Nazi ‘so called’ Euthanasia Programme

Much continues to be written about war crimes by the SS and Gestapo during the Second world War and this short piece is intended to bring attention to the mass murder of German civilians including children who through illness were regarded ‘worthless idiots’ and an unnecessary burden on German society.

In current parlance the term euthanasia refers to the practice of so-called ‘mercy killing’ commonly described as the painless ending of life of a person who is terminally ill and only at their request. Although the Nazis used the term euthanasia they described it as the “Destruction of worthless life”.

The following British translations of Nazi documents discovered by the allies are among the many I studied at university.

In the 1920s Professor Karl Binding a former president of the Reichsgericht, the highest criminal court, and Professor Alfred Hoch, Professor of Psychiatry at Freiburg University wrote a book called “Permission for the Destruction of Worthless Life, its Extent and Form.” 

Binding and Hoch believed “because of the war {WW1} and the alleged expansion in the numbers of ‘mental defectiveness’ as a result of exaggerated humanitarianism, Germany had become intolerably lumbered with living burden who were absorbing a disproportionate amount of resources which ought to be devoted to a national revival.”

They also said the state should be allowed to kill “the incurable lunatics, irrespective of whether they were born as such or whether they are paralytics in the final stage of their condition… Their life is completely worthless… they represent a terrible heavy burden for their relatives as well as society.

This Nazi eugenics poster from 1935 illustrates what they believed to be the dangers of allowing so-called genetic undesirables to live, reproduce, and account for a larger percentage of the gene pool than those with desired traits. (Federal German Archives)

Hoch also said:

I can find no reason, either from a legal or from a social or from a moral, or from a religious standpoint for not giving permission for the killing of these people.

Both also stressed the enormous financial cost involved in maintaining what they called “Idiots” and went on to say … “There was a time which we regarded as barbaric, in which the elimination of those who were born or became unviable was regarded natural. Then came the phase we are in now, in which finally the maintenance of any, even the most worthless existence is considered the highest moral duty: a new period will come which on the basis of a higher morality, will cease continually implementing the demands of an exaggerated concept of humanity and an exaggerated view of the value of human life”.    

After the Nazi Party took power in 1933, these views were officially endorsed in its most extreme form as national socialism established itself on the belief of biological materialism governed by social Darwinism and the belief that human life was a struggle for the survival of the fittest which meant ‘performance’ had to be essential for all citizens.

During the Nuremburg Party Rally on 5 August 1929 Hitler said:

“If Germany was to get a million children a year and was to remove 700 to 800,000 of the weakest people, then the final result might even be an increase in strength…The most dangerous thing is for us to cut off the natural process of selection and thereby gradually rob ourselves of the possibility of acquiring able people…”  

The Children’s Euthanasia Program

(Federal German Archives)

The following passage describes a ‘children’s asylum’ near Munich during a visit by members of the Nazi Party and SS officers on 16 February 1940, when a senior doctor was describing his facilities.

“We have children here aged from one to five. All these creatures represent… a burden for our nation… With these words he pulled a child out of its cot. While this fat, gross man displayed the whimpering skeletal little person like a hare which he had caught he coolly remarked: ‘Naturally we don’t stop their food straight away. That would cause too much fuss. We gradually reduce their portions. Nature then takes care of the rest… This one won’t last more than two or three days.”

On 15 October 1942 a doctor wrote to a colleague: “We have found a lot of nice idiots in the Hirt Asylum in Strasbourg, request for transfer will follow.”

(Federal German Archives)

The Adult (and young people) Euthanasia Programme

The exact date is unknown but is thought to have been in June or July 1939 when Hitler ordered the programme to be extended to adults. There are a large number of documents relating to this part of the project, but the following short overview is intended to provide an insight into the mindset of the doctors, nurses and others involved in the Nazi Euthanasia Programme.

Disabled people being transported to camps for extermination (German Federal Archives)

There are many documented accounts of ‘ambulances’ arriving at homes to take disabled children and adults to clinics for treatment and relatives being unaware the exhaust pipes were pumping a lethal cocktail of fumes into the rear of the vehicle where the ‘patients’ were sitting.

 The killing of those considered unworthy to live was later stopped after several doctors complained about ambulances driving round for several miles but not killing all the ‘idiots,’ and several others complained it was too time consuming to kill them in the required numbers and more efficient methods had to be developed.  Some historians believe the Euthanasia Program was regarded as a learning process for later mass murder on an industrial scale at dedicated concentration camps.  

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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