“A story both startling and unbelievable which also calls for a more respectful psychiatric treatment.” [i] This quote from September 2015 refers to the book The Voices of Those Remaining. When this memoir was first published, public response was considerable. The regional press discovered the book and reported on the inhumane actions of doctors in psychiatric hospitals in Ueckermünde and Neubrandenburg. [ii] It was hoped the media response and many encouraging reviews and e-mails written by readers might also inspire public authorities to offer their support in raising awareness and dealing with these human rights violations. However, the many letters written to community leaders as well as ministries at both state and federal level have remained unanswered. Apparently the Ministry of Employment, Gender Equality and Social Affairs in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania did not even think the article Prisoners of the Psychiatric Ward, published in the newspaper Nordkurier, was enough to warrant making an official public statement. This lack of interest was further illustrated by the statement made in March 2015 by Rolf Schmachtenberg, who is responsible for the interests of disabled people in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, in the presence of Verena Bentele, the Federal Government Commissioner for Matters relating to Disabled Person, at the the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[iii]: “There is no concept of torture in Germany. The federal government disagrees with the special rapporteurs.” [iv] The statement made by an official on such an important day is testament to the disparity between the political and social reality; declarations of human rights remain nothing more than abstract ideas for papers and documents and psychiatry in theory and psychiatry in practice have as little to do with one another as the federal participation law and inclusion. Indeed, this silence of political officials on the topics addressed in The Voices of Those Remaining is similar to the scene in Ernst Klee’s film “The Hell of Ueckermunde. Psychiatry in the East.” in which the Minister of Social Affairs at the time makes what was apparently his one and only visit to the institution in order to reassure the public. [v] Sonja Süß contributed to this attitude when she played down the scene in the film as being “something left in the past” and went on to praise Ueckermünde psychiatric hospital as an institution which has been successfully reformed since 1993[vi]; however, she never bothered to look behind the scenes. On the surface things may have changed, but underneath the veneer the same inhumane treatment still occurs. In an interview with the Nordkurier, the head psychiatrist Dr. Kirchefer attempts to explain these actions; he claims the reasons for forced treatment and torture can be justified by the information contained in medical records.[vii] These clinics do not appear to have any sense or awareness of wrong doing. Even today in 2016, they have still not yet begun to process or take in these major human rights violations. In 1997, the medication forcibly administered after I had been committed only a matter of hours left me unable to communicate or properly function for a year and a half. Some of the doctors who gave me this “treatment” are still working at the hospital and clinics in 2016. As this is the case, it is imperative these questions be publicly addressed.In the past 20 years, so many people have gone through similar experiences in German psychiatric hospitals as I describe in my book. After undergoing such torture, how many were never able to reclaim their lives? How many people’s children, parents, grandparents and family members have been or are still being misdiagnosed only to be swallowed up by these institutions without anyone taking notice? As long as German political leaders continue to ignore and look away from these networks of destruction, the cycle and history of damage, violation and injustice in Germany will constantly repeat itself.
Commentary by Dr. Christian Discher
[ii] In addition to numerous international articles and coverage, there is now my article called[ii] “The Forgotten and The Hell in Ueckermünde”. Published in several languages, this article was published in the USA as part of the campaign against forced psychiatric treatment and torture by Tina Minkowitz. Summary: Campaign to support CRPD Absolute Prohibition of Commitment and Forced Treatment: https://absoluteprohibition.wordpress.com
[iii] This federal government delegation with over 30 participants was headed by the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The disability spokesman and spokeswomen Kerstin Tack (SPD), Uwe Schummer (CDU) und Corinna Rüffer (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) were also present.: http://www.diefachverbaende.de/files/fachthemen/2015-03-26-Kurzbeitrag-Genf-Staatenpruefung.pdf
[v] Ernst Klee 1993: Die Hölle von Ueckermünde- Psychiatrie im Osten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhgpSk4i5Xo
[vi] Süß (1999:82) Sonja Süß: 1999. Politisch mißbraucht? Psychiatrie und Staatssicherheit in der DDR. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin. 2. Auflage (Wissenschaftliche Reihe des Bundesbeauftragten für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der Ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik;14).
[vii] Nordkurier: “Gefangen in der Psychiatrie“ von Wilhelm Frank.