Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and the theme is ‘The Power of Words’ so I wanted to write about some powerful words, which don’t mean a great deal to many people in respect of the Jewish Holocaust, as it’s an aspect, which remains a hidden story.
The words are the T4 Euthanasia Programme and the name Gerhardt Kretschmar.
This baby boy had the misfortune to be born learning disabled, blind and with malformed limbs, to Nazi parents who were horrified that he was in their opinion “defective”.
So at the age of only 5 months this baby’s own parents sent a letter to Hitler. After he gave his permission, Gerhardt was murdered by poisoning and this act heralded the implementation of Hitler’s vision, the wide scale murder of disabled children and adults.
Dr Karl Brandt, whose crimes against disabled people came to light, during his trial at Nuremberg for the murder of Russian and Polish prisoners, administered a drug to Gerhardt and after 5 days he died.
Gerhardt Kretschmar was referred to by the doctor, as a “creature”.
After Gerhardt’s death was verified by several Nazi doctors, the institutionalized murder of disabled children was rolled out across Germany and expanded into Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland at clinics and hospitals.
Poison was often used but another common method of murder was starvation.
Parents who fought the removal of their learning disabled or physically disabled children were told that they need not worry and that their children were being taken away for treatment.
After their children were murdered, the parents would receive a letter telling them their children had died from natural causes and that their bodies had been burned in order to prevent infection.
In truth their children’s bodies were thrown into mass graves and forgotten.
For disabled adults in Germany voluntary sterilizations had been an option since 1932 however in 1933 enforced sterilizations of disabled adults began. The idea was that inherited conditions diluted the pure blood of the Aryan race.
The definition of disability also included alcoholism.
In schools, in newspapers and in cinemas German people were indoctrinated against any resistance with adverts, which detailed disabled people as “useless eaters” or in hospitals the forerunner to the phrase ‘bed blockers’ who were utilizing precious resources like food and preventing these resources reaching “hardworking” Germans.
Disabled people were described as unproductive and “taking the bread from the mouths of decent Germans”
In August 1939 midwives and doctors were instructed to notify the “General Foundation for Welfare and Institutionalized Care” of the birth of any “defective children”.
This government department was based on Tiergartenstrasse 4, in Berlin.
This address would become the codename for institutionalized murder of disabled people. In this building Doctors would read the reports and mark the children for death if they failed to reach the sufficient point score of their imagined master race.
As the killings continued a new more effective method was introduced. Vans began arriving at hospitals and clinics and the disabled patients were told to gather, remove their clothes and take a shower.
Then Zyklon B gas was pumped into the sealed shower room through the vents from the vans with their engines running outside.
This was the first known use of the industrial scale murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children in the Nazi death camps of the second world war.
In total it’s estimated that 300,000 disabled people were murdered under the T4 Euthanasia Programme. 8000 of whom were disabled children. The enforced sterilizations are believed to have been performed on 340,000 adults.
I believe that all of us would do well to remember this hidden story of the Jewish holocaust.
When we see our democratically elected politicians, mock a physically disabled journalist, reference sterilizing unemployed people, blame the elderly for the NHS crisis, impose fitness to work programs on severely ill and disabled people, sanction them into starvation or suggest that food banks are a good thing; we should know that this has all been done before.
I believe that it’s easy to forget how notions such as these take hold and turn ordinary people into enablers of fascist doctrine. There is a notion that it couldn't happen again now but it didn't begin with concentration camps it began with slowly eroding our natural maternal and paternal attitudes to vulnerability and disability, with propaganda that permeates all of society.
It is terrifying and sobering to remember how easily we can all be manipulated to hate and “other” our friends and family and neighbours; only because it’s politically expedient to do so.
So I’m relaying this dark truth here, because the power of words are our collective weapon.