The alleged stopping of Euthanasia in Germany in 1941
At the beginning of the movie The Mad Women of Chaillot (1969) there is brief written prologue that goes:
This is story about Good Triumphing over Evil. Of course it is a fantasy.1
In this posting I am examining another fantasy of Good triumphing over Evil. In this case it is an historical fantasy of the triumph of Good over Evil, and like most such fantasies it is not altogether false but is distorted and conceals more than it reveals.
It is also a fantasy that helps people feel good and downplays just how really difficult it is to do good and by neglecting the failure, or more accurately turning failure into success it lies. However it does serve the purpose of helping to hide a shameful series of moral failures and in making people feel good about themselves and how supposedly easy it is to do good in difficult circumstances.
The example I’m giving is the Hitler’s order to stop the Euthanasia campaign in August of 1941 due to a sermon by a Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of Munster (Hereinafter Galen), (1878-1946). In August 1941 Galen gave his sermon and then arranged copies of his sermon to be widely distributed. The public disquiet was so clear that Hitler then ordered that the Euthanasia campaign be halted shortly after Galen gave his sermon. Thus many lives were saved and a brutal regime was forced to back away from its plans to kill even more. It is a nice appealing story which is however so distorted as to be a lie.2
The so-called Euthanasia murder policy had been set in motion in August of 1939 its purpose was to kill, mentally and physically handicapped individuals deemed to be burdens on the state and the most common description of the individuals marked for destruction was “useless eaters”.3 Already the Nazi state had sterilized more than 360,000 individuals and was proceeding to the next step.4
Sometime in early 1939 Hitler gave oral instructions to begin the killing of handicapped children, later in the year sometime in August 1939 and again orally Hitler gave orders to begin the killing of handicapped adults.5
During all this there was a considerable amount of preparation and planning done before the mass killings began, which took time but already some killing was already taking place.6 The killing of children was called Kdf and the murder of adults was called T-4. Those were the names of the programs for the murder of the mentally ill in Germany they do not include the murder of the handicapped in areas outside of Germany.
In fact the first mass killings of the mentally and physically handicapped occurred shortly during and shortly after the invasion of Poland. Beginning on September 22, 1939 and continuing for a few weeks c. 2000 mental patients from various Polish asylums were murdered in a wood near the town of Kocborowo. They were shot by specially trained SS death squads. In a grim forecast of what was to come inmates from a hospital in the town of Owinska were stuffed into a sealed room and killed by carbon monoxide gas. The massacre of mental and handicapped patients continued until more than 12,000 had been killed.7
When August 1939 Hitler gave the go ahead to start the mass murder of the handicapped it took some time for the program to set up. However it started in 1940 and continued well into 1941.
Although they used a variety of methods, like injections, starvation etc., the chief method of murder was gas. People would be sent too frequently by bus or truck to one of 6 different facilities and then after being “processed” they would be murdered by gas, in specially constructed chambers.
Now it is known that operation T-4 had a goal of terminating the lives of c. 70,000 people which was the goal that the Nazi’s, in this case specifically Hitler, selected for the program.8 The program was also centralized in terms of co-ordination and control and most of the killing in 1940-1941 was done in 6 centralized facilities. The program of murder was subject to bureaucratic centralized control and many if not most of the people staffing the program were Nazi fanatics or at least psychopathic in their attitudes towards their victims.9
The killing centers were Grafeneck, Brandenburg, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar. The inmates were told by the staff arranging them to be murdered, various stories, like they were going out on an excursion, that they were going to be medically examined and such like to put their minds at ease. At Hadamar the victims, who had been taken to the facility in buses, usually grey painted postal buses, were disembarked in one of a series of wooden garages and taken to the main building via a specially constructed wooden corridor. In the main building they were undressed and given military overcoats and then examined by a Doctor who would help in thus fabricating plausible causes of dearth to give to their loved ones.
