If we look back at the numerous paths the various currents of activity took in the first three decades of the twentieth century, we see that in the Thirties they gradually amalgamated and a trend emerged in a certain direction [sterilisation of the mentally ill, Nuremberg Laws etc.] which was striving to "even greater heights". The German racial and mental hygienists had prepared the ground for an all-embracing project which they called the "Euthanasia Programme", but would more accurately have been called "Mass murder of mental patients".
In 1921 the Professors Dr. Erwin Baur, Dr. Eugen Fischer, and Dr. Fritz Lenz jointly published the first edition of their two volume book "Human Hereditary Teaching and Racial Hygiene" which was internationally recognised as a standard text-book and soon was even used in universities abroad.
In the second volume by Dr. Lenz, first Professor for racial hygiene in Germany (the chair was established in 1923 at the Munich University), entitled "Human Selection and Racial Hygiene (Eugenics)", he wrote:
"A real restoration to health of the race cannot be begun without generous measures and the organisation of social-racial hygiene; but these are mostly only introduced when the racial hygienic idea has become the popular knowledge of the population or at least of the mental leaders. These must first develop a feeling for the senselessness of a civilisation which allows the race to decay, an order of society and economics which has no regard for the interests of eternal life, which in fact is often detrimental. The introduction of racial hygienic education in the secondary schools (high-schools) and universities could effectively counter this illiteracy (lack of education); unfortunately this will only be possible when the importance of racial hygiene has become known in the right places. As long as this is not the case, the most important practical duty of racial hygiene is the private promulgation of racial hygienic ideas. As soon as racial hygienic conviction has become a living ideology, then the racial hygienic organisation of life, even public life, will happen by itself... Anyone who loves his race cannot wish for it to fall into decadence. He must realise that the industriousness of the race is the first and unrelenting condition for the thriving of the race. Even the fight for freedom and self-assertion of the race must in the final instance serve the race. When in a fight for power the best blood is sacrificed without substituting it then it is senseless... And when racial damage has been caused through war, be it through error or because it was inevitable, it must be the first concern of those who do not want to see the race blind but seeing, to even out these damages. This is not just the substitution in number, much more important is the substitution of racial fitness. Even this requires the spirit of sacrifice and fortunately there is no lack of this …there is only a lack of understanding."A brief look at the professional and ideological background of both of the authors of the first volume proves very interesting. Baur and Fischer had both worked devotedly in the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Hereditary Teaching and Eugenics, in which Rüdin first acted as curator.
Baur, the biologist, later became the first Nazi Rector of Berlin University, where Fischer later lectured as a Professor for Anthropology. In his debasement of knowledge, Fischer sank to the depths of praising Hans F.K. Günther, the author of "Racial Knowledge of the German Race" who was a popular target for general ridicule even in Germany, before the Nazis promoted him to a university professorship.
Later, in 1941, Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, Nazi professor and former colleague of Baur, Fischer and Rüdin in the above mentioned Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute, supported the Baur-Fischer-Lenz textbook with warm recommendations.
Verschuer was the founder and first director of the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Research at Frankfurt University opened in 1934. Even if it produced nothing else it brought a further star into the Nazi sky; Verschuer's former assistant Dr. Joseph Mengele. From this position he later advanced to be one of the most infamous doctors in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where he conducted experiments with living and fully conscious prisoners and tortured the camp-inmates for the benefit of "scientific advancement". After the war, Mengele succeeded in escaping the Allies and the law, he left Germany and fled via Italy to Paraguay, settled there, acquired citizenship in his new home country and apparently lives there to this day. The time of his peaceful existence however, will hopefully soon be over; the well known Nazi criminal hunter, Wiesenthal, is on his tracks and will not rest until he has caught up with him.
At the 12th meeting of the International Federation of Eugenic Organisations, held in 1936 in Holland, Verschuer appeared as the representative of his Institute together with Ploetz, Rüdin and Fischer. One of the papers read to the meeting was by fellow delegate Professor Karl Astel from Himmler's SS "Race and Resettlement Office" (RuSHA).
In 1923 Lenz took a further step forward in his endeavours to find a solution to racial hygienic problems by stating that Euthanasia definitely had its place in the racial hygiene plan. The propaganda drums beat without pause, but it was only in the Thirties that the fatal Euthanasia propaganda campaign broke loose and went far beyond Germany's borders.
