AKTION T4 (German, pronounced ) was a postwar name for mass murder
through involuntary euthanasia in
Nazi Germany . The name T4 is an
Tiergartenstraße 4, a street address of the
Chancellery department set up in the spring of 1940, in the Berlin
borough of Tiergarten , which recruited and paid personnel associated
with T4. Certain German physicians were authorized to select
patients "deemed incurably sick, after most critical medical
examination" and then administer to them a "mercy death" (Gnadentod).
In October 1939
Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to
1 September 1939 that authorized his personal physician Karl Brandt
Philipp Bouhler to implement the programme.
The killings took place from September 1939 to August 1941, during
which 70,273 people were recorded as being killed at various
extermination centres located at psychiatric hospitals in Germany and
Austria, along with those in occupied Poland . About half of those
killed were taken from church-run asylums, often with the approval of
the Protestant or Catholic authorities of the institutions. Despite
Holy See announcing on 2 December 1940 that the policy was
contrary to the natural and positive Divine law and that "The direct
killing of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects is
not allowed", the declaration was not upheld by some Catholic
authorities in Germany. On the other hand, in the summer of 1941,
protests were led in Germany by Bishop von Galen, whose intervention,
according to Richard J. Evans, led to "the strongest, most explicit
and most widespread protest movement against any policy since the
beginning of the Third Reich."
Several reasons for the programme have been offered, including
eugenics , compassion, reducing suffering, racial hygiene , cost
effectiveness and pressure on the welfare budget. After the nominal
end of the programme, physicians in German and Austrian facilities
continued many of the practices of Aktion T4, until the defeat of
Germany in 1945. The unofficial continuation of the policy led to
additional deaths by medicine and similar means, resulting in 93,521
beds "emptied" by the end of 1941. Technology that was developed
under Aktion T4, particularly the use of lethal gas to commit mass
murder, was taken over by the medical division of the Reich Interior
Ministry, along with personnel who had participated in the development
of the technology and later participated in
Operation Reinhard . The
technology, personnel and techniques developed were instrumental in
the implementation of Nazi genocides .
* 1 Background
* 2 Implementation
* 3 Killing of children
* 4 Killing of adults
Invasion of Poland
* 4.2 Listing of targets from hospital records
* 5 Gassing
* 6 Number of euthanasia victims
* 7 Technology and personnel transfer to death camps
* 8 Opposition
* 8.1 Exposure
* 8.2 Church protests
* 9 Suspension of T4 killings
* 10 Post-war
* 10.1 Doctors\' trial
* 10.2 Other perpetrators
* 11 Memorials
* 12 See also
* 13 Notes
* 14 Footnotes
* 15 References
* 16 Further reading
* 17 External links
This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000
Reichsmark 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 ' New People ', the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race
Politics of the
The term "Aktion T4" came into use after the war; before that German
terminology included Euthanasie (euthanasia ) and Gnadentod (merciful
death). The T4 programme stemmed from the
Nazi Party policy of
"racial hygiene", a belief that the German people needed to be
cleansed of racial enemies, which included people with disabilities as
well as anyone who was confined to a mental health facility. The
euthanasia programme was part of the evolution of the policy of
administrative murder that culminated in the extermination of
Europe during the Nazi genocides. In his book
Mein Kampf (1924),
Hitler wrote that one day racial hygiene, "will appear as a deed
greater than the most victorious wars of our present bourgeois era".
The idea of sterilising those carrying hereditary defects or
exhibiting what was thought to be hereditary "antisocial" behaviour
was widely accepted.
Switzerland and the US had
passed laws for the coerced sterilisation of people before Germany.
Studies conducted in the 1920s ranked Germany as a country that was
unusually reluctant to introduce sterilisation legislation.
The policy and research agenda of racial hygiene and eugenics were
Emil Kraepelin . The eugenic sterilization of persons
diagnosed with (and viewed as predisposed to) schizophrenia was
Eugene Bleuler , who presumed racial deterioration
because of mental and physical cripples in his Textbook of Psychiatry:
The more severely burdened should not propagate themselves… If we
do nothing but make mental and physical cripples capable of
propagating themselves, and the healthy stocks have to limit the
number of their children because so much has to be done for the
maintenance of others, if natural selection is generally suppressed,
then unless we will get new measures our race must rapidly
In July 1933 "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased
Offspring" prescribed compulsory sterilisation for people with
conditions thought to be hereditary, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy ,
Huntington\'s chorea and "imbecility". Sterilisation was also
legalised for chronic alcoholism and other forms of social deviance.
