CHURCH OUTCRY ENDS NAZI T-4 KILLING PROGRAM

Berlin, Germany · August 24, 1941

On this date in 1941 Adolf Hitler cancelled the Aktion T‑4 eutha­na­sia pro­gram that he had person­ally put in place in Septem­ber 1939. Nor­mally Hitler had a policy of not issuing written instruc­tions for poli­cies relating to what would later be called “crimes against human­ity,” but he made an excep­tion when he pro­vided written author­ity for the eutha­na­sia pro­gram in a confi­den­tial Octo­ber 1939 letter. In the months since its intro­duction, the eutha­na­sia pro­gram, known as T‑4 after its Berlin address at Tier­garten­strasse 4, had pro­voked strong opposi­tion from both the German public and influen­tial church leaders, partic­ularly the Bishop of Muenster, August von Galen. Von Galen’s ser­mons broke the secrecy that had hither­to sur­rounded the pro­gram, which he pro­tested was unlaw­ful by Ger­man and divine law (Fifth Com­mand­ment). Despite its can­cel­la­tion, Aktion T‑4 operated unofficially until the end of the Nazi regime in 1945.

The prin­ci­pal archi­tect and co-director of the T-4 pro­gram was none other than Hitler’s per­sonal phy­si­cian, Dr. Karl Brandt. T‑4 phy­si­cians system­at­ically killed those deemed “unworthy of life” (“lebens­un­faehig”), including those con­sidered “genet­ically in­ferior,” “racially defi­cient” (Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies), “mal­ad­justed” (usually teen­agers), and men­tally or physi­cally im­paired. Even German civil­ians who suffered men­tal break­downs after air raids were “selected for treatment.” As a result of the T‑4 pro­gram, by the end of 1941 between 75,000 and 100,000 chil­dren and adults had been killed by lethal in­jec­tion, star­va­tion, or in gas­sing instal­la­tions designed to look like shower stalls (a foretaste of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps). Parents or relatives of those killed were typically informed that the cause of death was pneumonia or a similar ailment, and that the body had been cremated. Other bodies were secretly buried.

Opera­tion Bar­ba­rossa, the June 1941 inva­sion of the Soviet Union two months earlier, opened up rich new opportu­nities for newly dis­placed T‑4 person­nel, and they soon set them­selves up in the con­quered eastern terri­tories working on a vastly greater killing pro­gram: the “final solu­tion of the Jewish question.” In the con­cen­tra­tion and death camps in Poland, Brandt over­saw and par­ti­ci­pated in sadis­tic “medi­cal experi­ments” on inmates. At the post­war Nurem­berg trials, Brandt was the lead medi­cal defen­dant. Unrepen­tant to the end, he was convicted and sentenced to hang, an act carried out on June 2, 1948.





Aktion T-4, the Nazis’ Euthanasia Program, 1939–1945

Circa 1938 Nazi euthanasia poster Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, 1878–1946

Left: This circa 1938 poster reads: “60,000 Reichs­marks is what this per­son suf­fering from a heredi­tary defect costs our com­munity during his life­time. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read Neues Volk (New People or New Nation), the monthly magazine of the Office of Racial Policy of the NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party].” Many of the poli­tical ini­tia­tives of the Nazis arose from within the scien­tific com­munity, and Ger­man medi­cal jour­nals openly dis­cussed the need to find solutions to Germany’s Jewish and gypsy “problems,” among others.

Right: “Lion of Muenster,” Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen. Polit­ically con­ser­vative and a sup­porter of Nazi nation­alism early on, Bishop von Galen came to decry Hitler’s per­se­cu­tion of the Catholic Church. He attempted to stop the Nazis’ eutha­na­sia pro­gram, denouncing it from the pulpit in 1941. He also con­demned Nazi depor­ta­tions of Jews to the East. A ser­mon he gave in 1941 served as the inspi­ra­tion for the anti-Nazi group “The White Rose,” and the ser­mon it­self was the group’s first pam­phlet. Von Galen suf­fered virtual house arrest from 1941 on­wards. Although he did not parti­ci­pate in the July 1944 assas­si­na­tion attempt on Hitler’s life, the Nazis linked him to it, and he was sub­se­quently impri­soned in Sachsen­hausen concen­tration camp until its liber­ation. He died in 1946, the same year he was appointed cardinal by Pope Pius XII.

Hartheim Euthanasia Center, Austria Hadamar Euthanasia Center, Hessen, Germany

Left: The Hartheim Euthanasia Center near Linz in Aus­tria was one of six eutha­na­sia insti­tutes in the Third Reich. Over a period of 16 months between May 1940 and Septem­ber 1, 1941, 18,269 peo­ple were killed at Hart­heim. In all it is esti­mated that a total of 30,000 peo­ple were mur­dered there. Among them were the sick and the handi­capped, as well pri­soners from concen­tration camps too ill to work, such as those from nearby Maut­hausen-Gusen. The killings were carried out using carbon monoxide poisoning.

Right: The German town of Hadamar in the state of Hessen housed a psychi­atric clinic where 10,072 men, women, and chil­dren were asphyx­iated with car­bon mon­ox­ide in a gas cham­ber designed to look like a shower in the first phase of the T‑4 killing opera­tions there (January to August 1941). Another 4,000 died through star­va­tion and by lethal injec­tion until March 1945. Hadamar citi­zens were aware of what was taking place at their clinic, espe­cially since the cre­ma­tion pro­cess was faulty. This often resulted in a cloud of stinking smoke hanging over the town. Local students would often taunt each other by saying “You’ll end up in the Hadamar ovens!”

Military Tribunal No. 1, Nuremberg, Germany, November 1946: The United States of America vs. Karl Brandt and Twenty-Three Other Defendants (aka “The Medical Case”)