage girls in Augsburg, called Hedwigsheim.

During my stay in the Hedwigheim, Augsburg, I believed I had finally escaped from hell but a few months later, without a word from the child protection agency, I was herded like a domestic animal to another home, the Mädchenheim Ruth in Neumarkt/Wirsberg. This place was my new home, but only for about 3 weeks, until I decided to run away.

The Lutheran nuns made us work and we worked, prayed and cleaned until all floors were shiny before breakfast. Absolute silence was mandatory and instantly punished if we broke the silence. The cold and the silence even during work hours (sewing aprons) became unbearable. Together with three other girls I escaped. We knotted bed sheets together and went over the second floor balcony.

I hitch-hiked for a while through Germany. After my weight was down to 40 kg (84 US pounds) and after being gang-raped by three truck drivers, I decided to turn myself in at a police station.

An institution in Fuerth/Bayern was a temporary holding place for runaways. My journey continued about 14 days later when I was picked up and transported to my final destiny, a holy hell, for three years.

The new girls’ home was called the Haus Weiher, a part of Rummelsberger Anstalten an outpost of the Christian German Diakonie. The house father was brother Buchta, a member of the Lutheran Brothers of Altdorf a house full off middle-aged, vicious people who continuously prayed and praised their self-righteousness. They called themselves “the ones without sin.” It was at this place I became acquainted with other frightening cruelties, oppressions and dehumanizing humiliations. This was a new kind of abuse to me, a “black pedagogic” that uses the Christian religion as an excuse and method of abuse. I learned quickly that I was valued there even less than in my parental home. Punishment and hard labor, it was explained, was for the betterment of my character and it was necessary that I become free of sin and worthy of God’s grace.

I resented the shift to the Haus Weiher and expressed my thoughts by comparing this kind of operation with the oppression of the Nazi methods that held young people hostage. My defensive remarks were instantly answered with a week’s isolation. I had to work but eat alone at a table reserved for all who needed to be punished.

The first effect of the incarceration was that all personal belongings, such as jewelry, makeup and personal letters for instance, were all confiscated. My clothes were taken and replaced with house-clothing, a terrible, smelly shabby cloth. My long hair had to be gathered to a pony-tail. As Ms. Klose, the second in command told me, “nobody in this house can look like a whore.”
Noticing the rattling big key chain and the locked-up doors, I asked why I was treated like a criminal. The swift answer the nun in civilian clothes gave was, “all you girls need to learn obedience and humility by being isolated from all temptation.”

The second day in the Haus Weiher was a long walk to the doctor in the town of Hersbruck. It is mandatory, it was explained, that every girl be examined for genital disease and to see if she is still a virgin. After the humiliating exam, where the bitter spinster was present, came the long trip back to the institution with a lecture including that I was no virgin but a sinful, fallen girl and that I need to be taught humility. Strict action followed and the humiliation began shortly after we were back.

For the first 4 weeks my duty before breakfast was cleaning toilets. After, came brushing and shining the wooden parquet floors on my knees. This was the time I complained of headaches: “I can’t bend over,” I complained, “and I get very bad headaches.” My complaints were answered with more scrubbing or additional cleaning duties. Much of the time, Ms. Klose stood next to me, lecturing and criticizing every move, while I was on my knees scrubbing. Forty-five years later, I was finally properly diagnosed and understood why I could never bend over without being in pain[1].

Breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., was often a moldy slice of bread with margarine and some jelly. Then came work until 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday. We worked, either in the kitchen, on the farm, in the laundry, in the sewing/mending department, or we weaved rug-carpets under the supervision of Ms. Feise.
My assignment in the beginning was to cut old cloths into strips, using scissors. After my right hand had blisters, I was told to use my left hand and continue.
For about a month I had to work in the laundry. Ms. Pezold was in charge of the laundry. Every girl who entered the laundry as a newcomer was assigned to hand-wash the bloody, cotton menstrual napkins. Only after I collapsed did I get reassigned to the stitching department, embroidering fancy tablecloths and other hand-embroidered goods for sale.

