Moving euthanasia underground and expansion to include SS killings of hospital patients getting ready for the mass killing of Jews, political dissidents and other inferior races.
Part 3 of a 4 part series
In part 1, Hitler started his euthanasia program by having doctors terminate children with disabilities. Hitler’s euthanasia program murdered disabled first. In part 2, emboldened by their success, the program was expanded to adults; however, opposition from the Roman Catholic Church moved the program underground. Autumn 1939 Hitler enlists doctors in disabled euthanasia
Hitler’s call for a halt to the T4 action did not mean an end to the “euthanasia” killing operation. The child “euthanasia” program continued as before. Moreover, in August 1942, German medical professionals and healthcare workers resumed the killings, albeit in a more carefully concealed manner than before. More decentralized than the initial gassing phase, the renewed effort relied closely upon regional exigencies, with local authorities determining the pace of the killing.
Employing drug overdose and lethal injection–already successfully used in child euthanasia–in this second phase as a more covert means of killing, the “euthanasia” campaign resumed at a broad range of custodial institutions throughout the Reich.
Many of these institutions also systematically starved adult and child victims. The “Euthanasia” Program continued until the last days of World War II, expanding to include an ever wider range of victims, including geriatric patients, bombing victims, and foreign forced laborers. Historians estimate that the “Euthanasia” Program, in all its phases, claimed the lives of 200,000 individuals.
German occupied east
Persons with disabilities also fell victim to German violence in the German-occupied East. Although the Germans confined the “Euthanasia” Program, which began as a racial hygiene measure, to the Reich proper–that is, to Germany and to the annexed territories of Austria, Alsace-Lorraine, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the Warthegau in former Poland, the Nazi ideological conviction which designated these persons “life unworthy of life” made institutionalized patients targets of shooting actions in Poland and the Soviet Union.
Here the killings of disabled patients were the work of SS and police forces, not of physicians, caretakers, and T4 administrators who implemented the “Euthanasia” Program itself. In areas of Pomerania, West Prussia, and occupied Poland, SS and police units murdered some 30,000 patients by the autumn of 1941 in order to accommodate ethnic German settlers (Volksdeusche) transferred there from the Baltic countries and other areas.
SS and police units also murdered disabled patients in mass shootings and gas vans in occupied Soviet territories. Thousands more died, murdered in their beds and wards by SS and auxiliary police units in Poland and the Soviet Union.
These murders lacked the ideological component attributed to the centralized “Euthanasia” Program, for by and large, the SS was apparently motivated primarily by economic and material concerns in killing institutionalized patients in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union.
The SS and the Wehrmacht quickly made use of the hospitals emptied in these killing operations as barracks, reserve hospitals, munitions storage depots. In rare cases, the SS used the empty facilities as a formal T4 killing site; an example is the “euthanasia” facility Tiegenhof, near Danzig (today Gdansk).
Rehearsal for genocide
The “euthanasia” program represented in many ways a rehearsal for Nazi Germany’s subsequent genocidal policies. The Nazi leadership extended the ideological justification conceived by medical perpetrators for the destruction of the “unfit” to other categories of perceived biological enemies, most notably to Jews and Roma and Sinti (Gypsies). Planners of the so-called Final Solution later borrowed the gas chamber and accompanying crematoria, specifically designed for the T4 campaign, to murder Jews in German-occupied Europe. T4 personnel who had shown themselves reliable in this first mass murder program, figured prominently among the German staff stationed at the Operation Reinhard killing centers of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.
Like those who planned the physical annihilation of the European Jews, the planners of the “euthanasia” program imagined a racially pure and productive society and embraced radical strategies to eliminate those who did not fit within it their vision.
Next in the series – video of euthanasia program
Text and photographs copyright United States Holocaust Museum
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Aly, Götz, Peter Chroust, and Christian Pross. Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Bryant, Michael S. Confronting the “Good Death”: Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005.
Burleigh, Michael. Death and Deliverance: “Euthanasia” in Germany c. 1900-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Gallagher, Hugh Gregory. By Trust Betrayed: Patients, Physicians, and the License to Kill in the Third Reich. Arlington, VA: Vandamere Press, 1995.