Kent School St. Josefsheim
THE ABANDONED MONASTERY AND SCHOOL IN GERMANY
‘St. Josefsheim’ was a monastery where mentally and physically disabled people were living. Architects were the brothers Friedhofen, Koblenz. The still existing system with church, administrative wing, school and two other blocks was completed in 1913, the chapel of St. Josefsheim already inaugurated a year earlier.
On these grounds in Hostert, the first monastery was originally established by monks in the 14th Century. But the history of ‘St. Josefsheim’ starts in 1909 when the ‘Order of the Franciscans of the Holy Cross’ came to Nordrhein-Westfalen. In only two years they build this complex. Block I, named the ‘Guardian Angel House’ was a school with bedrooms. In Block II, the ‘Franziskushaus’, lived the mentally handicapped kids. The third block was named ‘Antoniushaus’. Here patients with severe disability were accommodated. Block IV was the administration building with cloister and church. The Dusseldorf company Gassen and Blaschke designed the colored stained glass windows of the church. The organ was built in 1922 by Georg Stahlhut.
About 600 mentally and physically disabled people were living in the monastery. But after a stop of financial help from the government the order had to leave the buildings. The last of the brothers left the house on 23rd May 1937.
The National Socialists questioned certain groups of people’s right to life. In 1939 a new law stated that every disabled new born should be reported to the government. The race purification program killed more than 200.000 people and also in St. Jozefsheim people were killed. The site was renamed ‘Waldniel Institution’, At least 30 children were murdered through the euthanasia program. In total, more than 500 “patients” died. Another 1,044 people were transported to other institutions where many of them died. These were the site’s darkest days. In July 1943 the institute left the old monastery and the remaining 183 children were transported to other institutes.
After the Second World War the brotherhood could redeem Hostert at an appropriate price, but they could not lead the community as before, so they sold the buildings to the newly-formed German federation. In 1952 the Allies rented the institute for use as a military hospital. The two original blocks of 1913 were connected with modern corridors. A modern clinic with two surgical, pediatrician and psychiatric departments were developed.
In 1963 the Hostert site was converted into a school for the children of British military personnel. During the redevelopment work human bones were discovered – remains of the patients who died at the institute between 1939 and 1945. At the height of its time as a school it had around 6.000 pupils attending. 270 kids stayed overnight at the boarding school. The other pupils were transported to the school by bus; everyday 50 busses drove to the Kent School. Even a special bus station was added to the site.
In 1992 the school closed and the buildings were for sale again. They even came on E-bay, an online marketplace. The last few years there have been some emergency restorations in the buildings to keep them from falling apart. In 2000 the site was purchased by an investor from Dusseldorf. But there are still no plans for this beautiful site. I visited ‘Kent School’ or ‘St. Jozefsheim’ in 2007, 2009 and 2016.
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