The victims were then escorted into the basement / cellar. They were told they were going into a shower and jammed 60 at a time, into a small room and there by the turn of valve they were gassed to death by carbon monoxide gas. The victims took up to an hour to die. Experiencing terror, panic and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. It was not a pleasant death.
After fans got rid of what was left of the gas, “disinfectors”, cleaned up and disentangled the bodies. Those who had been marked before hand of potential interest would be autopsied in another room and their brain or other organs of interest sent to various Universities for more research. Gold teeth would of course be removed. The bodies were then burned in crematoria and the ashes randomly distributed into urns to be sent to the family. Bones would be crushed, if they did not fully burn.
People could see the thick cloud of ash from the asylum chimney after each transport to Hadamar and quickly but two and two together. Arrangements were made for families to have Urns with ashes and to deceive them into thinking the ashes came from near were the patient had been in an asylum. Further Doctors had ready a list of 62 possible reasons for death to send to the relatives of the deceased giving the fabricated “reason” for their loved one’s death. They used a carefully designed form letter that had space for a few personal details, to send these lies to the bereaved. Enclosed with this fraudulent letter would be 2 death certificates listing the false cause of death.10
Sometimes it is best to let the facts speak for themselves. I have nothing to add to the above description.
The six killing centers murdered the following numbers of people between 1940-1941.
Grafeneck – 9,839
Brandenburg - 9,772
Hartheim - 18,269
Sonnenstein - 13,720
Bernburg – 8,601
Hadamar - 10,072
Total - 70,273 11
Now the figures listed above are only for German patients murdered in Germany and exclude those murdered abroad; for example those killed in Poland. In this phase of the killing program it is rather sickening to report that c. ½ of the victims were in private or ecclesiastical institutions. It just wasn’t the state institutions that were corrupted by this murderous idea but private institutions including those run by various churches.12
The corrupting ideology behind the Euthanasia murder program was eugenics the idea that lives of certain classes of handicapped individuals were devoid of value and burden on the community at large and so ought to be terminated. The language of Euthanasia was used, but it was not allowing people, legally competent, who suffered from debilitating or terminal diseases to consent to or in fact take those own lives but simple murder. It can be stated without contradiction that “Euthanasia” was used as a smoke screen to hide the fact that it was murder. The fact that those carrying out the murders went to extraordinary efforts to deceive both patients and their families indicates that the killers knew that they were engaged in murder pure and simple.13
Has mentioned above in late August 1941 Hitler gave a stop order for T-4 and this was shortly after Galen gave a sermon and distributed copies of a hard hitting sermon. Not surprisingly many people have assumed a link and in fact they are not wrong, however they are wrong to assume it stopped the killing. The story of Galen’s sermon is as follows.
Galen was made Roman Catholic Bishop of Munster in 1933 and from the get go had a rocky relationship with the Nazis, who he regarded has upstart oafs. He was especially offended by what he saw as Nazi attacks on the church. It appears that Galen had been in receipt of information regarding the Euthanasia program since July 1940, but kept quiet for the time being. It is not completely clear why he kept quiet although it appears that like other members of the Church hierarchy who knew about the program he was concerned that any protest would simply backfire on the church. It appears that he considered going public in August 1940 but was talked out of it by Cardinal Bertram who was concerned about the possible negative effect on the church.
