Little Herta Schreiber had been taken to the pediatric clinic at the University Hospital in Vienna in June 1941, just two months short of her third birthday.
The youngest of nine, the child had been sick for months after contracting encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain probably due to infection, earlier that year. Her symptoms included mental disturbance and impaired physical development. Now her mother was at her wits’ end and, with her husband away fighting, unable to cope.
The kindly doctor examined the toddler, and in his untidy scrawl scribbled down observations in her notes. ‘Severe personality disorder,’ he wrote, before speculating whether the condition was a result of the illness. ‘Most severe motoric retardation; erethic idiocy; seizures.’
In layman’s terms, it meant Herta was extremely uncoordinated, abnormally excitable and suffered from fits.
‘The child must be an unbearable burden to the mother,’ the doctor continued. ‘Permanent placement at Spiegelgrund seems absolutely necessary.’
It was, in effect, a death sentence. The doctor knew it and, in all likelihood, so too did Herta’s mother.