The 8, 6 or 4 small bedrooms were sparsely furnished: An iron bed frame with a thin, smelly mattress, a nightstand and iron bars on the windows. The lights were turned off at 9 p.m. and we were not allowed to speak in the dark. The door was locked from the outside. Our wardens, as we called them, were walking silently the halls listening at the doors. One time, I was caught whispering. I had to stand past midnight in the cold hallway, in my night gown. It was February.
If any of us had to use the bathroom, we had to knock and wait until one of the nuns unlocked the door. In the case of a urinating accident, the girl was exposed to the rest of the 90 – 100 girls and shamed before breakfast. When I experienced this humiliation show for the first time, I was astounded how the same girls, who endured the same treatment, turned into co-conspirators with the system, when a shaming scene took place.

At one time my assignment was cleaning the wooden floors in the upper level hallway. I was finished and I knocked on the bedroom door of Ms. Krause, one of the other “wardens” for her to unlock the door down to the first floor. My knock was not answered and I opened the door. Puzzled for a moment, I did not understand what I saw: Ms. Krause with no blouse on, fondling the small breasts of a girl by the name Elke, who looked like a boy. I was quickly pushed back out in the hallway and told not to speak about it. What I had just seen was a lesson in how to put on a bra, I was told. From this moment on, I had another enemy. Whenever she had a chance to, she harassed me and assigned extra dirty work for me. Later, Elke tried to molest me on several occasions. She was moved into the same bedroom after a bed became available. I rebelled against this move and told Ms. Krause I would tell Ms. Klose what I saw if Elke remains. It was not Elke that was moved. I ended up in a room with 7 other girls.

Any rebellious attitude against the inappropriate treatment, or running away, was punished by wearing the “bad girl” uniform, which was a blue-white checkered cotton blouse and a blue-white checkered skirt, the mark of the trouble-makers. The black book listed all disobedience. If you were listed there, all privileges were taken away. The white book, (book for good deeds) listed all obedient girls.

Normally, our own clothes were locked in a room to which none of us girls had access. Underwear was handed out once a week by our righteous, moral guardians. A blouse was worn for 14 days; a skirt for four weeks. Pants were not allowed. My plea to wear pants, to hide the psoriasis on my legs, was ignored.

The daily routine, morning and evening washing with cold water in a cold washroom, was supervised by the same frustrated spinsters on duty. The eight girls who stood naked in a cold washroom were watched to make certain that they would wash every part of their body. The sexual leers of the spinsters as they watched every move of the washcloth was the first of many daily embarrassments and humiliations we suffered. Sometimes their fingers would stroke down our back in an uncomfortable way, saying, “You forgot to wash some parts.” Strictly controlled were warm water showers and only permitted every 4 weeks and only for three minutes at a time. After the tree minutes we have to stand under cold water for at least 30 seconds. Washing our hair was only permitted every 6 weeks. I did wash my hair fully aware of the punishment it would bring. The reason I had to wash was I needed release from an itching, thick layer of untreated psoriasis scales on my scalp.

Everything was controlled, even how often we could use the bathroom. We had to ask for toilet paper and return the rest of the roll. Other female needs, such as the use of sanitary napkins for our monthly period was allowed only once a day, and for no longer than 4 days. If one’s period lasted longer, one had to use toilet paper, or the house brand cotton type, who were washed and reused by everyone in need off.

We never saw news on television or heard radio news. If the radio was turned on then we listened to Christian music. No magazines were allowed at all. Neither could we read true, educational books. Sometimes we were allowed to watch a movie or had a dance evening. I recall three dance evening in 3 years. We were grateful for everything that interrupted the routine boredom. However, these privileges were quickly erased by the slightest disobedience.

The only thing in abundance were prayers, which we said morning, noon and night. In addition there were the lectures about why “fallen” girls have to be punished.
Every Sunday, all obedient girls were allowed to attend church services in the next town of Hersbruck. Divided into four small groups, we walked 2,5 kilometers one way to the church, no matter if it was raining, snowing or the weather was steaming hot or frigidly cold. This was the only contact we had with the outside world. Under the threat of punishment, it was forbidden to speak with other people on our way to church or at the church. The town congregation reviewed us like dangerous animals or as little whores.

The way to the church was too long for me and I asked to stay at home, since I don’t believe in god anyway and don’t like to spend a part of my monthly 5 DM pocket money. It was tradition that every Sunday 5 Pfennig out of every girls account was taken to donate to the church. This request and that I did not want to donate my money, was used against me and I was forced to go, as a lesson to learn obedience.

We were allowed to write letters only to parents and close relatives. The letters however were censored. If the contents did not correspond with the house-rules or we complained about the conditions in Haus Weiher, the letter simply vanished without our knowledge. At the time, I asked myself why no one was writing to me. As a 50 year-old, I learned for the first time that my cousin had written many letters to me, letters I never received.

