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  • Complete overview of the Nazi Aktion T4 centres used to euthanise the disabled and psychiatric patients

    Nazi program for involuntary euthanasia

    History of the Aktion T4

    The murder of thousands of disabled and psychiatric patients
Aktion T4, the Nazi program for involuntary euthanasia

Aktion T4 was the name for the mass murder by involuntary euthanasia in Nazi Germany's eugenics program based on "mercy killing" and mandatory sterilization. As soon as 1925, in his book "Mein Kampf", Hitler left no doubt that in the long run, only the Aryan race had the right to exist. When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, the improvement of the race of the German people was therefore high on the agenda. For example, with the introduction of the Nuremberg Race Laws, sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and non-Aryans were banned. Almost at the same time, the “Lebensborn project” was launched, which aims to increase the birth rate of pure bred Aryan children.

The program started in October 1939 on the orders of Adolf Hitler. The office that had to implement this Sonderprogram worked under the leadership of Philipp Bouhler a German senior Nazi Party functionary who was both a Reichsleiter (National Leader) and Chief of the Chancellery of the Führer of the NSDAP. He was also the SS official responsible for the Aktion T4 euthanasia program that killed more than 250.000 disabled adults and children in Nazi Germany, as well as co-initiator of Aktion 14f13, also called "Sonderbehandlung" ("special treatment") that killed between 15.000 - 20.000 concentration camp prisoners. 

Also appointed as an organiser was Karl Brandt Hitler's personal physician. Trained in surgery, Brandt joined the Nazi Party in 1932. A member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof, he was selected by Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's Chancellery, to administer the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Brandt was later appointed the Reich Commissioner of Sanitation and Health (Bevollmächtigter für das Sanitäts- und Gesundheitswesen). Accused of involvement in human experimentation and other war crimes, Brandt was indicted in late 1946 and faced trial before a US military tribunal along with 22 others in United States of America v. Karl Brandt. He was convicted, sentenced to death and later hanged on 2 June 1948.

The name T4 is derived from the address of their office, Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin.

What was the goal of the Aktion T4

The goal of the Aktion T4 program was to preserve the genetic purity of the Germanic people by systematically murdering people who were disfigured, disabled or suffering from some form of psychiatric illness. Arguments to justify this murder were the in Nazi eyes "meaningless existence" and the "meaningless suffering" of these patients. The purification program was called "mercy killing" because the Nazi doctors saw it as an act of mercy and presented it as the most humane way to put these sick out of their suffering. This thesis belonged to Karl Brandt, Gruppenführer in the SS and Generalleutnant in the Waffen-SS. He was sentenced to death in the Medical Trial, one of the Nuremberg Trials, and later hanged. In addition, there were also economic considerations: those who worked in the care of the disabled could not serve as a soldier or work in the war industry.

Disabled children were separated from their families and taken to special hospitals. The media at the time responded to the fear that within a few years a large part of the German people would be mentally disturbed, reason to act as quickly as possible. The word "euthanasia" was not used in Nazi propaganda, leaving the real intentions of the Nazis (at the beginning) undiscovered. The program was later expanded to include adults, most of whom underwent compulsory sterilization.

Major Aktion T4 Euthanasia Center locations

Euthanasia Center Bernburg

from November 21, 1940

Euthanasia Center Hadamar

from January 1941

Euthanasia Center Sonnenstein

from June 1940

Euthanasia Center Hartheim

from May 6, 1940

Brandenburg an der Havel

from February 8, 1940

Euthanasia Center Grafeneck

from January 20, 1940

The involuntary euthanaisa was carried out by gassing, asphyxiation, injections, poisoning, starvation and drug overdoses. The first experiments with gas vans were carried out in March 1940 at the hospital in Kochanowka near Łódź. Soon after, the Nazis conducted further experiments in which they poured carbon monoxide from the exhaust of a truck into a closed room. Many of these exterminations were overseen by psychiatrists Carl Hans Heinze Sennhenn and Werner Villinger. Sennhenn supplied hundreds of brains to Nazi researchers. Werner Villinger conducted experiments on humans before sending them to death. Even before the Holocaust, the first gas chambers were built in Hartheim, where adults in particular were killed with carbon monoxide.