In July 1931 the Union of Bavarian Psychiatrists held a Congress at Munich University. V. Faltlhauser, psychiatrist and active proponent of the mental hygiene movement, who was striving towards yet greater achievement of the euthanasia programme, laid bare the basic thoughts behind the campaign for sterilisation and euthanasia with the following words:
Here we will only discuss sterilisation. Basically it represents only one of the paths which lead towards the goal. You know that these measures are heavily opposed. Not only is the unjustified claim, that the question of heredity has not been clarified enough, the obstacle; the obstacles lie rather as already stated in ideological moral and ethical considerations, they lie in the idleness of the broad masses and in obsolete views which I do not wish to go into here. This outlook must cause us to advance carefully but steadily. What primarily seems to be needed is educational work and propaganda for the broad masses, and the facts have to be constantly hammered into them. And this is also one of the many duties of our public welfare section, which should point out this fact in private life and in lectures. It will also be our imperative task to research and make more exact the laws of heredity and their final consequences. And herein again a special task will fall to our public welfare section. At this point I cannot suppress the comment that it must have other methods than those at its disposal today. Today the welfare doctors are swamped in their social tasks especially when you consider they have to do their work in a subsidiary office. If the public welfare section is to do justice to the requests for research made of it, then it should be provided with the means and the personnel. I know what I am demanding at this time of scarce means. But it must be said to prevent the blame being put on public welfare, as it has failed to fulfil demands put on it.
When demanding sterilisation, compulsory action is at present to be avoided; on the other hand voluntary sterilisation is to be promoted by any means. For this a clear unequivocal legal safety precaution must be created. It is quite evident that even voluntary sterilisation must be based on certain prerequisites and safety precautions and that clear, flawless, medically-determined indicators must be present. What these safety precautions are to look like, whether it is to be a commission or not, whether the commission should consist of doctors, civil-servant doctors or be mixed etc. is a question to be considered and is not relevant to the principle. The clear indication will be in the cases of the gravest strain, which with today's knowledge we must now recognise will have a high probability of heavy hereditary defects in the descendants. It need only be mentioned incidentally that sterilisation is only to occur in the form of severing the spermatic duct whilst preserving the gonads or the operative interruption of the Fallopian tube. Also the question of possibly demanding compulsory sterilisation in the cases of criminal tendencies and high-probability hereditary insanity should also be considered. This however should occur only when the broad masses have intensively been worked over in the ways mentioned earlier, and have become mature enough to accept such ideas.
Many have said that internment is the only sound measure against the bearers of very bad hereditary mass. But quite apart from the fact that it is the most expensive preventive measure, is it really more humane and a lesser violation of the principle of personal freedom? Do we not forcibly prohibit the party concerned from procreation for their whole life?
We Germans cannot totally neglect events which occur outside our borders. A whole series of nations have positively accepted that the laws of heredity do affect the development of mental abnormality and have understood the consequences of that and created sterilisation laws. The Americans have been reproached with reckless pluck because of laws they have passed in 22 of their states. But when we see that an otherwise cool and calculating race such as the Danes pass a sterilisation law, how the canton Waadt has also done this, when the Swedish ministries are seriously dealing with this problem, then this must really give us something to think about.
Before I end, I must permit myself a few short comments which are forced upon me by an objective conscience. I believe that we must beware of exaggerated expectations of the success of sterilisation. Sterilisation, even compulsory, will not be able to plug all the fountains of bad hereditary mass.
The principle used here to hoodwink the public into accepting enforced sterilisation is to first start a propaganda campaign for voluntary sterilisation. This same rule also applies for compulsory euthanasia where propaganda starts with the introduction of voluntary euthanasia. Both Germany and England were literally flooded with Euthanasia campaigns.
In England, Dr. Charles Killick Millard, President of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, brought up in his 1931 Presidential speech the question of voluntary euthanasia and proposed a suitable law. A few years later, he became a fellow founder of the Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society and its Honorary Secretary.
In 1935 Lord Moynihan, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, founded the Euthanasia Society. A year later this Society handed its recommendations for a Euthanasia project to the House of Lords. Among other things, it provided for the possibility of incurably ill persons being able to petition a Euthanasia Office of the Ministry of Health to let themselves be delivered from their sufferings. It suggested that the applicant should, after consulting his close relatives, handle his estate and choose two medical advisors and a doctor. The Ministry could give its consent for the mercy death to take place after a period of seven days, time allowed for the chance of a change of heart, or an appeal if the relatives so desired. This proposal was fortunately turned down.
