Beatings, "devil visits", rapes – in a former Catholic home in Donauworth bad things happened to children. The final report of the Augsburg diocese does not mark the end of the process of coming to terms with the past.
Devastating – there is no other way to describe the verdict on the former Catholic children's home Heilig Kreuz in the Swabian town of Donauworth. For decades there was physical, mental and sexual abuse by the home's director, educators, older and former residents.
This emerges from the final report presented on Thursday by an independent working group commissioned by Augsburg Bishop Konrad Zdarsa. 14 people speak in it of acts of violence from the 1950s to the 1970s. In 1977 the institution of the Pedagogical Foundation Cassianeum closed.
A place of horror
But long before the cases described by the victims' witnesses, the institution was apparently a place of horror. Opened in 1916, the founding idea of the home could already be considered questionable, explained theologian Gerda Riedl, head of department at the ordinariate and involved in the working group. "The aim was to prove the correctness of the pedagogical concept of the founder of the foundation, Ludwig Auer, rather than the social need."A paternalistic spirit with strict chains of command and obedience had blown through the house from the beginning and later made it practically impossible to defend oneself against abuses.
Accommodation, sanitary conditions and food supply were also precarious for a long time, as Riedl noted. One consequence: "The death book of the former parish of Heilig Kreuz shows an unusually high infant mortality rate in the children's home in the years between 1945 and 1953."The staff had been overtaxed and underqualified. Controls would have failed, both within the foundation as well as in the area of the national home supervision and the guardians of the children.
All this has now come to light because at the beginning of 2018 a former home resident – now 59 years old and calling herself Marsha – spoke about her fate on Bavarian radio. Afterwards, Bishop Zdarsa commissioned the former presiding judge at the Munich Higher Regional Court, Manfred Prexl, with a large-scale reappraisal.
Final report a balance of the horror
The 68-page final report reads as a single balance sheet of horror. Children were beaten bloody like this. For hours they had to kneel on hangers, were forbidden to go to the toilet or to drink, or had to eat inedible lumps of fat from the house slaughterhouse. They were stuffed with a spoon like geese. Would have had to take vomit again to itself. The little ones were locked in dark cellars, for hours and alone – sometimes someone came to greet them down there as devils in hell.
In addition there was sexual violence. According to the report, Max Auer was also guilty of sadistic violence. The pastor and grandson of the founder ran the home from 1947 until its closure; he died in 1980. According to the report, he became a rapist, among other things, because he is said to have made his victims dependent on him through favors. The victim Marsha also reported incidents in the confessional: "There he smelled my fingers to see if I had touched myself downstairs."
When some of those affected spoke out after the report was presented, most of them had shaky voices. "You could write a horror novel about this," one man said. To this day, he and his fellow victims suffer from chronic pain and eating disorders, for example.
Vicar general deeply shaken
Cassianeum head Peter Kosak called the descriptions "monstrous". "Profoundly shocked," Augsburg's vicar general Harald Heinrich said. Victims explicitly thanked for public reappraisal. From it it would appear that there was no doubt about their representations.
Nevertheless, Marsha says, the ie of compensation has not yet been satisfactorily resolved. This will now be addressed by a new panel of victims, Cassianeum Foundation and reporting group. There will also be discussions about how to remember what happened in the future, possibly in the form of a memorial.