In July 1941 Galen was incensed about the seizure of Jesuit property in Munster by the Gestapo for state purposes decided to act.14 On August 3, 1941 Galen gave his sermon. In it he said:
If you establish and apply the principle that you can kill “unproductive” human beings, then woe betide us all when we become old and frail! If one is allowed to kill unproductive people, then woe betide the invalids who have used up, sacrificed and lost their health and strength in the productive process. If one is allowed forcibly to remove one’s unproductive fellow human beings, then woe betide loyal soldiers who return to the homeland seriously disabled, as cripples, as invalids …Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation, if God’s holy commandment “Thou shalt not kill!”, which God proclaimed on Mount Sinai amidst thunder and lightening, which God our Creator inscribed in the conscience of mankind from the very beginning, is not only broken, but if this transgression is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.15
We are not talking here about a machine, a horse, nor a cow …No, we are talking about men and women, our compatriots, our brothers and sisters. Poor unproductive people if you wish, but does this mean that they have lost their right to live?16
The Nazis were infuriated by Galen’s sermon and seriously considered arresting him and sending him to a concentration camp. Galen’s sermon was made illegal and possession of copies of it a crime and several people associated with the production, creation and distribution of the sermon jailed or sent to concentration camps along with people who had it in their possession. Copies were smuggled out of Germany and the allied powers dropped copies of it over German cities. There was even before Galen’s sermon a serious level of unease over the Euthanasia program, despite the effort to conceal and hide it. The Sermon raised the level of public awareness and unease. Creating a problem for the Nazis. Which wasn’t helped by the fact Galen tried to have murder charges levelled against some of those involved.17
Hitler was furious but decided to bide his time. Hitler said:
I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows that after the war I shall extract retribution down to the last farthing. And if he does not succeed in the meanwhile in getting himself transferred to the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts no “t” will remain uncrossed, no “i” left undotted.18
Fortunately for Galen Hitler and the Nazis lost the war and were therefore unable to extract vengeance on him.
Aside from infuriating Hitler and creating problems for the Nazis just what effect did Galen’s sermon have on T-4 and the Euthanasia killings? It appears that it played a role in stopping the program, so that Hitler gave a oral stop order in late August 1941, but was not the sole reason and probably not as important as two other reasons. First the T-4 killings had already achieved their goal in terms of the number of killings. Secondly the personal associated with T-4 were needed for the vastly greater killings being planned for in the east, of which the so-called Final Solution, was just a part.19
Also Kdf, the murder of children, was continued on Hitler’s express orders. Also continued was the murder of Concentration camp inmates and prisoners, under the Euthanasia banner called 14f13. Finally only the T-4 program stopped, not the killings. Instead of a centralized bureaucratic system with a few killing centers the program was decentralized and a lot was left to local initiative, strongly urged by the state.20
This is the so-called period of “Wild Euthanasia”, in which the killing was to a large extent decentralized and left to local initiative. The preferred methods of killing was not the mass gassing of the previous period but hunger and / or drug overdoses. Basically patients were frequently starved to death or deliberately given diets that caused severe bodily deterioration so that moderate injections of drugs would kill them.
This included such practices as feeding the patients diets without protein or other essential foods like fats, so that they would die more easily. Sometimes patients were simply, starved to death by not being fed at all. The usual deception and lying was done to conceal how the patient actually died from the bereaved relatives. This campaign continued right until the end of the war.21
An example of how “efficient” “Wild Euthanasia” could be is that between August 1942 and March 1945 4,817 patients were sent to Hadamar of those 4,442 died. A death rate over 90%.22
The records that were kept for the “Wild Euthanasia” killings are not very complete but it appears to have been considerably more than were killed in T-4. The absolute minimum figure seems to be 100,000.23
Aside from those killed above in both the T-4 gassing's and “Wild Euthanasia” there were those killed by starvation and / or medication before the end of T-4 those numbered c. 20,000. To this must be added those killed in KdF at least 5,000 and those killed in 14f13 c. 20,000.24
The above figures total 215,000 people murdered, and this figure is probably too low, and even so they do not include the tens of thousands non-Germans killed in the Euthanasia program in areas conquered by Germany. For example the over 10 thousand killed in Poland in 1939-1940, or the over ten thousand killed in the Soviet Union or the c. 40,000 killed in France. It appears that only c. 40,000 mental patients survived the war in Germany.25
Thus this series of programs, under the Euthanasia euphemism, altogether murdered at least 275,000 human beings and the actual figure is probably over 300,000. Compared to other massacres carried out during World War II by the Nazis this may seem small but remember it is over a ¼ of a million human beings and probably close to 1/3 of a million.
