Surname:
Roemer
First name:
Johannes Paul Günther
Era:
20th century
Field of expertise:
Neurology
Psychiatry
Place of birth:
Pfrondorf (DEU)
* 02.08.1878
† 01.12.1947
Biography print

German psychiatrist, opposed Nazi patient killings.

 

Life and career

Johannes “Hans” Roemer (1878-1947) was born in Prondorf, Württemberg, as the son of the Protestant minister Friedrich Heinrich Roemer. He attended a well-renowned grammar school in Stuttgart, from which he graduated in 1897. After his one-year military service in the field artillery, he studied medicine in Tübingen and Kiel. He first worked as an assistant at the institute of pathology at Tübingen University (1901/02), followed by assignments as a physician assistant with a Stuttgart-based infantry regiment and as a junior physician at Schussenried asylum (1903/04). Roemer earned his doctorate from the University of Tübingen in 1904 with a study on tuberculosis and then worked as an assistant at the psychiatric clinic of Leipzig University and at Illenau asylum in Achern, Württemberg (1905/06). He married his wife, Hedwig Buschle, in 1907; the couple had two sons.

 

Roemer became a resident physician at Illenau in 1908 and was promoted to senior physician in 1914. During WWI, he served as a military physician at field hospitals in Belgium and France and, between 1916 and 1918, at a reserve hospital in Heidelberg. From 1918 to 1921, he worked as a senior physician at the military reserve hospital Reichenau, where he also acted as deputy director, and as head physician of a special military hospital on the premises of Konstanz asylum. He served as a senior medical officer of health in the interior ministry of the German state of Baden from 1921 to 1929 before being granted a lifetime position as the director of Illenau asylum in January 1929, a post that he held until his early retirement in 1940. He also acted as managing director of the German Association for Mental Hygiene from 1926 onwards. In this function, Roemer (1931) made himself a name as an outspoken advocate of preventive and outpatient care provision. Together with Gustav Kolb and Valentin Faltlhauser, he published the standard reference Die offene Fürsorge in der Psychiatrie und ihren Grenzgebieten [Open Care in Psychiatry and Related Areas] in 1927. After retiring from his directorial post at Illenau asylum, he worked at the private sanatorium Christophsbad in Göttingen from September 1943 to October 1945.

 

During the Nazi era: involvement and opposition

Roemer, who had been elected to the board of the German Society for Psychiatry in September 1933, was “neither categorically against the Nazi regime nor against its radical, eugenics-based health and social policy” (Roelcke 2013: 1064; our translation). In the early 1930s, Roemer, like many of his colleagues, approved of sterilisations on eugenic grounds in order to “exclude the hereditary factors leading to mental illness and socially inferior psychopathy from procreation” (1931: 312; our translation). He became a member of the NSDAP on 1 May 1933. In the years that followed, he closely co-operated with the eugenicist and “racial hygiene expert” Ernst Rüdin, for instance, in the “Gleichschaltung” of Germany’s scientific associations, in advising the directors of mental institutions on racial hygiene issues and in organising a genetic stocktaking of all clinic patients.

 

Even though Roemer was known among the expert public as a vocal advocate of racial hygiene, he sternly refused to participate in the killing of patients, which distinguished him from the vast majority of other clinic directors. In December 1939, the interior ministry of the state of Baden informed him of plans to “liquidate” patients. Roemer disapproved of the programme and made an unsuccessful attempt to mobilise protest among his colleagues. When the first deportations from Illenau were imminent in May 1940, he tried to obstruct and delay the process. Nevertheless, 39% of the institution’s then patients were killed. This rate is still low compared to other clinics in Baden, possibly due to Roemer’s interventions that repeatedly delayed the deportations. When the interior ministry ordered him to participate in the selection of patients to be deported, he chose to go on sick leave before applying for early retirement in October 1940 (Roelcke 2013: 1067). He is also said to have opposed deportations while working at the private sanatorium Christophsbad (Plezko 2011: 251 f.). In the denazification process, he was categorised as a “Mitläufer” (follower) in 1947. Roughly two weeks after this verdict, Hans Roemer died of a stroke in Stuttgart, at age 69.

 

Literature

Plezko, A. (2011): Handlungsspielräume und Zwänge in der Medizin Im Nationalsozialismus: Das Leben und Werk des Psychiaters Dr. Hans Roemer (1878-1947). Inauguraldissertation zur Erlangung des Grades eines Doktors der Zahnmedizin des Fachbereichs Medizin der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen.

Roelcke, V. (2013): Hans Roemer (1878–1947). Überzeugter Eugeniker, Kritiker der Krankentötungen. In: Der Nervenarzt 84, (9), pp.1064-1068.

Roemer, H., G. Kolb, V. Faltlhauser (1927): Die offene Fürsorge in der Psychiatrie und ihren Grenzgebieten. Ein Ratgeber für Ärzte, Sozialhygieniker, Nationalökonomen, Verwaltungsbeamte sowie Organe der öffentlichen und privaten Fürsorge. Berlin: Springer.

Roemer, H. (1927): Zur geschichtlichen Entwicklung. In: H. Roemer, G. Kolb, V. Faltlhauser (eds.): Die offene Fürsorge in der Psychiatrie und ihren Grenzgebieten. Berlin: Springer, pp. 3-21.

Roemer, H. (1931): Psychische Hygiene. In: O. Bumke, G. Kolb, H. Roemer, E. Kahn (eds.): Handwörterbuch der psychischen Hygiene und der psychiatrischen Fürsorge. Leipzig: De Gruyter, pp. 296-313.

Roemer, H. (1934): Der erbbiologisch-rassenhygienische Lehrgang für Psychiater in München. In: Zeitschrift für psychische Hygiene 7, (1), pp. 2-6.

Roemer, H. (1935): Die Durchführung und weitere Ausgestaltung des Sterilisierungsgesetzes. In: Zeitschrift für psychische Hygiene 8, (5), pp. 131-141.

Roemer, H. (1937): Die Veröffentlichungen über die Insulin-Behandlung der Schizophrenie. In: Zeitschrift für psychische Hygiene 10, (1), pp. 23-29.

 

Ansgar Fabri, Burkhart Brückner

 

Referencing format
Ansgar Fabri, Burkhart Brückner (2015): Roemer, Johannes Paul Günther.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
URL: biapsy.de/index.php/en/9-biographien-a-z/196-roemer-johannes-paul-guenther-e
(retrieved on:17.10.2019)