Bishop Jan Maria Michał Kowalski, killed at Hartheim Euthanasia Centre.

False EUTHANASIA / Gassing & The use of deception (lies) techniques.

The first gassings in Germany proper took place in January 1940 at the Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre. The operation was headed by Brack, who said: “the needle belongs in the hand of the doctor.” Bottled pure carbon monoxide gas was used. At trials, Brandt described the process as a “major advance in medical history”. Once the efficacy of the method was confirmed, it became standardised, and instituted at a number of centres across Germany under the supervision of Widmann, Becker, and Christian Wirth — a Kripo officer who later played a prominent role in the extermination of the Jews as commandant of newly built death camps in occupied Poland. In addition to Brandenburg, the killing centres included Grafeneck Castle in Baden-Württemberg (10,824 dead), Schloss Hartheim near Linz in Austria (over 18,000 dead), Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre in Saxony (15,000 dead), Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in Saxony-Anhalt and Hadamar Euthanasia Centre in Hesse (14,494 dead). The same facilities were also used to kill mentally sound prisoners transferred from concentration camps in Germany, Austria and occupied parts of Poland.

Bishop Jan Maria Michał Kowalski, killed at Hartheim Euthanasia Centre.

Condemned patients were ‘transferred’ from their institutions to newly built centres in the T4 Charitable Ambulance buses, called the Community Patients Transports Service. They were run by teams of SS men wearing white coats, to give it an air of medical care. To prevent the families and doctors of the patients from tracing them, the patients were often first sent to transit centres in major hospitals, where they were supposedly assessed. They were moved again to “special treatment” (Sonderbehandlung) centres. Families were sent letters explaining that owing to wartime regulations, it was not possible for them to visit relatives in these centres. Most of these patients were killed within 24 hours of arriving at the centres, and their bodies cremated.[77] For every person killed, a death certificate was prepared, giving a false but plausible cause of death. This was sent to the family along with an urn of ashes (random ashes, since the victims were cremated en masse). The preparation of thousands of falsified death certificates took up most of the working day of the doctors who operated the centres.[78]

During 1940 the centres at Brandenburg, Grafeneck and Hartheim killed nearly 10,000 people each, while another 6,000 were killed at Sonnenstein. In all, about 35,000 people were killed in T4 operations that year. Operations at Brandenburg and Grafeneck were wound up at the end of the year, partly because the areas they served had been cleared and partly because of public opposition. In 1941, however, the centres at Bernburg and Sonnenstein increased their operations, while Hartheim (where Wirth and Franz Stangl were successively commandants) continued as before. As a result, another 35,000 people were killed before August 1941, when the T4 programme was officially shut down by Hitler. Even after that date, however, the centres continued to be used to kill concentration camp inmates: eventually some 20,000 people in this category were killed.[l]

In 1971, Gitta Sereny conducted a series of interviews with Stangl, who was in prison in Düsseldorf after having been convicted of co-responsibility for killing 900,000 people as commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps in Poland. Stangl gave Sereny a detailed account of the operations of the T4 programme based on his time as commandant of the killing facility at the Hartheim institute.[80] He described how the inmates of various asylums were removed and transported by bus to Hartheim. Some were in no mental state to know what was happening to them, but many were perfectly sane, and for them various forms of deception were used. They were told they were at a special clinic where they would receive improved treatment, and were given a brief medical examination on arrival. They were induced to enter what appeared to be a shower block, where they were gassed with carbon monoxide (the ruse was also used at extermination camps).

Voices of opposition.

Gas chamber in Hadamar

A state euthanasia (murder) programme being instituted in 1939.

The T4 programme . The Gas chamber in Hadamar

In January 1939 Brack commissioned a paper from Professor of Moral Theology at the University of Paderborn, Joseph Mayer, on the likely reactions of the churches in the event of a state euthanasia programme being instituted. Mayer — a longstanding euthanasia advocate — reported that the churches would not oppose such a programme if it was seen to be in the national interest. Brack showed this paper to Hitler in July, and it may have increased his confidence that the “euthanasia” programme would be acceptable to German public opinion. Notably, when Sereny interviewed Mayer shortly before his death in 1967, he denied that he formally condoned the killing of people with disabilities but no copies of this paper are known to survive.

