Saturday, 27 January 2018

"Life unworthy of living"

Nazi Propaganda Photo of a "useless eater"

Until very recently the name Gerhard Kretschmar was unknown.

This baby boy was born in February 1939, learning disabled, blind and with malformed and missing limbs, to farm worker nazi parents who were horrified that he was in their opinion “defective”.

Gerhard's father took his son to Dr Werner Catel a paediatrician at the University Children's clinic at Leipzig asking for his son to be killed. Dr Catel pointed out that this would be illegal.

So Kretschmar wrote to Hitler petitioning that the law be overruled. Hitler sent his own physician Dr Karl Brandt to consult with Gerhard's parents, Dr Cater and examine Gerhard. He confirmed that Gerhardt had the disabilities his parents described and that Gerhard was also, in his opinion, learning disabled. Hitler gave his permission.

Dr Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, 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 Gerhard and after 5 days he died.

Gerhard Kretschmar was referred to by the doctor, as a “creature” and by his parents as a "monster'.

After Gerhard’s death was verified by several Nazi doctors, the institutionalized murder of disabled children was rolled out across Germany. The authorisation operating  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. The program went under the title "Charitable foundation for Cure and Institutionalised Care"

After their children were murdered, the parents would receive a letter telling them their children had died from natural causes, a certificate registering a fictional illness and an urn containing their child's ashes. The explanantion for cremation was that their bodies had been burned in order to prevent infection.

In truth their children’s bodies were thrown into mass graves and forgotten. All this was conducted in secret.

For disabled adults in Germany voluntary sterilizations had been an option since 1932 however in 1933 the 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.

The wider rollout of the Aktion T4 Euthansaia programme to include disabled adults with downs syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, those with depression, elderly people with dementia, those with psychiatric illnesses and anything else deemed "undesirable" was timed to coincide with the invasion of Poland. The murder of disabled people was justified as being necessary to free up beds for returning injured German soldiers. German schoolchildren were taught about the cost and burden of disabled people on the state and were taught how much this was draining the state, in maths lessons.

Six extermination centres were set up across Germany : Brandenberg, Gradfeneck, Bernburg, Sonnestein, Hartheim and Hadamar where in one year alone 1940-1941, more than 70,000 disabled people were murdered in pursuit of their eugenics agenda. 
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 led to permannet gas chambers being built to increase the rate of muder.

Although secretive in nature the local people knew because the ash and hair of disabled people murdered then cremated in Hadamar fell on them in the locals streets. 

However what began in secret didn't remain that way. 

With Church leaders speaking out about the treatment of ill and disabled patients the T4 programme was officially closed however the killings continued.

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 the camps those who were deemed mentally ill or disabled had to wear a black triangle with the word Blöd on it. 
Blöd means stupid.

Doctors and nurses from the six hospital killing centres, oversaw the dismantling of the gas chambers and the reconstruction of them at the concentration camps.

The was also where Dr Mengele ran his unscientific medical experiments on children and adults. Of 1500 pairs of jewish twins experimented on by Mengele only two hundred survived.

In total it’s estimated that 300,000 disabled people were murdered under the Aktion T4 Euthanasia Programme. 8000 of whom were disabled children. The enforced sterilizations are believed to have been performed on 400,000 adults.

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 extermination centres, it began with slowly eroding our natural maternal and paternal attitudes to vulnerability and disability, with propaganda that permeated 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 convenient to do so. 
"Life unworthy of life" and the eugenics which fuelled it must be a lesson from disability history that is never allowed to be forgotten.