The law was administered by the Interior Ministry under Wilhelm Frick
through special Hereditary Health Courts (Erbgesundheitsgerichte),
which examined the inmates of nursing homes, asylums, prisons,
aged-care homes and special schools, to select those to be sterilised.
It is estimated that 360,000 people were sterilised under this law
between 1933 and 1939. Within the Nazi administration, some suggested
that the programme should be extended to people with physical
disabilities but such ideas had to be expressed carefully, given that
one of the most powerful figures of the regime,
Joseph Goebbels , had
a deformed right leg. After 1937 the acute shortage of labour in
Germany, arising from rearmament, meant that anyone capable of work
was deemed to be "useful" and thus exempted from the law and the rate
of sterilisation declined.
Philipp Bouhler , Head of the T4 programme
Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician to
Hans Lammers , the
head of the Reich Chancellery, testified after the war that
told them as early as 1933—when the sterilisation law was
passed—that he favoured the killing of the incurably ill but
recognised that public opinion would not accept this. In 1935, Hitler
told the Leader of Reich Doctors, Gerhard Wagner , that the question
could not be taken up in peacetime, "Such a problem could be more
smoothly and easily carried out in war". He wrote that he intended to
"radically solve" the problem of the mental asylums in such an event.
Aktion T4 began with a "trial" case in late 1938.
Brandt to evaluate a family's petition for the "mercy killing" of
their blind, physically and developmentally disabled boy. The child,
Leipzig and eventually identified as
Gerhard Kretschmar ,
was killed in July 1939.
Hitler instructed Brandt to proceed in the
same manner in all similar cases.
On 18 August 1939, three weeks after the killing of the boy, the
Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Hereditary and
Congenital Illnesses was established. It was to prepare and proceed
with the registration of sick children or newborns identified as
defective. Secret killing of infants began in 1939 and increased after
the war started. By 1941 more than 5,000 children had been killed.
Hitler was in favour of killing those whom he judged to be
lebensunwertes Leben (
Life unworthy of life ). In a 1939 conference
Leonardo Conti Reich Health Leader and state secretary for health
in the Interior Ministry and the head of the Reich Chancellery, Hans
Lammers—a few months before the "euthanasia" decree—
Hitler gave as
examples the mentally ill who he said could only be "bedded on sawdust
or sand" because they "perpetually dirtied themselves" and "put their
own excrement into their mouths". This issue, according to the Nazi
regime, assumed new urgency in wartime.
After the invasion of Poland , Dr. Hermann Pfannmüller said
Für mich ist die Vorstellung untragbar, dass beste, blühende Jugend
an der Front ihr Leben lassen muss, damit verblichene Asoziale und
unverantwortliche Antisoziale ein gesichertes Dasein haben. (It is
unbearable to me that the flower of our youth must lose their lives at
the front, while that feeble-minded and asocial element can have a
secure existence in the asylum.)
Pfannmüller advocated a gradual decrease of food, which he believed
was more merciful than poison injections. Dr.
Karl Brandt ,
Hitler 's personal physician and organiser of
The German eugenics movement had an extreme wing even before the
Nazis came to power. As early as 1920,
Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding
advocated killing people whose lives were "unworthy of life"
(lebensunwertes Leben). Darwinism was interpreted by them as
justification of the demand for "beneficial" genes and eradication of
the "harmful" ones.
Robert Lifton wrote, "The argument went that the
best young men died in war, causing a loss to the Volk of the best
available genes. The genes of those who did not fight (the worst
genes) then proliferated freely, accelerating biological and cultural
degeneration". The advocacy of eugenics in Germany gained ground
after 1930, when the Depression was used to excuse cuts in funding to
state mental hospitals, creating squalor and overcrowding.
Many German eugenicists were nationalists and antisemites , who
embraced the Nazi regime with enthusiasm. Many were appointed to
positions in the Health Ministry and German research institutes. Their
ideas were gradually adopted by the majority of the German medical
profession, from which Jewish and communist doctors were soon purged.
