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T-4 Euthanasia Program

This poster reads: "This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community of the people 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Comrade, that is your money, too. Read 'New People', the monthly magazine of the political-race office of the Nazi party."

T-4 Euthanasia Program (Tiergartenstraße 4) was the official name of the Nazi Germany eugenics program which forcefully conducted mass sterilizations and euthanasia upon "undesirable" elements of the population in Germany and Nazi-occupied territories. In total, an estimated 200,000 people were murdered as a result of the program.

Establishment and purpose

The program was established by Adolf Hitler, operated under the authority of Chief of the State Chancellery Philip Bouhler and Doctor Karl Brandt, and was headed by Werner Heyde and Paul Nitsche. The name T-4 derived from the address of the program's offices in Berlin.

The purpose of the program was to maintain the so-called "genetic purity" of the German population and exterminate certain elements of the population of occupied territories by systematically killing those who were considered to be physically deformed, disabled, handicapped, or suffering from mental illness. Disabled children were removed from their families and taken to special hospitals. The program was later expanded to include adults, although most disabled adults were already subject to compulsory sterilization as a result of the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring".

History of the program

The first exterminations were carried out in Kocborowo, in occupied Poland, on September 22, 1939 and were subsequently followed by similar acts in the rest of the country which resulted in the death of 26,000 psychiatric patients. In Germany, the program was carried out at Grafeneck (beginning January 20, 1940), Hartheim (beginning May 6, 1940), Hadamar (beginning January 1941), Bernburg (beginning November 21, 1940), Brandenburg (beginning February 8, 1940) and Sonnenstein (beginning June 1940) using gas, suffocation, injection, poisoning, starvation, and overdose of medication. The first experiments with gassing and mobile gas vans were performed during October-November of 1939 in Poznań with the patients from Owińska psychiatric hospital and in March 1940 in the hospital in Kochanówka near Łódź. The Nazis also experimented with piping carbon monoxide from truck engines into sealed chambers. Much of this extermination was supervised by the psychiatrists Carl "Hans Heinze" Sennhenn and Werner Villinger. Sennhenn provided Nazi researchers with the brains of hundreds of victims, while Villinger conducted experiments upon victims before ordering their deaths. Gas chambers were built at Hartheim to suffocate mostly adult victims with carbon monoxide even before the widespread use of such methods during The Holocaust.

By the time Hitler ordered a temporary halt to the program on August 18, 1941 due to protests from churches and relatives of the victims, 70,000 people had already been executed. However such public resistance merely slowed the program, and the killings continued under greater secrecy. Some of the personnel trained under the program later continued their trade in Nazi extermination camps.

Most of the key figures responsible for conducting the program, such as Josef Mengele, were also actively involved in developing gas chamber technology for the Holocaust and assisted in the construction of the camps at Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibór in Operation Reinhard. Aside from the well-known camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau these were the main centers of extermination by gas for millions of people.

By the end of 1941, every third inmate of psychiatric institutions in Germany had been killed under the program, whether by direct means or by starvation, resulting in about 93,000 additional deaths.

Legacy

Germany's practice of "euthanasia" did not end in 1941. Doctors and nurses continued the practice at hospitals around Germany and Austria. Killings and intentional neglect were conducted in such a way to minimize the suspicion of the German population. However, no such precautions were taken when exterminating people of the occupied territories. Acts of cruelty and violence were reported and recorded.

Doctors and nursing personnel involved in the euthanasia program were not always brought to justice. Long after the creation of the new German states in 1949, high-ranking officials involved in euthanasia had escaped prosecution and were still involved in the German health system.

References

"Nazi 'Euthanasia' Programs" in Dieter Kuntz, ed. Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race by Michael Burleigh. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/University of North Carolina Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8078-2916-1

Dokumente zur Euthanasie. by Ernst Klee. ISBN 3-5962-4327-0, in German

Euthanasie im NS-Staat. Die Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens by Ernst Klee. Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 3-5962-4326-2, in German

The Origins of Nazi Genocide. From Euthanasia to the Final Solution by Henry Friedlander. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill & London, 1995, ISBN 0-8078-2208-6.

A Sign for Cain by Fredrick Wertheim. MacMillan Company, New York, 1967, ISBN 0-8488-1657-9

Was sie taten. Was sie wurden by Ernst Klee. ISBN 3596243645, in German

 

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