Margarethe von Witzleben

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Johanna Margarethe von Witzleben (born February 22, 1853 in Kitzscher , † February 1, 1917 in Berlin ) was the founder of the movement for self-help and self-awareness of hearing impaired people in Germany.


Childhood and onset of hearing loss in adolescence

Margarethe von Witzleben grew up with her siblings on their parents' manor Kitscher, which also had a large park. She came from the Thuringian noble family Witzleben . Her grandfather was August von Witzleben , her father the Prussian chamberlain Hermann von Witzleben (1816–1890). The parents were very devoted to the children, Margarethe had a happy and carefree childhood.

At the age of about twelve Margarethe began to notice that the church bells could be heard increasingly quieter and that their sound had obviously changed. She had become hard of hearing. As a result, she was no longer an option as a wife for men of class. The search for successful medical help was unsuccessful: Even the famous ear doctor Anton Friedrich von Tröltsch could not help.

The parents now sought help from Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt, who is said to be able to bring about miraculous healings by the laying on of hands. The mother went to him together with Margarethe. However, Blumhardt confessed that he could not help her. Instead, he told Margarethe that God could very well help if he wanted; but apparently he doesn't want to. Since God is not evil, it could only mean that he has something special in mind for her, that her suffering might become a blessing, not only for her, but for a large group of people. With this, the deafness took on a different character for the young Margarethe: It was no longer just an imperfection, but at the same time a divine commission, almost a divine distinction.

Social activities

Memorial plaque on the house, Tieckstrasse 17, in Berlin-Mitte

Margarethe von Witzleben began to break away from the family and to stand on her own two feet. She went through many activities that were conducive to her spiritual development. She was an assistant at the children's church service, worked in a library, took over Sunday school in a virgins' association ; in a women's association she helped run a rest home for women workers. After all, from 1894 onwards she had played a key role in setting up a housekeeping school in the Marienheim in Berlin - which welcomed young women from the country who were looking for happiness in the city . In 1898 she published a "Guide to Housekeeping", which u. a. dealt with the question of how to prepare tasty and healthy meals with little money. However, she eventually had to give up teaching because of her progressive hearing loss. From now on she devoted her whole life to the needs of hearing impaired and deaf people. She wrote books and wrote scriptures.

Margarethe von Witzleben founded the world's first self-help movement for the hard of hearing by bringing together a group of hearing impaired people at Whitsun 1901 in her apartment at Berlin Tieckstrasse 17, which was initially very religious and from which the Hephata Association later emerged. She recognized the overwhelming financial hardship from which most of the hearing impaired suffered. Whether someone was a civil servant, employee, worker or soldier: the consequence of hearing loss was almost always unemployment. Margarethe von Witzleben made many attempts to find work for the hard of hearing, albeit with moderate success at first.

She was committed to education and training and sat down with the Berlin ear specialist and debtor Professor Dr. Arthur Hartmann called for the disabled-friendly schooling of hard of hearing children and also called for secondary schools for the hard of hearing.

Hearing impairment brought not only material hardship, but often also loneliness and being excluded from cultural life. That is why Margarethe von Witzleben's activities and the Hephata Association she led extended to ever new areas in order to improve the integration and thus the living conditions of the hearing impaired. Retirement courses, chess and reading afternoons - also for children -, youth care for school leavers, further education for adults were important areas of activity. In addition, there was the organization of recreational stays for those in need, for which her sister, Countess von der Schulenburg, made her villa in Wernigerode available from 1913. Similar offers can still largely be found today in the event calendars of the hearing impaired associations - naturally adapted to the changed living conditions of today.

Honorary grave of Margarethe von Witzleben in the Berlin-Wilmersdorf cemetery

Margarethe von Witzleben's great commitment also includes her extensive correspondence with authorities and those seeking advice. Annually she wrote about 3000 letters.

The tea evenings in Frau von Witzleben's salon were particularly popular; in addition to mutual information and entertainment, they also served to make handicrafts for the traditional bazaar, which is still held annually in the Witzlebenhaus today.

Margarethe von Witzleben died on February 1, 1917 after a brief serious illness and was solemnly buried in the Berlin-Wilmersdorf cemetery. The Berlin Senate has elevated her grave to the rank of honorary grave .

Witzleben's theses

Margarethe von Witzleben not only dealt with the plight of the hearing impaired by trying to improve their external living conditions. She also dealt with the question of what could make a disabled person unhappy and what happy. Their statements can be summarized in two theses:

  1. Avoid thinking about yourself all the time, keeping yourself at the center of the world, always complaining about how bad you are. With this you deepen the loneliness, because who can endure a person whose thoughts always revolve around himself and his difficulties, who only talk about himself and constantly complain? Over time, even the most well-intentioned withdraws.
  2. Do something, get involved! Every work area, carried out with seriousness and dedication, presents you with new challenges every day. You notice how you penetrate deeper and deeper into matter, master it better and better - that strengthens self-confidence. Those who are ready to give themselves up to a task no longer have time to just circle around themselves; his life gets a new, meaningful focus.

Posthumous aftermath of their work

In order to create a home for the hard of hearing and the deaf after her death, where “young and old can find advice and help”, as well as for reticulation courses, further training and for many joint activities, she left a considerable sum in her will to the association of the hard of hearing The foundation for the acquisition of today's “Witzlebenhaus” was laid, the clubhouse of the Berlin Association for the Hard of Hearing. V. (SVB) in Berlin.

To this day, the German Association of the Hard of Hearing (DSB) awards the Margarethe von Witzleben Medal as the highest honor. The Margarethe-von-Witzleben Community Foundation also exists at Sophie-Charlotte-Strasse 23a in Berlin-Charlottenburg. There and at Margarethe von Witzleben's house at Tieckstrasse 17 in Berlin-Mitte you will find a plaque commemorating her.

In addition, the Margarethe-von-Witzleben-School for the hard of hearing with the possibility of obtaining the Abitur in Berlin-Friedrichshain is named after the great champion of the hearing impaired.


  • Hartwig Claußen and Uta Dörfer: Even lonely souls can become very happy. From the life of the hard of hearing Margarethe von Witzleben . Median-Verlag, Heidelberg 2001. ISBN 3-922766-73-0 .
  • Uta Dörfer: Festschrift Margarethe-von-Witzleben-Schule 1907 - 2007
  • Rheinhold Trinkner: Margarethe von Witzleben. The pioneer of the German hearing impaired movement . Association for the Hard of Hearing Berlin eV, Berlin 1991. (Reprint)

Web links

Commons : Margarethe von Witzleben  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Source of quotation is missing.