At most c. 95,000 were murdered before the stop order of August 1941 most of the victims were murdered, even in Germany, after the stop order was given. The stop order was not to stop the killings but to stop the mass gassing's of inmates. The killing was ordered to go on by other methods and did so with great, indeed horrible success.
Galen’s very brave public statement although infuriating to the Nazi authorities and very embarrassing did not stop the killing. What it helped to stopped was a particular mode of killing that it must be remembered had already achieved its stated goal when it was stopped and further its practitioners were being prepared for another campaign of murder so that they were willing to for gore for the time being. Also as I’ve said before the killing did not stop at all it went on and on using other methods. Galen’s protest despite postwar myths did not stop the Euthanasia campaign. That particular hopeful myth must be laid to rest. To quote:
Hitler’s stop order of August 1941 did not end the destruction of those considered “unworthy of life.” The belief that his stop order ended the killings is based on postwar myth. The stop order applied only to the killing centers; mass murder of the handicapped continued by other means. Moreover the stop order did not apply to children’s euthanasia, which had never utilized gas chambers. As with children, after the stop order physicians and nurses killed handicapped adults with tablets, injections and starvation. In fact, more victims of Euthanasia perished after the stop order was issued than before.26
1. I’m relying on my memory since it has been 30+ years since I’ve seen the movie.
2. An excellent example of this myth is A Lost Chance to save the Jews, in The New York Review of Books, April 27, 1989, by Conor Cruise O’Brien at Here. See also O’Brien’s response to a letter critiquing his view of the stop Euthanasia order at Here, dated October 26, 1989.
3. Chorover, Stephan L, From Genesis to Genocide, MIT Press, Cambridge MASS, 1979, quoted on p. 101.
4. Evans, Richard J., The Third Reich at War, Penguin Books, London, 2008, p. 77.
5. Friedlander, Henry, The Origins of Nazi Genocide, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1995, pp. 39-41, 62-64.
6. Burleigh, Michael, Death and Deliverance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 93-129, Friedlander, pp. 62-80, Evans, pp. 77-90, Muller-Hill, Benno, Murderous Science, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 39-45.
7. Evans, pp. 75-77.
8. IBID, pp. 99-100.
9. Burleigh, pp. 93-161, Muller-hill, pp. 39-65.
10, Burleigh, pp. 144-153, Friedlander, pp. 107-110.
11. Friedlander, p. 109.
12. Burleigh, p. 173.
13. IBID, pp. 43-92, 183-219, Friedlander, pp. 23-38, Chorover, pp. 93-104, Muller-Hill, pp. 7-13, Lifton, Robert Jay, The Nazi Doctors, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1986, pp. 22-44.
14. Burleigh, pp. 175-178.
15. IBID, quoting Galen, p. 178.
16. Lifton, quoting Galen, p. 94.
17. Burleigh, pp. 178-180, Evans, pp. 97-101, Lifton, pp. 90-95.
18. Burleigh, quoting Hitler, p. 178.
19. Friedlander, pp. 151-163, Lifton, pp. 135-148, Evans, 100-101, Sereny, Gitta, Into That Darkness, Andre Deutsch, London, 1974, pp. 79-90.
20. Friedlander, pp. 39-61, 131-163, Lifton, pp. 96-102, 134-146, Burleigh, pp. 93-129, 220-266, Evans, pp. 524-530, Muller-Hill, pp. 15, 63-65.
22. Evans, p. 527.
23. Muller-Hill, p. 65, Friedlander, p. 151, Chorover, p. 101.
24. Lifton, p. 142, Friedlander, pp. 61, 150.
25, Muller-Hill, p. 65, Evans, 528-530, Burleigh, pp. 220-237, Friedlander, pp. 151-163, Chorover, p. 101.
26. Friedlander, p. 151.