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By Natlia Quirk, Cold Spring Harbor
High School, New York (special
thanks to the US Holocaust
Memorial Museum for its stirring
pamphlet on the handicapped, from
which much of this information was drawn).
During the Holocaust, eleven million or more people perished under horrifying circumstances. Six million of these people were Jews.
The other five million were aliens and others who were found "unfit" for Hitler's ideal "Aryan race."
A portion of these Nazi outcasts were the handicapped. The hell of the disabled during the war began in Berlin, Germany, in 1933. Their unhappy fates were sealed in a meeting where the plan for the execution of the unfortunates was labeled the "T-4 Project." In essence, Germany's own handicapped were the first group to suffer under Hitler's racial bias and "ethnic cleansing."
Although the ideas of sterilization did not begin in Germany, it was Hitler who took the idea of creating the perfect "master race" to the extreme. His sterilization procedures were forced upon people with diseases which were believed to be hereditary, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, manic depression, retardation, blindness, deafness, physical deformities, and even severe alcoholism. Sterilizations began in 1934 with vasectomies for men and the ligation of the ovarian tubes in women. There were also several accounts of radiation. Thousands of people died as a result of these operations. The rate of sterilization, to control race policies, eventually became too slow for the Nazi Party. The sterilizations had merely been a forerunner of what would become "euthanasia" killings. Hitler decreed that all patients, who were incurably ill in mental institutions, were to be "mercifully" killed. Doctors were sent to asylums where they were given forms completed by a patient's physician on the health of the patient. Hitler's doctors then decided whether the person would be allowed to live or be taken to a center in Germany or Austria were they were killed by lethal injection.
In 1940, a Dr. Werner Heyde suggested to Hitler that a more appropriate method of killing would be by carbon monoxide gas. The first gassings took place at Brandenburg Prison in 1939. The chambers were disguised as showers, and the victims were deceived that they were only being washed. After death, the corpses were inspected for gold teeth then burned in crematoria. Ashes of the bodies were then sent, with false documents, reporting causes of death to relatives.
It was discovered after World War II that 70,273 people were gassed at the "euthanasia centers" from the beginning of 1940 to the end of 1941. After this time, the secrecy of the program was compromised when errors were made in maintaining conformity. The gas chambers and crematories were then dismantled and sent to concentration camps being constructed in Poland as part of the "final solution to the Jewish question."
The murder of handicapped people, however, did not end with the T-4 Project. Disabled persons were often shipped to camps with other outcasts, and several handicapped people were subjected to horrid medical experiments. Combined, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people perished under Germany's T-4 and euthanasia programs.
[ AETI 1998 Table of Contents ]
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