After about six months (my memory is not clear on the timing) of my arrival in Weiher, I was “allowed” to begin a three-year tailoring apprenticeship.
An apprenticeship contract for tailoring was presented to me to sign. I expressed again, as I had before, that I would like to work in the medical field. Since I could no longer attend the collage, or study medicine, I would like to become a nurse.
“If you don’t sign this contract, you will be sent to the juvenile penitentiary,” was the answer from Ms. Klose, the second in charge at the Haus Weiher. “Why?,” was my question. I have not committed any crime. These, as so many questions in my defense were never answered and I signed out of fear being of being sent to the penitentiary.

We, as tailoring students, received pocket money of, 9 and later 11 DM per month (about $7.00). With this money we had to buy our soap and toothpaste and sanitary napkins. What was left had to be saved for the fabric we needed at the end of the three years, to buy fabric and notions for the final exam, where we had to make a dress as the requirement for our final bachelor’s degree.

The education, after I became a tailor apprentice, was fitting a middle-school level. Self-education, by reading books was not permitted. Without television news or radio, we were intentionally cut off from the outside world. If we had the privilege to watch TV or hear radio, then it was only with religious contents or typical German country movies.

The meals were sometimes inedible with little nourishment. All of our food was either steamed or boiled. We rarely had meat. Potatoes, in many forms, were on the daily menu. Breakfast was the same every day. It consisted of one slice of stale bread with a teaspoon of marmalade. The mold on the bread was cut away before they served it. The food for the administrators of the house was different and better. When, at one Sunday lunch, maggots were crawling out of our waffles in the dessert, I finally reached the end of my endurance. I took the plate with the maggots to the table where all staff were sitting. “Here,” I said, “you eat this.” As a punishment for being ungrateful and rebellious, I was ordered to the stand next to the table of the staff at every meal for one week, and eat later when everybody was finished.

At the same time, my psoriasis became worse and I had headaches nearly every day. On top of it all, I became depressed. The town doctor experimented with different remedies such as Zignolin and tar-ointment for the psoriasis. My worsening headache was ignored.
The Zignolin left purple and blue spots wherever it was applied and the tar smelled bad. The parts of my body that had no psoriasis, turned purple. One morning at the cold water wash I caught the eyes of or second tailor master, Mrs. Heidingsfelder, looking with disgust over my body. With the same expression of disgust she explained to the rest of the 8 girls there that God punished me with psoriasis for my sins. Here it was, another imprint of shame that has never left me. I snapped, turned around and yelled at her.

Aggressive behavior was the town doctor’s diagnosis and little blue pills were ordered to calm me down.

Every morning after breakfast I had to appear, before work, at the office. Mrs. Klose handed me the little blue pill with a glass of water. She watched me carefully and made me open my mouth for her to see if the pill was not hidden under the tongue. I took the pill for a few weeks. One Sunday on the way to church, Gerda my friend pointed at a dead deer on at the roadside. When I reacted with total indifference, Gerda said: “Since you take the pills you have changed and you have no more feelings.” I was emotionally numb, but I heard my friend. I no longer swallowed the little blue pills. I hid them in my upper cheeks and spat it either into the toilet or into the grass. When one of the nuns in civilian clothes discovered my disobedience I was posted in the kitchen, peeling potatoes. All other privileges, such as free time or watching a movie was suspended for 4 weeks. The tar baths for the psoriasis, prescribed by the physician, were declared as unnecessary because extra time too much water was needed for me.

Mid-term my 2nd year exam of my apprenticeship was over, I made my second “A”, and my psoriasis was getting worse. I had to be hospitalized. The Nuernberger Klinikum had a dermatology department with Prof. Weber in charge. Prof. Weber’s specialty was psoriasis. I was more than glad to leave this place for a while and free to walk the hospital campus and smoke offered cigarettes. I had no pocket money. After 8 days in the hospital, the doctors decided my tonsils have to be removed, even though there was no obvious reason. Professor Weber believed the tonsils contribute to the worsening of the psoriasis.
While in the hospital I met a young man who became, one year later, my first husband. After about three weeks in the hospital, an experiment was performed on me. A new ointment from Russia was tested that required UV light after it was applied. I heard the doctor saying 10 Second UV-Light after the application. The careless assistant admitted 10 minutes of UV light. The result was that I had 2nd degree burns from the face to the toes. For one week I had high fever and lay in a tunnel covered with sheets and received vitamin shots. As soon as I could move around I saw my left leg. The spot the Russian ointment was applied was still reddish, but I saw that I had no more pigments on this spot. The spot, the size of a hand, remained white for nearly 30 years. Spotted markings are still visible today. One nurse told me that Frau Klose gave permission to experiment on me with the new Russian ointment.

