Today In Church History: September 1


1939 Hitler begins the T-4 Euthanasia program

One of the reasons that fascists like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini despised Christianity was that it loves the weak and helpless. Fascism is a philosophy for the strong and ruthless; that which can be destroyed must be destroyed. Starting in 1933 with abortion encouraged for unborn children suspected of birth defects, the Nazi party followed a policy of encouraging “racial hygiene” — people with good genes must propagate; unmarried German girls were encouraged to mate with superior physical specimens from other countries or SS troops and produce babies who would be raised by the state’s “Lebensborn” program. Those with bad genes (for reasons of race, criminal behaviour, depression, physical defects, etc.) must not be allowed to reproduce. Enforced sterilisation was the answer for alcoholics or the mentally ill.

In 1939 Hitler went a step further and began to kill off patients in long-term care, the mentally ill, Downs Syndrome children, tuberculosis patients, etc., in order to free up hospital beds needed for the war he knew would soon come. The way had been paved with a brilliant series of advertisements and propaganda films promoting the idea of “life unworthy of life”; that some people were better off dead. Assisted suicide was lauded as the kindest path for both the sufferer of incurable diseases and for their families. Nazis publicized the pleas of parents of hopelessly ill children who begged the state to kill their offspring and relieve them of the burdens they bore in caring for these “human vegetables”. The above poster (c. 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichmarks is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘A New People’, the monthly magazine of theBureau for Race Politics of the Nazi Party.”

Starting in September 1939 the government began to empty asylums, old age homes and hospitals and to kill their patients, either with injections or poison gas (thus pioneering techniques that were used in the death camps). This was done in secret for the most part, because the Nazis felt, correctly, that there would be many objections. Parents and relatives were told that their family members had died of “pneumonia”. Most vociferous in its opposition was the Catholic Church, particularly the Bishop of Münster Clemens August Graf  von Galen. He called directly upon Hitler to stop the program, saying in a sermon “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?”

Under such embarrassing pressure, Hitler ordered the euthanasia action to cease. But it was too late for the 70,000-100,000 victims of T-4 and the millions more in the death camps on whom its lessons were applied. After the war dozens of German physicians and administrators were tried and convicted for their crimes. Many were executed.