There were those who opposed the T4 programme within the bureaucracy. Lothar Kreyssig, a district judge and member of the Confessing Church, wrote to Gürtner protesting that the action was illegal since no law or formal decree from Hitler had authorised it. Gürtner replied, “If you cannot recognise the will of the Führer as a source of law, then you cannot remain a judge”, and had Kreyssig dismissed. Hitler had a fixed policy of not issuing written instructions for policies relating to what could later be condemned by international community, but made an exception when he provided Bouhler and Brack with written authority for the T4 programme in his confidential letter of October 1939 in order to overcome opposition within the German state bureaucracy. Hitler told Bouhler at the outset that “the Führer’s Chancellery must under no circumstances be seen to be active in this matter.” The Justice Minister, Franz Gürtner, had to be shown Hitler’s letter in August 1940 to gain his cooperation.

The official number of victims

Victims of Aktion T4 (official data), 1940 — September 1941

T4 Center Operation Number of victims=TOTAL = 70,273.

In 1971, Gitta Sereny conducted a series of interviews with Stangl, who was in prison in Düsseldorf after having been convicted of co-responsibility for killing 900,000 people as commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps in Poland. Stangl gave Sereny a detailed account of the operations of the T4 programme based on his time as commandant of the killing facility at the Hartheim institute. He described how the inmates of various asylums were removed and transported by bus to Hartheim. Some were in no mental state to know what was happening to them, but many were perfectly sane, and for them various forms of deception were used. They were told they were at a special clinic where they would receive improved treatment, and were given a brief medical examination on arrival. They were induced to enter what appeared to be a shower block, where they were gassed with carbon monoxide (the ruse was also used at extermination camps).

Photo Hartheim ( T4 Euthanasia Centre / “Murder “ Clinic ) using high technology and the techniques used to deceive victims…

Exposure.

In the towns where the killing centres were located, many people saw the inmates arrive in buses, saw the smoke from the crematoria chimneys and noticed that the buses were returning empty. In Hadamar, ashes containing human hair rained down on the town. The T4 programme was no secret. Despite the strictest orders, some of the staff at the killing centres talked about what was going on. In some cases families could tell that the causes of death in certificates were false, e.g. when a patient was claimed to have died of appendicitis, even though his appendix had been surgically removed some years earlier. In other cases, several families in the same town would receive death certificates on the same day. In May 1941 the Frankfurt County Court wrote to Gürtner describing scenes in Hadamar where children shouted in the streets that people were being taken away in buses to be gassed.

Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt in 1920

During 1940, rumours of what was taking place spread and many Germans withdrew their relatives from asylums and sanatoria to care for them at home, often with great expense and difficulty. In some places doctors and psychiatrists co-operated with families to have patients discharged or if the families could afford it, transferred them to private clinics beyond the reach of T4. Other doctors “re-diagnosed” patients so that they no longer met the T4 criteria, which risked exposure when Nazi zealots from Berlin conducted inspections. In Kiel, Professor Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt managed to save nearly all of his patients.

Many doctors collaborated with the killings, either from ignorance, agreement with Nazi eugenicist policies or fear of the regime;

Lifton listed a handful of psychiatrists and administrators who opposed the T4 murders.

Protest letters were sent to the Reich Chancellery and the Ministry of Justice, some from Nazi Party members. The first open protest against the removal of people from asylums took place at Absberg in Franconia in February 1941 and others followed. The SD report on the incident at Absberg noted that “the removal of residents from the Ottilien Home has caused a great deal of unpleasantness” and described large crowds of Catholic townspeople, among them Party members, protesting against the action.[89] Similar petitions and protests occurred throughout Austria as rumors spread of mass killings at the Hartheim Euthanasia Centre and of mysterious deaths at the children’s clinic, Am Spiegelgrund, where from 1940–1945 approximately 800 sick and disabled children were killed by lethal injection, gas poisoning, disease and abuse. Anna Wödl, a nurse and mother of a disabled child, vehemently petitioned to Hermann Linden at the Reich Ministry of the Interior in Berlin to prevent her son, Alfred, from being transferred from Gugging, where he lived and which also became a euthanasia center. Wödl failed and Alfred was sent to Am Spiegelgrund, where he was murdered on February 22, 1941. His brain was preserved in formaldehyde for “research” and stored in the clinic for sixty years.

Church protests

(For more details on this topic, see Nazi euthanasia and the Catholic Church protests.)