However, as early as 1923, a step in this direction was taken in Switzerland and a draft for such a law was presented in Denmark in 1924. In the U.S.A., The Chamber of Doctors of the State of Illinois even requested the approval of mercy death. The year 1938 was marked by the establishment of the American Society of Euthanasia, and on similar lines, a society for voluntary euthanasia was founded in Connecticut and drafts of laws were presented to the parliaments of Nebraska and Canada in 1937. In Germany, the activities in the field of euthanasia, reached their climax. In 1934 Baur, who had long advocated the sterilisation law, foretold that such a law would only be a start.
The actual campaign for euthanasia in Germany took many forms. Films were produced (among others "I accuse") which were to make obvious that there were useful and less useful members of society, and were intended to cause astonishment on the part of the viewer as to why anybody bothered to prolong these unproductive human lives at all. Articles in newspapers informed the reader about costs caused by the mentally ill. and showed plainly how the money could be used for more productive and creative things. The campaign was so extensive that it even reached school books, in which the nature of the problems were to direct the attention of the pupil to this subject. One such example is the arithmetic textbook written in 1935 by Alfred Dorner, whose series of distorted and disguised questions were to have the desired influence.
So we see that sterilisation and euthanasia were not the ideas of the Nazis and never had been. They were ideas which were supported and promoted throughout the whole world by groups with a strong interest in the progressive development of mental hygiene and mental health. There is no doubt that euthanasia was supported in many countries, among them America, Finland, England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Australia and New Zealand. Germany however was the only country in which the political climate was such as to allow materialisation of the final goal of the supporters of sterilisation and euthanasia.
Sterilisation laws at the same time were preparing the ground in other countries such as U.S.A. (some states) for much larger endeavours. However the step from sterilisation to murder is great (though apparently less great for someone who has fully absorbed the state of mind of the mental hygiene movement). Therefore it seems only logical that one tried to win the politicians to the new ideals, to manipulate them and to appoint them in the right places, in order to bring about the desired goal. In Germany the politicians were ideal for this purpose, and consequently the action moved much faster there. But, as we will see later, because of the German activities, the attitude towards the subjects of sterilisation and euthanasia changed shortly after the Second World War.
The next step, towards the end of 1938 and the beginning of 1939, was publicly tested in Germany after endless discussions and propaganda moves. A letter addressed to Adolf Hitler written by a man called Knauer from Leipzig asked for permission for a doctor to shorten the fife of his child who was born blind, seemed to be an idiot and had only parts of its arms and legs. The child itself was at this time at the Children's Clinic in the University of Leipzig, which was headed by Professor Werner Catel, Professor for Neurology and Psychiatry at the same university.
At that time Catel was already an exponent of euthanasia and has remained one to this day which fact he acknowledged in his book "Border Situations of Life - Contribution to the Problem of a Limited Euthanasia". it was Catel who made the suggestion to the father, or at least focused his attention in that direction, to write a letter to the Führer. As an answer to this letter, Hitler sent his physician, Professor Karl Brandt, to Leipzig and after consultations with Catel, put the child to sleep.
Several months later, Hitler signed a document authorising Dr. Karl Brandt and Reich-leader Philipp Bouhler to permit euthanasia in special cases. This authorisation was supposedly signed in October 1939, but was backdated to the beginning of September of the same year. The document was really nothing more than an authorisation and formulated in such a way that a doctor who truly felt bound to the Hippocratic Oath could interpret it in such a way that no-one would have to die. The "Führer-order" as it was generally called, had apparently come about after a lively discussion between Dr. Karl Brandt, Dr. Leonardo Conti and Philipp Bouhler and was as follows:
"Reichsleader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt M.D. are charged with the responsibility of enlarging the authority of certain physicians to be designated by name in such a manner that persons who according to human judgement can upon most careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness be accorded a mercy death.
Signed - A. Hitler".In spite of this, the document was regarded not only as a "legal" basis for the crimes committed by the psychiatrists of Nazi Germany, but later at the Nuremberg trials and in other court cases, it was used as a justification where the accused attempted to interpret this authorisation as an order.