The SS functionaries and hospital staff associated with Aktion T4 in the German Reich were paid from the central office at Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin from the spring of 1940. The SS and police from SS-Sonderkommando Lange responsible for murdering the majority of patients in the annexed territories of Poland since October 1939, took their salaries from the normal police fund, supervised by the administration of the newly formed Wartheland district; the programme in Germany and occupied Poland was overseen by Heinrich Himmler.

How many disabled and psychiatric patients died?

Before 2013, it was believed that 70.000 people were murdered in the euthanasia programme. Recently the German Federal Archives reported that research in the archives of former East Germany indicated that the number of victims in Germany and Austria from 1939 to 1945 was about 200.000 people and that another 100.000 people were victims in other European countries. The German T4 centres upheald the resemblance of legality in keeping records and writing letters.

In Polish psychiatric hospitals no one was left behind. Killings were inflicted using gas-vans, sealed army bunkers and machine guns; families were not informed about the murdered relatives and the empty wards were handed over to the SS.

The start of Aktion T4

Adolf Hitler's order to commence Aktion T4 dated September 1, 1939. The same day Germany invaded Poland and started World War 2.

T4 office building Berlin
Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin the address of the office of the secret euthanasia organization Aktion T4
The office of the secret euthanasia organization. Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin

Philipp Bouhler
Philipp Bouhler, NSDAP Reichsleiter Head of the T4 program
NSDAP Reichsleiter
Head of the T4 program
Born: 11 September 1899
Died: 19 May 1945 (aged 45)

Karl Brandt
 Karl Brandt Hitler's doctor and organiser of Aktion T4
One of Adolf Hitler's doctors and the organiser of Aktion T4
Born: 11 September 1899
Died: 19 May 1945 (aged 44)

Viktor Hermann Brack
 Viktor Hermann Brack Chief of Office II
Chief of Office II
Born: 9 November 1904
Died: 2 June 1948 (aged 43)
In Germany ± 200.000 people were murdered by gassing, asphyxiation, poison injections, starvation and drug overdoses during the T4 program. Another 100.000 people were victims from other countries mainly from Eastern Europe.
Temporary stop due to pressure from the church

On 18 August 1941, Hitler temporarily halted the program under pressure from Cardinal Clemens August von Galen of the Catholic Church, other churches and families of the victims. More than 70.000 people had already been murdered by then. The German public resistance slowed down but not completely halted; the program was continued in utmost secrecy. Trained troops kept going. Some parts of the program were transferred to military concentration camps.

The murders continue

Many of those involved in the program also took an active part in the Holocaust. Some of them were engaged in the development of the gas chambers in Bełżec, Treblinka and Sobibór extermination camps as part of Aktion Reinhard. Besides Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek and Chełmno, these were the main sites of the murder of millions of people.

The results of the Aktion T4 program

By the end of 1941, every third resident of a mental institution in Germany was already dead, either from murder or from starvation, resulting in 93.000 beds available. An estimated 200.000 people died under the program. Hitler's grandniece, Aloisia Veit, was also among the victims. This program did not end in 1941. Doctors and nurses continued to perform in hospitals in Germany, Austria and Poland. The murders were carried out in such a way that the mistrust of the German population was minimized. Such precautions were not taken when people from the occupied territories were murdered. Brutal and violent action has been reported and recorded.

After the war

Doctors and nurses involved in the euthanasia program were by no means always brought to justice. Long after the founding of the new German states in 1949, senior officials escaped prosecution and continued to work in the German healthcare system. On 8 July 2013, the Federal Minister of Culture laid the foundation stone for a monument to the victims of this project in Tiergartenstraße, where the office of the service stood.

Clemens A. von Galen
 Clemens August von Galen, Bisschop of Münster

Born: Dinklage, 16 march 1878
Died: Münster, 22 march 1946

Bisschop of Münster
His beatification process was initiated in 1955 and concluded positively in November 2004. On October 9, 2005, he was beatified in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome by the Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, the Prefect of the Congregation for Beatifications and Canonizations.

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