In private were the Lutheran theologian Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, director of the Bethel Institution for Epilepsy at Bielefeld and Pastor Paul-Gerhard Braune, director of the Hoffnungstal Institution near Berlin protested privately. Both men used their connections with the regime to negotiate exemptions for their institutions; Bodelschwingh negotiated directly with Brandt and indirectly with Hermann Göring, whose cousin was a prominent psychiatrist. Braune had meetings with Justice Minister Gürtner, who was always dubious about the legality of the programme. Gürtner later wrote a strongly worded letter to Hitler protesting against it; Hitler did not read it but was told about it by Lammers. The leaders of the Protestant church were more involved with the Nazi regime than Catholics and they were unwilling to criticise its actions.

During 1940 and 1941 some Protestant churchmen did protest against T4. Bishop Theophil Wurm, presiding the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg, wrote a strong letter to Interior Minister Frick in March 1940 and the same month a confidential report from the SD in Austria, warned that the killing programme must be implemented with stealth “in order to avoid a probable backlash of public opinion during the war”. On 4 December 1940, Reinhold Sautter, the Supreme Church Councillor of the Württemberg State Church, reproached the Nazi Ministerial Councillor Eugen Stähle for the murders in Grafeneck Castle. Stahle retorted with the Nazi government opinion, that

The fifth commandment: Thou shalt not kill, is no commandment of God but a Jewish invention.” and no longer had any validity.

— Eugen Stähle.

Bishop Heinrich Wienken of Berlin, a leading member of the Caritas Association, was selected by the Fulda episcopal synod to represent the views of the Catholic Church, in meetings with T4 operatives. According to Michael Burleigh,

Wienken seems to have gone partially native in the sense that he gradually abandoned an absolute stance based on the Fifth Commandment in favour of winning limited concessions.

— Michael Burleigh

August von Galen

Catholic churchmen, led by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Munich, wrote privately to the government protesting against the policy and the theologian Bernhard Lichtenberg protested to the Nazi chief medical officer. In July and August 1941, the Bishop of Münster, August von Galen, gave three sermons criticizing the Nazi state, for arresting Jesuits, confiscating church property

and

for

the euthanasia program.

Galen telegrammed the text of his sermon to Hitler, calling on

…the Führer to defend the people against the Gestapo. It is a terrible, unjust and catastrophic thing when man opposes his will to the will of God….We are talking about men and women, our compatriots, our brothers and sisters. Poor unproductive people if you wish, but does this mean that they have lost their right to live?

— August von Galen

The Nazi leadership was angered by the sermon’s wide circulation, the text was dropped by Royal Air Force pilots over German troops. In 1986, Lifton wrote,

Nazi leaders faced the prospect of either having to imprison prominent, highly admired clergymen and other protesters — a course with consequences in terms of adverse public reaction they greatly feared — or else end the programme.

— Lifton

A plaque set in the pavement at No 4 Tiergartenstraße commemorates

the victims of the Nazi euthanasia programme.

Later historians have deprecated the importance of the role of the Church; Burleigh dismissed assumptions that the sermon affected Hitler’s decision to suspend the T4 program as “wishful thinking” and noted that the various Church hierarchies did not complain after the transfer of T4 personnel to Operation Reinhard. Henry Friedlander stated that it was not the criticism from the Church but rather the loss of secrecy and “general popular disquiet about the way euthanasia was implemented”, that caused the suspension of the program.

Galen had detailed knowledge of the euthanasia program in July 1940 but did not speak out until almost a year after Protestants had begun their protests. Beth A. Griech-Polelle explained the delay by Galen and the Catholic hierarchy,

Worried lest they be classified as outsiders or internal enemies, they waited for Protestants, that is the “true Germans”, to risk a confrontation with the government first. If the Protestants were able to be critical of a Nazi policy, then Catholics could function as “good” Germans and yet be critical too.

— Griech-Polelle.

Bishop, Franz Bornewasser of Trier, also sent protests to Hitler, though not publicly. In August, Galen was even more outspoken, broadening his attack to include the Nazi persecution of religious orders and the closing of Catholic institutions. He attributed the heavy Allied bombing of Westphalian towns to the wrath of God against Germany, for breaking His laws. The sermons were not reported in the German press but were widely circulated in the form of illegally printed leaflets. Local Nazis asked for Galen to be arrested but Goebbels told Hitler that such action would provoke open revolt in Westphalia. Hitler decided to wait for revenge on Galen until after the war.

= End =

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