During the 1930s the
Nazi Party had carried out a campaign of
propaganda in favour of euthanasia. The National Socialist Racial and
Political Office (NSRPA) produced leaflets, posters and short films to
be shown in cinemas, pointing out to Germans the cost of maintaining
asylums for the incurably ill and insane. These films included The
Das Erbe , 1935), The Victim of the Past (Opfer der
Vergangenheit , 1937), which was given a major première in Berlin and
was shown in all German cinemas, and I Accuse (
Ich klage an , 1941),
which was based on a novel by Hellmuth Unger, a consultant for "child
KILLING OF CHILDREN
Main article: Child euthanasia in
Nazi Germany Schönbrunn
Psychiatric Hospital, 1934. (Photo by SS photographer Friedrich Franz
Hitler authorized the creation of the Reich Committee for
the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital
Illnesses (Reichsausschuss zur wissenschaftlichen Erfassung erb- und
anlagebedingter schwerer Leiden), headed by Dr. Karl Brandt, his
physician, and administered by Herbert Linden of the Interior Ministry
as well as SS -
Viktor Brack . Brandt and Bouhler were
authorized to approve applications to kill children in relevant
circumstances, though Bouhler left the details to subordinates such
as Brack and SA-
Werner Blankenburg .
Extermination centres were established at six existing psychiatric
hospitals: Bernburg , Brandenburg , Grafeneck ,
Hadamar , Hartheim ,
and Sonnenstein . One thousand children under the age of 17 were
killed at the institutions
Am Spiegelgrund and
Gugging in Austria.
They played a crucial role in developments leading to the Holocaust.
As a related aspect of the "medical" and scientific basis of this
Nazi doctors took thousands of brains from 'euthanasia'
victims for research.
Viktor Brack , organiser of the T4
From August 1939 the Interior Ministry began registering children
with disabilities, requiring doctors and midwives to report all cases
of newborns with severe disabilities; the 'guardian' consent element
soon disappeared. Those to be killed were identified as "all children
under three years of age in whom any of the following 'serious
hereditary diseases' were 'suspected': idiocy and Down syndrome
(especially when associated with blindness and deafness); microcephaly
; hydrocephaly ; malformations of all kinds, especially of limbs,
head, and spinal column; and paralysis, including spastic conditions".
The reports were assessed by a panel of medical experts, of whom
three were required to give their approval before a child could be
The Ministry used various deceptions when dealing with parents or
guardians particularly in Catholic areas, where parents were generally
uncooperative. Parents were told that their children were being sent
Special Sections" for children, where they would receive improved
treatment. The children sent to these centres were kept for
"assessment" for a few weeks and then killed by injection of toxic
chemicals, typically phenol ; their deaths were recorded as "pneumonia
". Autopsies were usually performed, and brain samples were taken to
be used for "medical research". This apparently helped to ease the
consciences of many of those involved, since it gave them the feeling
that the children had not died in vain, and that the whole programme
had a genuine medical purpose. The most notorious of these
institutions in Austria was Am Spiegelgrund, where from 1940–1945,
789 children were killed by lethal injection, gas poisoning, and
physical abuse. Their brains were preserved in formaldehyde jars and
stored in the basement of the clinic and in the private collection of
one of the institution's directors,
Heinrich Gross , until 2001.
Once war broke out in September 1939, the programme adopted less
rigorous standards of assessment and a quicker approval process. It
expanded to include older children and adolescents. The conditions
covered also expanded and came to include
...various borderline or limited impairments in children of different
ages, culminating in the killing of those designated as juvenile
delinquents. Jewish children could be placed in the net primarily
because they were Jewish; and at one of the institutions, a special
department was set up for 'minor Jewish-
At the same time, increased pressure was placed on parents to agree
to their children being sent away. Many parents suspected what was
really happening, especially when it became apparent that institutions
for children with disabilities were being systematically cleared of
their charges, and refused consent. The parents were warned that they
could lose custody of all their children, and if that did not suffice,
the parents could be threatened with call-up for 'labour duty'. By
1941 more than 5,000 children had been killed. The last child to be
Aktion T4 was Richard Jenne on 29 May 1945 in the
children's ward of the
Irsee state hospital in
Germany, more than three weeks after U.S. Army troops had occupied the
KILLING OF ADULTS
Invasion of Poland and
Soldau concentration camp
INVASION OF POLAND
Brandt and Bouhler developed plans to expand the programme of
euthanasia to adults. In July 1939 they held a meeting attended by
Conti and Professor
Werner Heyde , head of the SS medical department.
