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Euthanasia: "Racial Hygiene" by the National Socialists

Status: 03/11/2020 9:51 a.m.

In October 1939, Adolf Hitler tightened the so-called racial hygiene of the Nazi regime: his "euthanasia" decree became a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of mentally ill and disabled people.

by Andreas Schlebach

When Hitler officially issued the order to exterminate "life unworthy of life" in October 1939, the systematic mass killing of disabled children was already in full swing. There is cynical talk of the "mercy death", but in fact tens of thousands of people are murdered - through medication, deprivation of food or excruciating medical tests. In northern Germany, too, a number of children and later adults fell victim to "euthanasia".

Euthanasia: Systematic extermination of the sick

"Reichsleiter Bouhler and Dr. med. Brandt are responsible under the responsibility of expanding the powers of physicians to be named so that, according to human judgment, incurable patients can be granted death by mercy if their condition is critically assessed." Adolf Hitler's "euthanasia" authorization, October 1939

With this only order for the extermination of people ever personally signed by Hitler, the systematic extermination of disabled and mentally ill children in Nazi Germany, which has been carried out under the euphemistic label "euthanasia program" since the summer of 1939, is also extended to adult patients.

AUDIO: "Euthanasia" and forced sterilization (3 min)

70,000 people become victims of "Aktion T4"

The decree is dated back to September 1, 1939, probably in order to establish the connection to the beginning of the war, for which "international financial Jewry" was responsible in the Nazi diction. Via the central administration set up at Tiergartenstrasse 4 ("T4") in Berlin, the selection of the victims by registration form and their removal to one of the notorious extermination centers of Hadamar, Grafeneck, Sonnenstein, Brandenburg, Bernburg and Hartheim is coordinated.

At a bus stop in Berlin, a memorial plaque commemorates the victims of "Aktion T4".

Although Hitler revoked his "euthanasia" order in August 1941 after massive protests, especially by the Münster bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, the systematic murder of the sick continued decentrally with undiminished violence ("wild euthanasia"). By the end of the war, around 70,000 people were killed in the murders, later known as "Aktion T4". In total, around 200,000 people die in the context of the murders.

National Socialists want to eliminate "ballast existences"

Young residents of a North German "children's department" during the Nazi era - thousands did not survive their stay in one of the many facilities.

The term "euthanasia", which comes from the Greek, actually describes painless dying - for example by giving medication to the terminally ill. It was only against the background of National Socialist models of justification for the extermination program "unworthy of life", which was unprecedented in its radicalism, that the term acquired its frightening aftertaste. In the National Socialists' image of man - a mixture of racist ideology, anti-humanism and cynical contempt for human beings - life is judged according to economic criteria. Anyone who does not conform to National Socialist norms and values ​​runs the risk of no longer being classified as useful for the national community. Mentally ill people and prison inmates are increasingly seen as "ballast existences" that need to be eliminated.

Nazi laws legitimize the "euthanasia" program

On July 14, 1933, the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases", which provides for the compulsory sterilization of hereditary diseases, and on October 18, 1935, the "Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health of the German People" is passed. With both laws the Nazis gave their idea of ​​"racial hygiene", the declared aim of which was to purify the German "people's body", a "legal" basis in advance. With the start of the war, financial, economic, food policy and allegedly military "necessities" give rise to the National Socialist "euthanasia" program, which initially focuses on (home) children. However, there is no legal basis for this program.

Historical research on "euthanasia"

Rising mortality rates after "withdrawal"

In many sanatoriums and nursing homes, so-called children's departments are set up in which disabled children are abused for medical experiments that end in death. By the end of the war, this clinical "euthanasia" variant alone will kill around 5,000 children, more than 300 of them in the "children's department" in Lüneburg.

"As far as I can remember, a child was put to sleep every few weeks. In each case, the ward doctor instructed the child to give the child a certain dose of narcotics or sleeping pills. He set the dose in each case. Luminal was usually given, for smaller ones Children five to seven tablets dissolved in water. For older children, and sometimes for smaller ones, a one cubic centimeter intramuscular injection of one cubic centimeter of morphine was added to the children, as far as I can tell , always only given by the sisters [...]. " Testimony of an accused nurse, June 4, 1962

This is part of a statement made by a nurse of the state sanatorium and nursing home Lüneburg who was accused in Hildesheim in the early 1960s, documented in the traveling exhibition "Psychiatry in the 'Third Reich' in Lower Saxony", which the Hanoverian political scientist Dr. Raimond Reiter designed it at the end of the 90s.

Few survive the first year

Statistics show that after Hitler's "revocation" of the "euthanasia" order, the mortality rate in the "children's department" in Lüneburg rose massively: While the rate was 12.3 percent in 1941, it reached over 41.5 percent in 1942, then 42 .9 percent in 1943. 79 percent of the admitted children only survived between one and twelve months. The cause of death was stereotyped pneumonia and bronchopneumonia in 60 percent of all deaths [morphological form of the pneumonia, editor's note. Red.] or bronchitis indicated. As a rule, the inmates were killed in the course of "normal" institutional events, so that the deaths gave the outward appearance of clinically correct events.

Wehnen: "Exemplary example of patient murder"

For many inmates, a registration form from the sanatorium and nursing home was synonymous with a death sentence.

In the sanatorium and nursing home in Wehnen near Oldenburg, too, the death rate rose considerably - from ten percent in 1939 to 31 percent in 1945, as the Oldenburg historian Ingo Harms found out. "In all likelihood the excess mortality it contained went away [above-average death rate, editor's note. Red.] back on drastic savings in nursing costs, especially with regard to nutrition, "writes Harms in his essay" The fate of foreign patients in the Wehnen sanatorium and nursing home during National Socialism ".

"When 'wild euthanasia' began across the country in 1941/42, Wehnen had long been a prime example of this type of patient murder," continues Harms. The devilish thing about it: The boundaries between active killing and letting die are blurred under inhuman clinical conditions. Overall, a "statistical excess mortality of at least 1,500 patients whose death requires explanation can be expected," writes Harms, who thereby refutes the popular opinion that the institution was not burdened by Nazi euthanasia.

Death sentence "does not speak German"

Harms has identified the (mostly Eastern European) slave laborers as the preferred victims of the segregation in Wehnen, who were killed in the same way as the German patients - only apparently more systematically: because of the slave laborers only one or three of the slave laborers survived the induction the Oldenburg psychiatry. "Doesn't speak German" - with this entry in the registration form, the death sentence was often enough noted at the same time.

Hamburg at that time: euthanasia victim

The term euthanasia denotes Nazi killing programs. The former Alsterdorfer Anstalten also took part in the murder of disabled people. 5 min

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NDR 90.3 Current | 05/08/2020 | 09:00 a.m.