Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nazi Medical Killings of the Disabled

This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read '[A] New People', the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP."
On April 23, 1940 Anna was gassed to death at the Grafeneck Euthanasia Center in Grafeneck Castle, south of Stuttgart. She was one of 70,000 Germans with disabilities such as developmental delay or mental illness whom the Nazis murdered as part of their euthanasia program, which was code-named T4. An estimated 300,000 people throughout Nazi-occupied Europe were put to death in this program.
A monument commemorating the euthanasia program’s victims will be dedicated in Berlin this week, which marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. The monument was built at 4 Tiergartenstrasse, the address of the villa where the euthanasia program was planned. The program’s code-name, T4, is a shortened form of the address of the building, which had previously belonged to Jews and had been “Aryanized.” The building at 4 Tiergartenstrasse is next to the current home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Dozens of physicians participated in this program of mass murder, which lasted between 1939 and 1941. While the program was stopped in the wake of public protest, the killing continued secretly until the end of the war. Children and teenagers such as Anna were forcibly taken from their families to one of six Nazi-operated “health centers,” where they were murdered. The families then received letters stating falsely that their children had died of disease. Later on, the Nazis used the experience in mass killing that they had gained in this operation to murder the Jews of Europe.
The euthanasia program was a product of Nazi ideology, which saw sick and weak people as a nuisance that interfered with the fulfillment of the Germans’ vision of a healthy nation.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The so-called "Euthanasia" program was National Socialist Germany's first program of mass murder, predating the genocide of European Jewry, which we call the Holocaust, by approximately two years. The effort represented one of many radical eugenic measures which aimed to restore the racial "integrity" of the German nation. It endeavored to eliminate what eugenicists and their supporters considered "life unworthy of life": those individuals who--they believed--because of severe psychiatric, neurological, or physical disabilities represented at once a genetic and a financial burden upon German society and the state.
In the spring and summer months of 1939, a number of planners--led by Philipp Bouhler, the director of Hitler's private chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's attending physician--began to organize a secret killing operation targeting disabled children. On August 18, 1939, the Reich Ministry of the Interior circulated a decree compelling all physicians, nurses, and midwives to report newborn infants and children under the age of three who showed signs of severe mental or physical disability. Beginning in October 1939, public health authorities began to encourage parents of children with disabilities to admit their young children to one of a number of specially designated pediatric clinics throughout Germany and Austria. The clinics were in reality children's killing wards where specially recruited medical staff murdered their young charges by lethal overdoses of medication or by starvation.
At first, medical professionals and clinic administrators incorporated only infants and toddlers in the operation, but as the scope of the measure widened, they included juveniles up to 17 years of age. Conservative estimates suggest that at least 5,000 physically and mentally disabled German children perished as a result of the child "euthanasia" program during the war years.
Euthanasia planners quickly envisioned extending the killing program to adult disabled patients living in institutional settings. In the autumn of 1939, Adolf Hitler signed a secret authorization in order to protect participating physicians, medical staff, and administrators from prosecution; this authorization was backdated to September 1, 1939, to suggest that the effort was related to wartime measures. Because the Führer Chancellery was insular, compact, and separate from state, government, or Nazi Party apparatuses, Hitler chose this, his private chancellery, to serve as the engine for the "euthanasia" campaign. Its functionaries called their secret enterprise "T4." The operation took its code-name from the street address of the program's coordinating office in Berlin: Tiergartenstrasse 4. According to Hitler's directive, Führer Chancellery director Phillip Bouhler and physician Karl Brandt undertook leadership of the killing operation. Under their auspices, T4 operatives established six gassing installations for adults as part of the "euthanasia" action: Brandenburg, on the Havel River near Berlin; Grafeneck in southwestern Germany; Bernburg and Sonnenstein, both in Saxony; Hartheim, near Linz on the Danube in Austria, and Hadamar in Hessen.
Utilizing a practice developed for the child "euthanasia" program, T4 planners began in the autumn of 1939 to distribute carefully formulated questionnaires to all public health officials, public and private hospitals, mental institutions, and nursing homes for the chronically ill and aged. The limited space and wording on the forms, as well as the instructions in the accompanying cover letter, combined to convey the impression that the survey was intended to gather statistical data.
The form's sinister purpose was suggested only by the emphasis which the questionnaire placed upon the patient's capacity to work and by the categories of patients which the inquiry required health authorities to identify: those suffering from schizophrenia, epilepsy, dementia, encephalitis, and other chronic psychiatric or neurological disorders; those not of German or "related" blood; the criminally insane or those committed on criminal grounds; and those who had been confined to the institution in question for more than five years. Secretly recruited "medical experts," physicians--many of them of significant reputation--worked in teams of three to evaluate the forms. On the basis of their decisions beginning in January 1940, T4 functionaries began to remove patients selected for the "euthanasia" program from their home institutions and to transport them by bus or by rail to one of the central gassing installations for killing.

Within hours of their arrival at such centers, the victims perished in especially designed gas chambers, disguised as shower facilities, utilizing pure carbon monoxide gas. Thereafter, T4 functionaries burned the bodies in crematoria attached to the gassing facilities. Other workers took the ashes of cremated victims from a common pile and placed them in urns to send to the relatives of the victims. The families or guardians of the victims received such an urn, along with a death certificate and other documentation, listing both a fictive cause and date of death.
Because the program was secret, T-4 planners and functionaries took elaborate measures to conceal its deadly designs. Even though in every case, physicians and institutional administrators falsified official records to indicate that the victims died of natural causes, the "euthanasia" program quickly become an open secret. In view of widespread public knowledge of the measure and in the wake of private and public protests concerning the killings, especially from members of the German clergy, Hitler ordered a halt to the euthanasia program in late August 1941. According to T4's own internal calculations, the "euthanasia" effort claimed the lives of 70,273 institutionalized mentally and physically disabled persons at the six gassing facilities between January 1940 and August 1941.


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