Holocaust Eugenics coverage shouldn’t exclude disabled people

Nicky Clark
nazi1 235x300 Holocaust Eugenics coverage shouldnt exclude disabled people

Nazi Poster - translation: 60,000 Reich marks. What this person suffering from is hereditary defects costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Comrade, that is your money too.

Last night, as part of the BBC’s fantastic Olympic coverage, a short documentary was shown on nature versus nurture and the triumph of black athletes in the face of racism and oppression, competing in the men’s 100 metres for the past 100 years.

I’d missed the beginning but tweeted about eugenics and the abhorrent practices of this philosophy. It was touted as science and the origins of the T4 Euthanasia project began as a way of cleansing German society of “undesirable” disabled German children. Most shocking to me is that the killing began after the parents of a severely disabled boy had written to Hitler seeking permission to kill their “defective” son and he had agreed.

Then I started receiving tweets from those who hadn’t missed the start of the film but who were shocked that this part of disability history had been overlooked.

I was able to see the film in its entirety on iPlayer. I was deeply moved by the beauty of the film, by the celebration of the athletes who struggled and who triumphed against unbelievable odds of discrimination.

Unbelievably to me though, in the section of the documentary detailing the atrocities of the Nazi Eugenics regime, disabled people had been excluded from mention. The list rightly detailed Roma, the ‘promiscuous’, gay people, communists and Jewish people but the hundreds of thousands of disabled men women and children were ignored.

This is the BBC. They have at their disposal archives and resources far in excess of mine however this untold and shameful aspect of the Holocaust isn’t often spoken about. There was no one to speak out for disabled people when their extermination was permitted, but this should make us more determined that their murders should never be forgotten, because it is from the secret legacy of the past that we gain a glimpse of the future.

As the Nazi stranglehold on Germany rolled forward, on the 14th of July 1933 the Law for the prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases made sterilization of disabled people compulsory.

The Nazis so enamoured by their myth of racial purity were also terrified by the notion that disabled people were thriving and would eventually dominate, thereby “polluting” the gene pool and exterminating their myth of perfection. Using Social Darwinism in its most sickening form they began to murder disabled children by lethal injection. This was a slow process, so they perfected a method of gassing children and the mobile gas vans began rolling up to the institutions and sanatoriums special schools and clinics. Parents whose disabled children lived at home were lied to. They were told their children were going to receive dedicated treatment to help them.

Estimates suggest that 5000 disabled children were murdered in total.

Later doctors and midwives were instructed that all new disabled babies had to be registered. With a tick chart doctors would decide which babies would live and which would die. This was expanded to adults and encompassed those considered to be “feebleminded”. Originally meant to describe mental illness the criteria was further expanded.

Some records show that more than 200,000 disabled people were murdered in the Holocaust but the official record keeping halted when Hitler ended the programme after it became more widely known and objected to. However the killings continued in secret.

There is however one notorious hospital which was officially sanctioned by the Nazis. Mentally ill people entered the sanatorium at Hadamar and never left.  Its secret history estimates that 10,000 psychiatric patients were murdered here.

In the war trials that followed seven staff members were tried for killing Russian and Polish soldiers and the evidence that was revealed finally told the hideous truth about the “special measures” reserved for those disabled people who did not fit with societal norms.

This truth was released as deliberate propaganda being promoted in newspapers and in schools. German children were taught to hate in their lessons. A typical mathematical question posed to millions of German children would be how much it might cost for a disabled person who didn’t work and occupied a hospital bed when there wasn’t enough money for wounded soldiers or new homes to be built. Ad campaigns featuring pictures of disabled people asked “why should disabled people take bread from decent non-disabled German mouths?”

A quote from the Holocaust memorial website details the responses from the disabled children when the soldiers came for them. Children who had down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, were blind deaf or learning disabled were terrified.

“Although these experts did not actually see or examine the children concerned they made decisions marking a plus or a minus sign on the reports. A plus sign meant that the child was to be murdered. The children singled out for extermination were then transferred to special wards in hospitals and clinics where they were murdered. The sanatorium at Hadamar received such children. A sister who worked at a children’s home, run by nuns, remembered the day Nazi officials took the children away: Some of the patients hung on to the nuns for dear life. They felt what was happening… They cried and they screamed. Even the helpers and doctors cried. It was heartbreaking.”

The truth is this secret aspect of the Holocaust needs to be remembered.

If the BBC can’t manage to accept disabled people into its commenting on eugenics, I can only assume it’s through ignorance.

To me it’s simply a case of the most potent and enduring concept of memorial made more significant by last night’s omission. The disability history of the Holocaust the murder of those deemed sub human and marked out with a black triangle and selected for death must be remembered, otherwise this type of hatred will prosper and grow and rise again.

The phrase of the presenter who introduced the ‘nature versus nurture’ documentary detailing the horror of eugenics last night can also be applied to the secret history of disabled people who the makers of the film forgot.

“It’s a subject that doesn’t get raised very often, because, well, it just doesn’t.”

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  • Ahra Ah

    eugenics started in usa funded by Rockefeller family throughout the 20th century until now !
    green revolution was also partly responsible for it.
    it was not the nazis who started it ,it was the american money that provided money for research institutes and universities to continue ie. university of freiburg and university of zurich!

