Medical Statistics Report from Heimkehrlager Frankfurt a.O.
By Dr. of Medicine V. Rothermal, Camp Physician
From: Deutches Leben aus Russland (Berlin) , No. 2, Feb. 1924
Translation courtesy Hugh Lichtenwald
Available statistics covering the illnesses and deaths of the Volga Germans in the Homecoming Camp Frankfurt a.O. from Dec. 6, 1921, the day of arrival of the first Volga German Refugee Transport, up to Nov. 1, 1923. It is presented not only for the interested physician but also and mainly to shed a harsh light on the stressful life — and sanitary conditions of the local inmates. It stands–like no other factor–as a part of the tale of woe, sharply outlining the long chain of miseries and privations which our compatriots were compelled to endure. This retrospection permits us to construct an approximate picture of the earlier fate of the Volga Germans up to the moment when they came to Germany, about which there is presently no authenticated data available. It speaks loudly and sharply to us and brings to us a clear picture of the after effects of the famine in the Volga region and its associated emigrations.
We first turn to the illnesses. In total, there were 1,369 persons that required long term medical care. Of these 186 persons were taken to the City Hospital at Frankfurt a.O. while 1,183 were treated at the camp infirmary. The deaths among this group are not included. The most prevalent disease by far (303) was Spotted Fever (Diagram 1. The Diagram was published in the February issue of our magazine). At that time the camp infirmary did not exist, the camp having only recently been established as a Homecoming Camp from its previous use as a Prisoner of War Camp, and was systematically being built up and expanded. For this reason the patients at first were admitted to the local City Hospital. Of the 186 illnesses which occurred in Dec. 1921, 183 were from Spotted Fever alone. It was a horrible and unforgettable picture that one saw, of tattered, half starved specters, of which the majority lay completely spent and helpless on their beds. Those who were healthy were isolated in the camp but there were always new patients being brought in daily by the railroad.
118 illnesses were registered in the year 1922. Of these, 116 came from the Dec. 15, 1921 Transport and the next Transport and were treated by the camp infirmary which had been established, as well as 2 from January 1923 who had arrived on the Dec. 9, 1922 Transport. It is well known that Spotted Fever is transmitted exclusively by the Louse. They not only travel from human to human but also exist in bedding, clothing, flooring, and as such have many opportunities for human contact, thus the high number of illnesses is easily explained. The incubation period, the time between the onset of exposure and the outbreak of illness is about 21 days. We know now from patient records, that even after 2 months Spotted Fever can occur. From this we presuppose the explanation that most infections took place in pestiferous railroad cars in Poland.
The second highest number of hospitalizations was caused by the Flu, with 196 cases (Nr. 142). 128 cases in 1922 and 68 cases in 1923. The relatively high number of Flu cases as well as that of Bronchitis (97 cases) the next most prevalent disease (Nr. 15) is explained by the fact that not only the Flu (Influenza) with specific causes was documented but also colds in the very broadest sense of the word.
Not much further behind Bronchitis comes Tuberculosis with 87 cases. Attacks upon individual organs were observed:
Tuberculosis of the Lungs…………….60 cases
Tuberculosis of the Bones…………….12 cases
Tuberculosis of the Intestines…………3
Tuberculosis of the Kidneys…………..2
Tuberculosis of the Glands 1
Tuberculosis has in peacetime already played a noteworthy role among our compatriots in the Volga region. The Bergseite was especially prone to many diseases for reasons which cannot be discussed here. Is it any wonder that this disease which many authors say 90 percent of humans are exposed, broke out in overstressed and starving organisms? The lungs in which the Tuberculosis bacillus prefers to settle, is here the most usually attacked organ, as you can see. The disease was evenly distributed among all age groups from infants to adults.
Pneumonia produced 67 cases. Children were predominantly affected. Anyone familiar with camp life here in these camps will not be surprised by this fact. How often one sees the young only lightly clothed and often barefoot, freely running around in the cold, wet weather.
Malaria (Nr. 67) supplies the next largest number of cases with 49. In 1922 twice as many were attacked than in 1923 (33 as opposed to 16). Tropical Malaria, a menace that has lately arisen in the Volga area, has not been seen here, not one single case. It first arose on the Wiesenseite and quickly spread, which requires no explanation because of the many breeding sites on the wiesensite. However the picture changed, the Bergseiters became ill just as often as the Wiesenseiters. This forced us to the conclusion that the infection had not taken place in the Volga region but on the journey here. It was determined that those affected had stopped for some while in Minsk or its surrounds where the expansive marshland areas provided a rich environment for the development of an ample mosquito population. More severe forms of intermittent fever endemic to
Spain and southern France and all the countries in between, have never come to our attention.
Angina (Nr. 4) takes the next place with 47 illnesses. Only the more severe forms come for treatment, while the easier Tonsillitis was dismissed in the district.
Now the infectious diseases: Scarlet Fever (Nr. 86) with 42, Relapse Fever (Nr. 85) with 34, Dysentery (Nr. 84) with 30 and Measles (Nr. 68) with 28 cases. The relatively low number of cases of Relapse Fever is amazing in relation to Typhus Fever since both diseases are transmitted only through blood infection. Perhaps the arrangement of people was smaller in relation to Relapse Fever than with Typhus Fever. Dysentery, apart from some few serious cases was generally quite light. It was observed that only the bacterial form was present here. Scarlet Fever only occurred during 1922. Measles also occurred, the predominant majority occurring in that same year. A bit of luck for our compatriots going to America because in the case of an epidemic they would have to remain for an additional 3 to 4 months while the camp was in quarantine. This year the camp has again been spared.
On joint and muscular Rheumatism (Nr. 82), only the chronic form, 29 Volga Germans came in for treatment, of Sinus infections (Nr. 66) 22, of Bladder infections (Nr. 21) 20.
Of the remaining cases still of interest: Indigestion (Nr. 29, the so-called “baby diarrhea” (18 cases, Hernia (Nr. 16) with 12 cases, which were operated on here, Erysipelas (Nr. 83) with 12 cases and Abortion (Nr. 1) with 13 cases. The latter is remarkable for the fact that only 3 cases came in for treatment in 1922 while in 1923 over 3 times that number were admitted for treatment. Of Trachoma (Nr. 91) and Conjunctivitis (Nr. 19) we will speak of another time. Sexually transmitted diseases rarely occur among the Volga Germans. Gonorrhea was never observed, except for one old veteran who acquired it in the campaigns. Of Syphilis we saw 1 case in the 3rd stage, 2 cases in 2nd stage and 1 in the 1st stage. The last 3 were infected in Minsk where each of them are considered to have been infected by a Russian. The remaining illnesses can be checked in the diagrams.