Robert Domes

Autor Journalist Ausbilder


Making of "Fog in August"


Writing the biography of a victim of th Nazi-euthanasia , moreover a member of the Yenish people, required considerable research. I got the idea for the story in 2002 from Dr. Michael von Cranach, who was Medical Director of the District Hospital in Kaufbeuren at the time. He already had conducted initial research on the topic within the scope of his investigations on the “Lossa” case for his book "Psychiatrie im Nationlsozialismus" (Psychiatrics in National Socialism) (Oldenbourg Publishing House 1999)

Five stations shaped the life of Ernst Lossa: His early childhood with his parents, his time in the orphanage in Augsburg, in the Nazi borstal in Markt Indersdorf, in the lunatic asylum in Kaufbeuren and finally in the asylum’s branch in Irsee. These five stages ultimately gave the book its structure. Each required a different degree of research effort.

To begin with, I conducted a comprehensive research throughout the files and archives – on Nazi-euthanasia in general, on the situation in the lunatic asylum Kaufbeuren/Irsee as well as on the situation in the Augsburg orphanage and the Nazi borstal in Markt Indersdorf. I was investigating the original locations, the places and institutions in which Ernst Lossa spent a part of his life. But the exact picture of everyday life in the 1930s and 1940s still remained unclear. For these questions a number of contemporary witnesses and a sometimes reporter's luck helped me along.

The time in the orphanage

The orphanage in Augsburg-Hochzoll, today a youth facility, combed old documents for me, to figure out the everyday life in the orphanage. Contemporary witnesses, who also lived in the orphanage at the time, garnished the facts with their personal experiences and memories. Most scenes dealing with everyday life, the school, the boyish pranks, the daily routines and the pecking order in the orphanage are based on their narratives.

The history of the Nazi borstal in Markt Indersdorf between 1939 and 1945 remains unresearched to date. In this case, I was able to profit from a lucky strike: Thanks to the assistance of a friendly historian I found 40 boxes with resident’s files, stored in the cellar of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. The insights into several hundreds of files about the children of Indersdorf, which I had the luck to inspect, gave me an idea of the everyday life in the borstal and of the guards, teachers and residents there. Due to this, all of Ernst’s peers in the book are based on a historically precise model.

Documents of the Americans

In contrast, the occurrences in the sanatorium Kaufbeuren/Irsee during the Nazi era are well documented. This is not least owed to Michael von Cranach, who started going through the files in 1980. The most extensive information pool for the horror behind the walls of the lunatic asylum, however, was created by the American forces. After the war, they investigated the incidents in the asylum, whereby the Lossa case, which had evidently made a lasting impact on many of the nurses, was regularly mentioned. Due to this, the interrogation records contain numerous statements on and descriptions of the boy, who neither fitted into the institution, nor into the "mercy killing" scheme of the Nazis.

In 1949 the murder of the boy constituted a precedent in the euthanasia proceedings against physicians and nurses before the Augsburg jury court. Thanks to the hearings and court records, the boy’s life and his murder are well documented in comparison to that of the countless unknown euthanasia victims.

The Yenish People

The most challenging part of the research was the life of the Lossa family. The Nazi documents for Ernst Lossa contain the entry: "originates from a gypsy family". But in my research it turned out that he was the child of a Yenish family. According to the information received from the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, the fate of this ethnic group, of which a few thousand persons still live in Germany today, still remains a “blank spot on the map of history”. The Yenish have always been referred to as "gypsies" and persecuted accordingly. Other than in the case of Sinti and Roma, however, neither the origins of the Yenish People, nor their persecution history have been investigated. For this reason, I had to mainly depend on the statements of relatives of the Lossas’ in this part of my research. It is the achievement of the very helpful archivist of the city of Augsburg that some official facts, like places of residence, relocations, travels, etc., could be determined.

Of the same age as Anne Frank – but not comparable

When it came to processing the material, I had to tackle a further problem: No personal note by Ernst Lossa still existed – in contrast to Anne Frank, who was born in the same year and was murdered half a year after Ernst Lossa. While we know the thoughts and feelings of Anne Frank from her diaries, Ernst Lossa is described in all documents, records and talks only from the outside. Teachers and supervisors, nurses, experts and physicians shape the picture of the boy. They assess his behaviour, his appearance, his performance and his flaws. But nobody was interested in what he thought, felt and how he saw things.

It was my intention to set a counterpoint to this and fill the person Ernst Lossa with life. For this reason, I chose a perspective which deliberately focuses on the boy’s eye level. I decided to write a biography in form of a novel, told mainly from the perspective of the boy. This was the only way for me to give the unknown euthanasia victim a face and voice, thoughts and feelings.

Historical accuracy

A word on the historical accuracy of the book: All characters in the story are based on real people. The teachers, supervisors, nurses and physicians were developed to resemble the historical figures as closely as possible. The same applies for the relatives and friends of Ernst, for his school mates, home residents and the patients. However, not all people could be fully researched after such a long time. Others should not be pulled into the public limelight for privacy reasons. This applies in particular for the residents and the patients of the various institutions. For this reason, I used only the real names of the characters in the biography, where this is historically provable and acceptable. The other names have been changed.

Significance for the present

Ernst wanted to be accepted and loved as he was. That's what he has in common with all children, indeed with all of us. Due to this, the story of Ernst Lossa is important, especially for our society today. People shouldn’t be assessed by their usefulness and their profitability. Because, in particular the people, who do not function perfectly, the misfits, the disabled and the underdogs, make us reflect on the basic values of our existence. They make our life richer, more colourful and humane.

Robert Domes