  • Flyover099

    Nicky, a few things you overlook:
    1. Due to devestating effects of WW1, Germany had a very large proportion of popn that were disabled.
    2. Initial concern in Weimar and nazi Germany was high level of state expenditures and other resources required to adequately care for such people.
    3. The whole concept of disabled and racial eugenics was a nazi idea, rather emanated and practiced in early decades (and into much of 20thC) by us, uk, Canada…

    I do agree that what happened to disabiled during the third reich has been shamefully overlooked (as it has in nations mentioned above). We have been selfishly and continuously drilled that only Jewish people woefully suffered. Very glad that the truth is coming to the fore – as it should.

  • Wake The Plebs

    I would say that this omission could be directly related to Britain’s own history of eugenics in regards to the disabled.

  • Wake The Plebs

    Or at least, in Canada…
    “In Canada, the eugenics movement gained support early in the 20th century as prominent physicians drew a direct link between heredity and public health.[111] Eugenics was enforced by law in two Canadian provinces. In Alberta, the Sexual Sterilization Act was enacted in 1928, focusing the movement on the sterilization of mentally deficient individuals, as determined by the Alberta Eugenics Board.[112] The campaign to enforce this action was backed by groups such as the United Farm Women’s Group, including key memberEmily Murphy.[113]
    As in many other former British Empire colonies, eugenic policies were linked to racist (and racialist) agendas pursued by various levels of government, such as the forced sterilization of Canada’s indigenous peoples and specific provincial government initiatives, such as Alberta’s eugenics program. As a brief illustration, in 1928 the province of Alberta started an initiative, “…allowing any inmate of a native residential school to be sterilized upon the approval of the school Principal. At least 3,500 Indian women are sterilized under this law.”[114] As of 2011, research into extant archival records of sterilization and direct killing of First Nations youth (through intentional transmission of disease and other means) under the residential school program is ongoing.[115]
    Individuals were assessed using IQ tests like the Stanford-Binet. This posed a problem to new immigrants arriving in Canada, as many had not mastered the English language, and often their scores denoted them as having impaired intellectual functioning. As a result, many of those sterilized under the Sexual Sterilization Act were immigrants who were unfairly categorized.[116] The province of British Columbia enacted its own Sexual Sterilization Act in 1933. As in Alberta, the British Columbia Eugenics Board could recommend the sterilization of those it considered to be suffering from “mental disease or mental deficiency”.[117]

    The popularity of the eugenics movement peaked during the Depression when sterilization was widely seen as a way of relieving society of the financial burdens imposed by defective individuals.[118] Although the eugenics excesses of Nazi Germany diminished the popularity of the eugenics movement, the Sexual Sterilization Acts of Alberta and British Columbia were not repealed until 1972.[119] ”
    - Source Wikipedia

  • Wake The Plebs

    The origins of eugenics is British.

  • Flyover099

    I agree with you in part.
    “Germany and Russia started WWII together by both countries sharing ideal thinking of taking over the whole world and sharing the Europe.”
    Soviets, yes. Nazi Germany, No. Hitler had no aspiration to conquer the world. There are no such bonafide quotes of his seeking global control. The extent of his conquest (if it can be accurately stated as such) was to counter/destroy a REAL Soviet threat not only to Germany but rest of Europe (and beyond). If Germany wanted world domination, the destruction of Britain would do just that with the gaining of vast world colonies. Hitler was quoted several times as having no interest in this, in fact, he didn’t want war wth Britain in first place. It was British (read Churchill and those in lurking shadows in GB and US (example google “Jerzy Potocki IHR Washington DC”)) that desired it. The German/Soviet alliance leading to invasion of Poland was Hitler’s attempt to prevent British meddling in political goals of (and rightly) seeking Danzig where about 90% were ethnic germans.
    Ah, the “footnotes” of contain the real story and true facts.

  • Flyover099

    Thanks for sharing your story. It is hard for us to judge based on our times. Society was quite a bit different even 80yrs+ ago. Unless one immerses his/herself in that historical period (zeitgeist) we may not fully grasp things and make prejudiced remarks. What doesn’t help things is the persistant dishonesty (or lack of understanding, or just plain fear to express truth) by historians.
    That said, if you honestly study Hitler he is vastly different than the monster he protrayed to be. He was a very complex, brilliant, and honest man. He was less a dictator, more a messiah for germans of that period. HIs actions and words solidly support this. His decisions (perhaps like that in the article) were made after some personal and deep thought, and often with the view of doing what’s good for countrymen. Tough decisions.
    Not trying to be an apologist, just presenting facts.
    If interested, a recent book by Professor R.H.S. Stolfi sets record straight. It is a bit deep to read, best to comphrehend if have suitable knowledge of that period of history.
    On the side, much of the eugenic thinking Nazi Germany absorbed were from the US /Canada/Great Britain. Those nations had practiced eugenics well into the 20thC.

  • oatc

    I share your anger, but causing suicide is not the same as mass murder. You undermine a strong case for causing suicide to be classed as genocide by using the wrong terms.

  • Eeeek

    All very well, but to sue costs money. I don’t even have enough to feed my family and heat the house at the same time.

  • oatc

    I nowhere suggested it be done by a lone individual in person. I’m sorry for your predicament.

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