Is human life profitable

Background current

The systematic mass murder of thousands of children by the National Socialists began with a circular of August 18, 1939, and a little later, under the "Action T4", also of adults. In total, hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people were murdered under the Nazi regime.

In the cemetery of the Hadamar Memorial (Hesse) on November 22, 2013, inscribed stones commemorate the victims of the Nazi euthanasia murders who were buried here. During the Nazi era, 15,000 people were murdered and burned in Hadamar. (& copy dpa)

In July 1933, around six months after the National Socialists came to power, the government passed the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Offspring" in July 1933. It came into force on January 1, 1934 and allowed compulsory sterilization for the first time in Germany. People who did not conform to National Socialist racial ideals were to be denied the opportunity to father children. Around 350,000 to 400,000 people were forcibly sterilized on the basis of this law during the Nazi regime. Affected were people with mental illness or with physical and mental disabilities as well as people who were stigmatized as "antisocial" or "inferior", such as alcoholics.

Classification of people as "unworthy of life"

Even before the 1930s, there were calls for people with disabilities to be killed: The work "The Release of Destruction Unworthy of Life" published in 1920 by the lawyer Karl Binding and the psychiatrist Alfred Hoch caused some critical debates in the Weimar Republic, but took place later resonated with Nazi ideologues. The work shaped the idea of ​​being able to classify people as "unworthy of life". It also suggested that human life should be measured against economic profitability and that this could be used to justify the murder of sick or disabled people.

With their theses, Hoch and Binding provided the central programmatic basis for Nazi "euthanasia". The term, which comes from ancient Greek, actually means "beautiful death" and was used by the National Socialists to describe the systematic murder of people with disabilities, mental illnesses and social stigmata.

"Chancellery" of the Führer and doctors as organizers of the mass murders

The Nazis' "euthanasia" murders against various groups took place in parallel. Your planning period is scientifically controversial. One possible trigger is that in the spring of 1939 Hitler received a letter from a father asking for his disabled child to be killed. On this occasion Hitler authorized the head of the "Chancellery of the Führer", Philipp Bouhler, and his personal physician, Karl Brandt, to kill the child and to proceed in the same way in similar cases.

The coming systematic mass murder was prepared and organized by this leadership elite of the "Chancellery of the Führer" and doctors. To camouflage the "Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Hereditary and Constitutional Severe Sufferings" was founded, under whose name they registered the murders and committed them.

Circular decree of August 18 and start of "child euthanasia"

A central document for "child euthanasia" was the strictly confidential circular of the Reich Ministry of the Interior of August 18, 1939. It obliged doctors and midwives to report small children and babies with certain "serious, congenital ailments" to the Reich Committee. For the time being, children up to three years of age were required to register, later the age was increased to 16 years. In so-called "children's departments" in medical clinics, the children were then abused for experiments and killed by injection or starvation. The number of victims of this "child euthanasia" is estimated at around 5,000 by 1945. However, thousands of children also fell victim to other "euthanasia" murders in the German Reich and occupied territories.

At the same time, preparations were made to target sick or disabled adults as well. Bouhler and Brandt asked Hitler for written authorization, which he gave in October 1939. In order to make the connection with the war clear, this murder order was dated back to September 1, 1939, the day the war began. These murders were also organized by the "Chancellery of the Führer", which founded various front organizations to cover up the program. The campaign was given the name "T4" due to the official headquarters of the administration-intensive organizational center with six departments at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin.

Action T4

The management of hospitals and psychiatric clinics were asked to report their adult patients as well. In Berlin, experts checked the reports and decided on the further fate. With a "+" sign on the registration form, they noted who should be killed. Those affected were transferred to hospitals, for example in Bernburg, Hadamar, Hartheim and Sonnenstein, and killed.

Dr. Albert Widman, consultant at the Forensic Institute of the Reich Criminal Police Office, developed the strategy of killing people not only with injections, but also with poisonous carbon monoxide gas. The murder took place in specially set up gas chambers. The gas was supplied by IG Farben, today's BASF. The corpses were cremated and the relatives were informed of fabricated causes of death.

Resistance from clergy

The news about the killings did not remain secret, but rather spread among the population. Some family members turned to the police for help. Judges and clergy expressed their indignation and demanded an end to the killings and clarification of what had happened. However, the "T4" campaign did not meet with general social protests. In early August 1941, the Münster bishop, Clemens August Graf von Galen, publicly preached against the murders. The resulting unrest led to the fact that the "T4" campaign on adults in the German Reich was officially discontinued on Hitler's instructions. It was continued undercover on children, in the concentration camps and in the occupied territories.

The systematic persecution and murder of sick, disabled or socially stigmatized people as part of "T4" laid the foundation for further systematic mass murders during National Socialism. Some of those involved then used their experience of killing with gas in the extermination camps.

Hundreds of thousands of victims

Estimates of the death toll from the Nazis' euthanasia programs vary widely - what is certain is that the number of victims was in six figures. It is estimated that the "T4" campaign alone cost the lives of around 70,000 people until it was terminated in September 1941. At least 30,000 other disabled and sick people died in the killing operations that followed. Sick slave laborers and prisoners in concentration camps were also deliberately killed. In total, around 200,000 to 300,000 people were killed in euthanasia across Europe who were considered unprofitable or useful to society. Victim representatives assume an even larger number.

The processing of the euthanasia murders in post-war Germany was unsatisfactory from the perspective of the victims' representatives. Most of the trials against the perpetrators took place shortly after the end of the war under Allied jurisdiction. In the Nuremberg doctors' trial, for example, two main responsible persons and, in other proceedings, medical staff and administrative staff were sentenced to death. In later proceedings, the judgments were much milder. The law on compulsory sterilization was declared a Nazi injustice by the Bundestag in 1988 and the judgments of the "hereditary health courts" were overturned in 1998. To this day, however, victims of forced sterilization and euthanasia are not entitled to benefits under the Federal Compensation Act.

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