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Euthanasia in the Third Reich

The "Action T4"

Hitler himself commissioned the assassination program. The Nazis also called it "euthanasia" - a cynical alienation of the word that actually means an easy and beautiful death. The program ran under the code name "Aktion T4".

T4 stands for Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin. The headquarters of the campaign was located here. Its leader was the head of the "Chancellery of the Führer", Philipp Bouhler. Together with doctors, nurses and others, he carried out the killing of several thousand sick people and people with disabilities.

The procedure was precisely organized: as early as 1939, employees of the Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft Heil- und Pflegeenstalten sent registration forms to all relevant nursing homes and institutions in the German Reich.

A registration form had to be completed for each patient. The medical history, the length of stay, the ability to work and the chances of recovery were recorded.

The institutions contacted were not aware of the actual aim of the survey. On the basis of the registration forms, the experts in Berlin then decided whether the victims were allowed to live or had to die.

If the decision was made to die, the non-profit ambulance company delivered them to special killing centers. There, the patients were expected to die by gassing or lethal injection.

More than 100,000 victims

Within a year, the Nazis murdered more than 70,000 sick and disabled people. They cremated the corpses. So the relatives could not arrange an autopsy. They also sent letters stating the wrong cause and place of death.

Although the Nazis tried to keep "Aktion T4" a secret, their actions soon came to the public. The majority of the population was outraged.

Members of the church also protested against the inhumane actions of the Nazis - above all Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Bishop of Münster. He gave several condemning sermons.

Shortly afterwards, Hitler officially ended Operation T4. In secret, however, the killings continued until the end of the war. Between 1941 and 1945 about 30,000 other people fell victim to the euthanasia program.

Justification for the mass murders

The Nazis found different justifications for the mass murders of the sick and people with disabilities. Hitler once described it as an "act of grace", an "act of redemption". In this context, the Nazis often propagated a simple cost-benefit calculation.

On a propaganda poster of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) it was said: "This hereditary sick person costs the national community 60,000 RM for life.

In their opinion, the Nazis found an ultimate justification for their actions in biology. They mainly referred to a theory by Charles Darwin. Darwin assumed that there is a constant selection process in nature. In this, traits unfavorable for survival would automatically be eliminated.

The Nazis gave this thought a racist interpretation: "We are accelerating the selection process that exists in nature anyway. A process in which only the stronger race will prevail."