The question about the so-called "Führer-order" is usually done away with by stating that Hitler wanted to achieve one of his goals with this document. However, several facts contradicted this widespread theory and should be mentioned in this context. Obviously Hitler agreed or at least sympathised with the arguments of the eugenically-oriented groups, which were trying to defend sterilisation and euthanasia. This we know from his earlier studies and activities, but one cannot charge him with having voiced his opinion in this direction very often. On the contrary, he seldom remarked on it. The actual document was very vague, and it is not even clear that the victims were to be hopelessly mentally ill, but only referred to incurably sick generally. The previously mentioned Knauer case is a typical example of the psychiatric way of thinking and their tactics.
The Third Reich is usually looked upon as a monolithic state, a pyramid structure with Hitler at the top followed by the administrative machinery of government and its subordinate organisations, which form a wide basis, the whole system unified and dynamic. In actual fact, the Third Reich was a system of agencies, departments and branches of government all in competition with each other. All endeavoured to play each other off against each other for reasons of prestige, in order to win the favour of the Führer or to increase their power. Hitler himself issued different versions of the same order to keep his subordinates divided and in competition with each other. This way there was less chance of their becoming dangerous to him.
Hitler had purposely disarranged the "whole" structure of the Reich, with the aim of achieving a shift of emphasis of function, a tactic which proved successful in ensuring his own position of power. Apart from the actual government offices the NSDAP committees established before the seizure of power remained in existence, so that Hitler had two organisations at his disposal with greatly overlapping functions. The administration of the Third Reich was, therefore, a chaotic confusion of conflicts, jealousies and duplication of actions. An order which was not taken up by someone and worked on or passed on, just remained an order and ended up in a desk-drawer, never executed. Actually a great deal of effort was necessary to get a lot of things moving at all.
Additionally, after the seizure of power, Hitler was only interested in activities for which he had a special affinity and he neglected other activities. Ministers and functionaries often did not see him at all for long periods of time. To the degree that Hitler engrossed himself in the plans for the expansion of the Reich, he had to deal more and more with the solution of military problems and with diplomatic matters. His interest in non-military matters and initiatives declined
Thus because Hitler's attention was unequivocally on other matters, the "experts" who were continuously exerting pressure on internal affairs, such as initiating the mass-murder of mental patients, also assumed responsibility for it. This is affirmed by the two well known and informed American journalists William L. Shirer and Joseph Harsch both active as foreign correspondents in Berlin in those years.
Shirer collected his impressions in his "Berlin Diary" published in England in 1941. Towards the end of his diary notes the author deals with his experiences with the euthanasia programme. He writes:
"What is stilt unclear to me is the motive for these murders.
Germans themselves advance three:
Shirer continues with his views and comes to the conclusion:
"The first motive is obviously absurd, since the death of 100,000 persons will not save much food for a nation of 80 million. Besides, there is no acute food shortage in Germany. The second motive is possible, though I doubt it. Poison gases may have been used in putting these unfortunates out of the way, but if so, the experimentation was only incidental. Many Germans I have talked to think that some new gas which disfigures the body has been used, and that this is the reason why the remains of the victims have been cremated. But I can get no real evidence of this".And now he comes to a very interesting section in which he writes:
"The third motive seems the most likely to me. For years a group of radical Nazi sociologists who were instrumental in putting through the Reich's sterilisation laws have pressed for a national policy of eliminating the mentally unfit. They say they have disciples among many sociologists in other lands and perhaps they have.This information which Shirer for some reason does not consider or puts aside as being absurd or unimportant, when examined proves to be rather useful. Of the motives the Germans propagate as their reason for these murders, three seem to hold up under examination.
Paragraph two of the form letter sent the relatives plainly bears the stamp of this sociological thinking: "In view of the nature of his serious, incurable ailment, his death, which saved him from a life long institutional sojourn, is to be regarded merely as a release.
Some suggest a fourth motive. They say the Nazis calculate that for every 3 or 4 institutional cases, there must be one healthy German to look after them. This takes several thousand good Germans away from more profitable employment. If the insane are killed off, it is further argued by the Nazis, there will be plenty of hospital space for the war wounded should the war be prolonged and large casualties occur."
The first motive, however, that they were committed to save food, originated before these measures were brought in, and thus seems quite a logical conclusion. However when one looks at the result and when one compares 100,000 patients with eighty million as Shirer had done, the whole thing stands out as absurd.
The second reason, that the murders had been committed in order to experiment with new poisonous gases, also makes sense. In the beginning stages of the euthanasia programme, many experiments were carried out to find the most effective and fastest method of exterminating the victims.
