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“The Euthanasia Movement”
Part VI of “Nazism as Bodily Fantasy”
by Richard A. Koenigsberg
“The Euthanasia Movement” appears below.
Click here to read the complete paper, “Nazism as Bodily Fantasy”
“What united the killing of defective children, mental patients and Jews was belief that the state had the right to exterminate anyone who could not or would not contribute to the community.  Defective children and mental patients were unable to contribute; they only consumed state resources."

"Jews were conceived as people who did not want to contribute. As the "reasons for euthanasia" indicate, Jews were believed to be lacking respect for Hitler; insufficiently devoted to Germany."
VI: The Euthanasia Movement

The Final Solution grew out of the “euthanasia program” instituted by the Nazis. The killing of defective children began in 1938 and of adult mental patients in 1939. These programs were rooted in medical ideas that had been gathering momentum for a century. They were managed by doctors, anthropologists and behavioral scientists who provided the scientific rationale, developed the procedures and personally carried out or supervised the killings.

Doctors studied the records of patients who were being considered for “treatment,” and usually gave physical examinations. Forms were filled out, with the decision to kill in the doctors' hands. A “plus” mark meant the doctor concluded the patient was “incurable” and therefore should be given “special treatment;” a "minus” mark meant that euthanasia was not recommended; a third space was provided for an uncertain diagnosis. Generally, two doctors had to agree on a diagnosis of “incurable” for the patient to be selected for the “euthanasia action.”

Selections took place in hospitals. Killing was the responsibility of the physician and was accomplished through the administration of drugs or fatal injections, by starvation or gassing. Scholars agree that while Hitler gave the “OK,” the program was developed and executed by physicians, voluntarily and enthusiastically.

Frederic Wertham (1966) tells us that the procedure became quite ordinary:

The individual psychiatric hospitals were not squeamish about the number of patients put to death while the program lasted. For example, in 1941 the psychiatric institution Hadamar celebrated the cremation of the ten thousandth mental patient in a special ceremony. Psychiatrists, nurses, attendants, and secretaries all participated. Everybody received a bottle of beer for the occasion.

Scholars estimate that 100,000 or more Germans were killed in this program.

At a certain moment, the euthanasia program transitioned into the Final Solution. The template developed for the mentally ill was transferred to the concentration camps. At first, procedures for selecting prisoners at the camps were similar to procedures for selecting mental patients.

Dr. Fritz Mennecke was one of the doctors who regularly visited camps to select prisoners. Correspondence with his wife reveals how the euthanasia campaign took effect. On November 20, 1941, he wrote from Ravensbruck concentration camp:

Work is going smoothly since the names have been already typed in and only the diagnosis has to be filled in. Dr. Sonntag sits beside me chatting about the situation in the camp while an officer brings the patients up. It goes like clockwork. We still have 2,000 forms to complete, and in fact that's just a formality, as it's open to question if there really are so many who are eligible for euthanasia.

That the selection criteria were observed less than scrupulously is evidenced in Mennecke's first letter from Buchenwald, dated November 25, 1941:

The first day's work is done. We were up and about from half past eight because we first had to complete forty questionnaires from yesterday on which two colleagues had already worked. There immediately followed the examination of 1200 Jewish patients. The grounds for arrest, frequently rather general and comprehensive, were copied verbatim. Therefore, the patients were, in fact, not even examined; so my work is often only theoretical.

What this letter says is that Jews selected were not actually examined to determine if there were medical grounds for extermination. Rather, diagnosis was based on the reason for arrest. On the back of a series of pictures of sixty-three Jews selected at Buchenwald, Dr. Mennecke had written his reasons.

Here are a few examples:

  • "Isador Israel, stateless citizen, reasons for euthanasia: hostile towards Germany."
  • "Hans R. Jew, has already had other convictions, reason for euthanasia:  hostile toward Germany."
  • "Ottile Sar, official within the Marxist party, reasons for euthanasia: bitter hatred toward Germany, relations with the British embassy."
  • One Jew was noted as having a "derogatory attitude toward the Reich" and was accused of "continuous race defilement by keeping her Jewish descent a secret and rendering the Hitler salute."
  • Another had made "incredibly impudent and spiteful remarks toward Germans; on the train made the acquaintance of soldiers coming from the front, introducing herself as Jewish, then insulted the soldiers in the meanest possible way."

The Jewish “disease,” it would appear, was hatred toward Germany; hostility toward the German nation; a derogatory attitude toward the Reich. Jews were conceived as ill insofar as they did not worship Germany--as a healthy human being would.The Jewish disease was lack of belief in Hitler and the German Reich.

Dr. von Verschuer, writing in a 1934 journal founded to discuss grounds for sterilization, stated that the medical revolution of 1933 recognized the “poverty of individualism as a basis for medical practice.” Patients no longer were to be treated as individuals, but only as one part of a “larger whole or unity: his race, his Volk.”

Robert Lifton (1986) interviewed Nazi Doctor Rudolph Ramm, who told him that "obligation to the Volk" was always central. The physician was to be concerned with the health of the Volk even more than with individual disease and was to teach Germans to overcome the old individualistic principle of the "right to one's own body."

The euthanasia movement articulated the fundamental concept of Nazi ideology: "The community is everything, the individual is nothing." The most common term for those selected for killing was "useless eaters.” German mathematics texts included problems asking students to compute the amount of money lost to the state in a lifetime of providing care for "worthless ballast." Extermination of the mentally ill, in short, was viewed as a benefit to the state—eliminating people who consumed national resources, but were unable to create resources.

We've observed typical "diagnoses" for Jews: "Hostile to the Reich;" having a "derogatory attitude toward the Reich," etc. Lifton notes additional examples. One Jew's "symptom" was that was that he was a "well-known functionary of the communist party;" another’s symptom was that he was an "inveterate communist, ineligible for military service."

The following passage reveals Hitler’s thinking:

Our aim is the dictatorship of the whole people, the community. I began to win men to the idea of an eternal national and social ideal—to subordinate one's own interests to the interests of the whole society—an idea which constrains everyone to take his stand on behalf of this community. There are, nevertheless a few incurables who had never understood the happiness of belonging to this great, inspiring community.

People who were "incurable," according to Hitler, were those who had never understood the “happiness of belonging to the great, inspiring community.” We begin to realize that the terms "sick" or "diseased" were applied by Hitler to people could not or would not embrace the German national community he sought to create.

The very idea of not participating in the community was understood as symptomatic of defect or mental illness. Lifton notes that SS personnel could construe political beliefs or rude comments about the Fuhrer as "mental deficiency" or "psychological aberration"—therefore grounds for euthanasia. The Final Solution represented an extension of the euthanasia program: Jews were added to the category of people judged to be "incurable" or "life unworthy life."

What united the killing of defective children, mental patients and Jews was belief that the state had the right to exterminate anyone who could not or would not make a contribution to the community. Defective children and mental patients were unable to contribute; they only consumed state resources. Jews were conceived as people who did not want to contribute. As the "reasons for euthanasia" indicate, Jews were believed to be lacking respect for Hitler; insufficiently devoted to Germany. Exterminating Jews was like religious war against infidels: "Death to the non-believers."