Six weeks later I was back in Weiher. The work load at the tailor shop has building up. All clothes had to be ready for Tuesday. Tuesday was fitting day in Nuernberg for all paying customers. 14 girls worked every Monday sometimes until 3 a.m. to prepare the garments for first and second fitting packed in a suitcase. The finished tailored products were packed in separate, big suitcases. Head tailor, Ms. Roesner and two apprentices went early in the Morning by train to Nuernberg, to a place where customers either picked up their garment or were fitted.

My constant headaches, the late-night work and the fact that house-father Buchta hit me triggered a plan. He caught me smoking in the attic and demanded that I tell who else was with me. When I didn’t give him the names, Buchta hit me so hard that I fell back and hit my head on the backrest of chair. I’d had enough. I explained my plan, to escape and tell the youth authority about the humiliating treatment, to some other girls. Three more agreed and we left Hause Weiher shortly before dark by jumping over a balcony.

As intended, we separated hitchhiking to each city where we originally came from, to meet with the youth authority. I explained in detail about the mistreatment, the long working hours, the bad food and the humiliation. I was promised a change. The only change was being sent back, my long hair cut short and I was dressed in the usual punishment clothing, a blue-white checkered, thin cotton skirt with blue-white checkered blouse. I also received a severe beating from the director, Ms. Klose. But there was more to come.
For four weeks, I was locked in a small room just under the roof, with a small window, and with only a mattress. It was cold in the night and hot during the day. I had no bed coverings, no bed sheets and no pillow. No one was allowed to speak with me and I was neither allowed to read nor write. I received two meals a day, which were brought to me by a holy spinster. She unlocked the door, opened just enough to push my plate with food and one glass of water with her foot into the room. Without saying a word, or even looking at me, she quickly locked the door again.

After two weeks in isolation I began to suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide. In the third week I felt the closeness of insanity, a mental death, the growing gap between my logic and the emotional brain. To occupy myself I began to measure the room by setting one foot in front of the other and counting the steps or counting the wooden boards of the floor. My second entertainment was cleaning the wall with my fingers. After there where no more unclean spots I began with moistening the wall plaster with my spit. When the plaster was soft enough I closed the hair splits in the wall with my fingers. Sleeping became a problem. Either I woke up in fear, visualizing a person in my room talking to me, or I could not fall asleep with out rocking my upper body. After these horrifying four weeks I had developed an irrational fear of people and could barely adjust to the group again. For another eight weeks I had to wear the checkered punishment clothing as a reminder of my disobedience.

After this time of isolation I noticed a drastic change. I no longer could tolerate people. I was easily aggravated by noise and could barely concentrate. My listlessness was declared a laziness. Out of the woodwork came the offer the end my bachelor degree six month earlier. I thought I was privileged because of my regular ‘A” in the mid-term. Today, I know, the Lutheran nuns were in a hurry to get rid of me. I finished my bachelor’s certificate as a tailor and left Weiher as a 19 year-old.

My future mother-in law picked me up. A paperback with some of my belongings and a suitcase filled with the wardrobe I had made in the 2 ½ years were with me. However my jewelry and my watch was missing.

A taxi brought us to the train station in Herbruck where my mother-in law told me that she has to pay 60 Deutschmark because I had debts and would not have been released if she had not paid. Instantly, she offered me to sew her some skirts and clean the house to pay off the amount. I was not aware that I had debts after all these years of working like a slave: Three years hard labor without receiving payment. Three years enduring psychological and physical pain; I was nearly broken.

The trail of insults continued after the institution.
My bachelor degree, which I had to present for every possible employment, disclosed that I was in the institution. Male employers saw a chance to sexually harrass or blackmail me. As one employer told me, “in Weiher there were only little whores” and my job depends on my willingness to obey to his demands.
To save myself from the mental and physical rapes, I was forced to quit many jobs.
After my divorce in 1972, neighbors found out that I was in an institution. I constantly had these two strikes against me and was watched and controlled.

