Robert and his family were Jehovah's Witnesses. The Nazis regarded Jehovah's Witnesses as enemies of the state for their refusal to take an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, or to serve in the German army. Robert's family continued its religious activities despite Nazi persecution. Shortly before Robert's birth, his mother was imprisoned briefly for distributing religious materials. Robert's hip was injured during delivery, leaving him with a disability. When Robert was five years, he was ordered to report for a physical in Schlierheim. His mother overheard staff comments about putting Robert "to sleep." Fearing they intended to kill him, Robert's mother grabbed him and ran from the clinic. Nazi physicians had begun systematic killing of those they deemed physically and mentally disabled in the fall of 1939.
My mom and I were summoned to a, a part of the university clinic in Heidelberg, in Schlierheim, and there I was examined. And during the examination my mom was sitting on the outside of the room, and she overheard a conversation that the doctors would do away with me, uh, would ab...would abspritz me, which means that they would give me a needle and put me to sleep. My mom overheard the conversation and, uh, during lunch time, while the, uh, doctors were gone, she, uh, grabbed hold of me, we went down to the Neckar River into the high reeds and there she put my clothes on, and from there on we really went into hiding because now we knew that they really were after us. So, uh, we went to my father's father's house where we also stayed until I started school.