The murder of disabled people who inaugurated the Nazi gas chambers | Babelia

The anti-Semitism and the will to assassinate European Jews was part of the Nazi ideology since the founding of the party and the persecutions began from their coming to power. However, historians still debate the exact moment at which the decision was made to begin industrial extermination in gas chambers, although there is a consensus that it took place in the second half of 1941. There was no written order from Adolf Hitler , but oral. In early 1942, after the Wannsee conference which was held on January 20, the Nazis launched the call Reinhard operation, the construction of extermination camps with gas chambers in the Polish territory annexed by Germany. That winter the Holocaust took on a new dimension that, however, had a precedent in the way of organizing the mass murder of human beings.

Numerous historians of the Shoah believe that the industrial extermination of European Jews, which makes the Holocaust a unique crime, unparalleled in history, was based on a model that the Nazis experienced since the beginning of World War II: the so-called T4 disabled murder program. “The murder of the disabled preceded that of the Jews and the gypsies and we can conclude that the T4 murder operation served as a model for the final solution,” writes the historian and survivor Saul Friedländer in his essay The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (The University of North Carolina Press, 2000), the most complete study on this program, unfortunately not translated into Spanish.

Laurence Rees, another great researcher of Nazism, writes in his book The Holocaust. The voices of the victims and the executioners (Criticism, 2017): “The outbreak of war did not only aggravate the sufferings of Jews and Poles. Other categories of people who had already been attacked in the past were also at a much higher risk; especially the physically and mentally disabled. The way they were treated from that moment, in turn, had a specific impact on the development of the Holocaust. ”

The extermination system that prevailed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, whose release marks 75 years this Monday with a ceremony attended by dozens of heads of state and government, as well as that of the other Nazi death camps - Belzec, Chelmo, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka -, in which Half of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust perished, cannot be understood without that first program. "The dead in T4 are the forgotten victims of the Holocaust," says Professor David Mitchell of George Washington University (USA) and co-director of the documentary Disposable Humanity (Disposable humanity) About the T4 program.

Driven directly by Hitler with the help of his personal physician, Karl Brandt, between 1939 and 1945, around 300,000 disabled people were killed in more than 100 hospitals. There were almost no survivors. Although the so-called Physicians Processes occurred at the end of the war, only a small part of the executioners were persecuted - it is the subject of the 2019 German film The shadow of the pastfrom the director of Other people's lives, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck–. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall were 33,000 files seized by the Stasi on T4 victims found. Children, women, men, defenseless and deceived, were mass murdered throughout the war.

Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.

Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. Getty Images

The Nazi Ministry of Interior directed this operation through an organization known as T4, because it was at number 4 of the Tiergartenstrasse, in Berlin. Since 2012, there is a monument of the German state in memory of the victims in that same direction. His mission was the murder of disabled people and people with mental illnesses that Hitler felt they did not deserve to live. As Professor Mitchell explains, the characteristics of the Holocaust were copied from the T4 program: “Transportation of victims to the place where they would be gassed; welcome by a committee of nurses and / or doctors to give victims a sense of calm and familiarity; checking medical records to determine their identities, followed by undressing and a superficial examination that was a check of their golden teeth and to invent a cause of credible false death; a gas chamber disguised as a shower; cremation of multiple bodies at the same time ”.

"I would not call it a prologue to the Holocaust, but it is clear that the same processes were used" - explains researcher Kenny Fries, who is currently writing a book about the Holocaust and the disabled and published an article on the subject in The New York Times- "such as the dehumanization of certain groups or the need for collaboration of many people inside and outside the Government". The decision to move the death camps to the East, far from the eyes of the Germans, was also a consequence of this atrocity. This massive murder of human beings demonstrated to the Nazis that they could turn the murder into an industry; but also that these massacres must occur far and in secret.

The T4 program showed that a significant number of doctors were willing to participate in the mass murder of human beings for racist reasons. A demonstration of gassing at the hospital in Sonnenstein-Pirna was attended by 200 doctors and only two refused to participate. Professor Mitchell explains that no action was taken against them. However, unlike what happened when the German Jews were deported in the midst of an accomplice silence, there were protests by important sectors of the population (Costa Gavras he addresses this issue in his movie about the Holocaust, Amen, based on the work The Vicar, by Rolf Hochhuth), which led Hitler to decide that the Holocaust be carried out far and in the greatest possible discretion (which did not prevent virtually all sectors of the Administration and many of the private sector from participating in the greatest crime of the history).

Monument at the station from which the Jews from Berlin were deported.

Monument at the station from which the Jews from Berlin were deported. REUTERS

Saul Friedländer explains that on Sunday, August 3, 1941, shortly after the invasion of the USSR when the Nazi expansion through Europe seemed unstoppable, Bishop Clemens von Galen in a sermon at Münster Cathedral attacked the authorities for the murders of Mentally ill and disabled. Protestant bishop Theophil Wurm Wüttemberg also protested publicly. "It was the only time in the history of the Third Reich that important representatives of the Christian churches in Germany expressed their public condemnation of the crimes committed by the Nazi regime," writes Friedländer.

This did not lead the Nazis to stop the massacres, because the murder of the Jews took priority even over the war effort and continued when the Nazis no longer had any hope of defeating the Allies, but hiding them. "The Führer had understood the risk he was facing the German population of being too openly cruel," he writes Géraldine Schwarz in his essay on memory and Nazism The amnesics History of a European family (Tusquets) “It is also one of the reasons why the Third Reich deployed absurd energy in organizing the extremely complex and expensive logistics of transporting Jews from Europe and the Soviet Union to exterminate them far from the sight of their countrymen in isolated fields in Poland". The Germans could sense that the Jews who had disappeared from their cities and towns faced terrible fate, and did not hesitate to seize their property or use their slave labor (that's what Schwarz's book is about, among other things); but mass murder was an intuition, not a certainty. But if something demonstrated the T4 program, it is that piety did not exist.

Books to understand the T4 program

- Holocaust survivor, born in Prague in 1932, Friedländer He is one of the great investigators of the Nazi crimes and author until the moment of the most important essay on T4, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (The University of North Carolina Press, 2000). His monumental work in two volumes on the Holocaust, which adds 1,600 pages, The Third Reich and the Jews (1939-1945), it has been translated by Ana Herrera for Gutenberg Galaxy and contains numerous references to this program.

- The amnesics. History of a European family (Tusquets, 2019, translation by Núria Viver Barri), with which Géraldine Schwarz won the European book of the year award, also talks about the T4 program and the way in which a part of the German population rebelled against it.

- Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, a compilation of studies on the operation of the extermination camp edited by Ysrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum in collaboration with the Washington Holocaust Museum, contains an essay titled "Nazi Doctors" by Robert Jay Lifton and Amy Hackett. Study the role of doctors in the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz and explain the program in detail. It has not been translated into Spanish.

- Two well-known films about Nazism, Amen of Costa Gavras, and the German film The shadow of the pastby Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Oscar winner for Other people's lives, treat the murder of the disabled. Both can be seen on the platform Filmin.


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