I was an emotionally mutilated person with a destroyed identity and feelings of worthlessness, who now had to prove that I was a valuable and fully functioning member of society. In my four years in the Haus Weiher near Hersbruck Germany, I endured not only the mental and physical cruelties of my holy “guardian” and their religious, inhumane system of domination and forceful indoctrination, I was used as child-labor without pay. Today, close to retirement, I have had to find out that I won’t receive any social security for these years of work in the institution. In fact, all my records disappeared and it appears as if I did not exist at all in the years 1964-1968.

An early retirement was denied me. The diagnosis, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is not recognized in Germany as an illness, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves the stifling effect of inflicted trauma.

A still present phobia, the result of being locked up for 4 weeks, limits my actions until today. Small or closed rooms, places without windows, or not enough sunlight, awakens panic. Aggressive behavior or verbal attacks displayed by people, trigger flashbacks and lead ultimately into depression. Because of lingering anxiety I am not fit to work for a long time in public (more than 2 people), and my concentration in public is reduced. A night fear still handicaps late activities, such as entertainment (concerts etc). Extensive background noise level impairs concentration and limits progressive work.

My youth, like my childhood, was an inhuman exposure to childhood trauma that could result only in resentment and fury against every abusive and dominating person.
I had learned that I could not expect any empathy from the society in which I lived. For 42 years I was shamefully hiding much resentment, mistrust and the internal pain of worthlessness. I could no longer endure the feeling that people were pointing their fingers at me, shaming and blaming me again. What I did not understand at that time, was that it is NOT the child who is the guilty one, but rather the one or ones who had abused the child.

In April 4, 1991, I emigrated into the United States, alone.
I knew no one in the U.S., yet a new country seemed to me to be less of a threat than the country which was called my homeland. I was born in a country where child-rearing was the black pedagogy (Schwarze Pädagogik) from the Nazi time. Shame, guilt and worthlessness was imprinted on the souls of many who are still living with this horrible stigma.

In 1992 I knew it was necessary to begin with my own healing. I addressed and recognized my dysfunctions and fear, the result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That was the day I began to write my book, which is now on the internet in English and may be read at http://www.boxbook.com The documentation of my stay in the Hause Weiher, with a detailed explanation of the long lasting effects of child abuse will appear in the extended version of my book, which is in progess.

I made this excerpt available in the hope that many others who were in the Haus Weiher from 1964 -1968 will come forward.

The choice a child has against abuse is null. It’s either the frying pan or hell. A child is powerless, the adult is in charge. Later, as an adult, we continue our life in the same pattern, if no psychological healing is possible . As we learned early on not to rebel against injustice, we will repeat the pattern as adults and remain silent and blind when abuse is executed somewhere else. The same way we were imprinted to endure our abuse as children, we now accept depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD) and the lifelong flashbacks as our destiny. The planted guilt, shame and blame blinds us just enough, so we will not be able to see the door that leads to mental freedom and healing. Now, we even deny to ourselves our need for wholeness, just as we were denied to develop into a healthy child. We have a long way to go until we understand the fundamental meaning of human rights.

Appendix: in this story, some details of other experienced torture are missing. As soon as I find confirmation to my constant present memories, I will add in the missing episodes.

[1] Chiari II malformation discovered and diagnosed in 2009


Updated: 8/8/2010
In her article, A Never Ending Pain, Sieglinde Alexander recounts the unfortunate true story of her early life in Germany. If was an early life of physical and sexual abuse and even being sold as a slave by her mother. Later, institutionalized as incorrigible, her mistreatment was to continue at an Institute of Lutheran sisters (nuns).

Abuse heaped upon abuse, resulted in her persistent claustrophobia, and other severe psychiatric and other serious psychiatric symptoms. This mistreatment she endured resulted in continued incapaciting shame and rage towards those who had taken advantage of her, to suit their own masochistic tendencies.

Recent newspaper headlines have revealed the extend of child abuse both in Germany and Ireland. Sieglinde was a victim to the same type of mentality which caused her to endure every type of abuse imaginable. The human spirit cannot tolerate such lack of love and caring, without compensating with severe symptomatology.
At age 47 she wrote a published biography in which she recounts details of his psychological and physical abuse, titled, Haunting Shadows from the Past, which accounts her tragic past.

– John A. Speyrer, Webmaster, The Primal Psychotherapy Page – September 04, 2010

Attention: This story can not be used in any form without permission from the author.

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