The third motive which the Germans propagated themselves, was that these murderous actions were the result of extreme National Socialists who wanted to materialise their social-hygienic and social ideas. As the whole programme was kept strictly confidential and therefore was known only by a very few people, it seems as though the Nazis had carried it out themselves. However, from the history of the preparations for these murder actions, it is obvious [and in the following chapter we will go into this in detail] that it was the extremist psychiatrists and the Nazis who together put these ideas into action.
The fourth motive offered to Shirer by some Germans that new gases were used which deformed bodies and that this was the reason for the cremation of the mortal remains is also worth examining in more detail. The new gas which was used in the beginning was not so new. In fact it was simply carbon monoxide from combustion engines which did indeed deform bodies. The patients usually died under circumstances which caused deformations [some of the bodies discoloured and excrement and other fluids ran out]. It is evident that they were often in a condition which did not permit them to be put in a coffin and to be transferred. A further point which must be considered is that such a corpse, if returned to relatives would hardly have stood up to an examination to confirm the cause of death, should the family have wanted it.
The distressing thing about Shirer's Diary is that he received his information from Germans not as a rumour but as fact, and obviously obtained it first hand. He describes the Nazis as sociologists and probably uses this term as a collective term which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociohygienists and mental hygienists. And his conclusion is correct. They were racial, they served as tools to pass the Sterilisation Laws, they exerted pressure to direct the national politics towards the elimination of the mentally ill and they were very successful in all these. Shirer's claim that German sociologists had many supporters abroad was also valid.
Joseph Harsch the second American journalist in Berlin, confirms Shirer's information in his book "Pattern for Conquest".
"Those who proposed it (the plan for euthanasia) are understood to have asked Hitler for a written edict, or law which would officially authorise them to proceed with the "mercy killings". Hitler is represented as having hesitated for several weeks. Finally, doubting that Hitler would ever sign the official order the proponents of the project, drafted a letter for him to sign which merely expressed his, Hitler's, general approval of the theory of euthanasia as a means of relieving incompetents of the burden of life. While this letter did not have the character of law it was adequate in Nazi Germany. The Führer had expressed approval of the practice. It went ahead."Following the Knauer case, a group of competent specialists were called to the Reich Chancellery to form a Euthanasia Committee. Psychiatrist, and ministerial adviser for health in the Reich Ministry, SS Oberführer Dr. Herbert Linden, was appointed as its head. Later Linden was to act as liaison between the Chancellery and the Reich Health Service, which was attached to the Ministry of the Interior and led by Reich Doctor Führer Leonardo Conti. The founding of this committee was the first of what were to become regular meetings of the medical advisers for the purpose of better estimating the necessary administrative and technical facilities.
Lindens committee consisted of:
Professor Hans Heinze, Chief of the Brandenberg Mental Institute.
Professor Werner Catel, Lecturer in Neurology and Psychiatry at Leipzig University and head of the Paediatric Clinic in Leipzig.
Dr. Helmut Unger, Ophthalmologist, author of a novel on the euthanasia question ("Mission and Conscience") and Press liaison officer for the Reich Doctor Führer Dr. Wagner.
Dr. Ernst Wentzler Paediatrician.
Linden rapidly expanded the committee with the following additional specialists for neurology and psychiatry:
Professor Max de Crinis, Lecturer in Neurology and Psychiatry at Berlin University, secret agent and friend of Waiter Schellenburg-who held a high post in the Nazi Secret Service. [Dr. Crinis was involved in the Venlo Incident staged shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War in which two British and a Dutch Intelligence agent were kidnapped by the Germans].
Professor Berthold Kihn, Lecturer in Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Jena.
Professor Carl Schneider, Lecturer in Neurology and Psychiatry at Heidelberg University.
Dr. Hermann Pfannmüller, who was Dr. Faltlhauser's assistant in the Asylum at Kaufbeuren and as of 1938 Director of the Mental Hospital Eglfing-Haar.
Dr. Bender - director of the Buch Mental Hospital near Berlin.
A short time later the special advisers to T4 were attached:
Professor Werner Heyde, Lecturer in Neurology and Psychiatry at Würzburg University.
Professor Paul Nitsche, Lecturer in Psychiatry at Halle University up to 1939. Director of the Sonnenstein institute near Pirna, which became one of the murder schools.
Now having the necessary advice from the "experts" about the size of the problem, of numbers, where, when, how, who, etc., the administrative machinery of T4 was put together. The programme had been drawn, the task could commence.
Return to Introduction
Return to Table of Contents