This meeting agreed to arrange a national register of all
institutionalised people with mental illnesses or physical
disabilities. The first adults with disabilities to be killed en masse
by the Nazi regime were Poles. After the invasion on 1 September 1939,
disabled adults were shot by the SS men of
Selbstschutz and EK-Einmann under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer
Rudolf Tröger, with overall command by
Reinhard Heydrich , during the
Operation Tannenberg All hospitals and mental asylums of
Wartheland were emptied. The region was incorporated into Germany
and earmarked for resettlement by Volksdeutsche following the German
conquest of Poland. In the Danzig (now
Gdańsk ) area, some 7,000
Polish patients of various institutions were shot and 10,000 were
killed in the
Gdynia area. Similar measures were taken in other areas
of Poland destined for incorporation into Germany. The first
experiments with the gassing of patients were conducted in October
Fort VII in Posen (occupied Poznań), where hundreds of
prisoners were killed by means of carbon monoxide poisoning, in an
improvised gas chamber developed by Dr
Albert Widmann , chief chemist
of the German Criminal Police (Kripo). In December 1939,
Heinrich Himmler witnessed one of these gassings,
ensuring that this invention would later be put to much wider uses.
Bunker No. 17 in artillery wall of
Fort VII in
Poznań , used as
improvised gas chamber for early experiments
The idea of killing adult mental patients soon spread from occupied
Poland to adjoining areas of Germany, probably because
Nazi Party and
SS officers in these areas were most familiar with what was happening
in Poland. These were also the areas where Germans wounded from the
Polish campaign were expected to be accommodated, which created a
demand for hospital space. The
Pomerania , Franz
Schwede-Coburg , sent 1,400 patients from five Pomeranian hospitals to
undisclosed locations in occupied Poland, where they were shot. The
East Prussia ,
Erich Koch , had 1,600 patients murdered
out of sight. More than 8,000 Germans were killed in this initial wave
of killings carried out on the orders of local officials, although
Himmler certainly knew and approved of them.
The legal basis for the programme was a 1939 letter from Hitler, not
a formal "Führer's decree" with the force of law.
Conti, the Health Minister and his department, who might have raised
questions about the legality of the programme and entrusted it to
Bouhler and Brandt.
Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are entrusted with the
responsibility of extending the authority of physicians, to be
designated by name, so that patients who, after a most critical
diagnosis, on the basis of human judgment , are considered incurable,
can be granted mercy death . — Adolf Hitler, 1 September 1939
The killings were administered by
Viktor Brack and his staff from
Tiergartenstraße 4, disguised as the "Charitable Foundation for Cure
and Institutional Care" offices which served as the front and was
supervised by Bouhler and Brandt. The officials in charge included
Dr Herbert Linden, who had been involved in the child killing
Ernst-Robert Grawitz , chief physician of the SS; and
August Becker , an SS chemist. The officials selected the doctors who
were to carry out the operational part of the programme; based on
political reliability as long-term Nazis, professional reputation and
sympathy for radical eugenics. The list included physicians who had
proved their worth in the child-killing programme, such as Unger,
Heinze and Hermann Pfannmüller. The recruits were mostly
psychiatrists, notably Professor
Carl Schneider of Heidelberg,
Max de Crinis of Berlin and Professor
Paul Nitsche from the
Sonnenstein state institution. Heyde became the operational leader of
the programme, succeeded later by Nitsche.
LISTING OF TARGETS FROM HOSPITAL RECORDS
Euthanasia Centre , where over 18,000 people were
In early October all hospitals, nursing homes, old-age homes and
sanatoria were required to report all patients who had been
institutionalised for five years or more, who had been committed as
"criminally insane", who were of "non-
Aryan race" or who had been
diagnosed with any on a list of conditions. The conditions included
schizophrenia, epilepsy, Huntington\'s chorea , advanced syphilis ,
senile dementia , paralysis , encephalitis and "terminal neurological
conditions generally". Many doctors and administrators assumed that
the reports were to identify inmates who were capable of being drafted
for "labour service" and tended to overstate the degree of incapacity
of their patients, to protect them from labour conscription. When some
institutions refused to co-operate, teams of T4 doctors (or Nazi
medical students) visited and compiled the lists, sometimes in a
haphazard and ideologically motivated way. During 1940 all Jewish
patients were removed from institutions and killed.
As with child inmates, adults were assessed by a panel of experts,
working at the
Tiergartenstraße offices. The experts were required to
make their judgements on the reports, not medical histories or
examinations. Sometimes they dealt with hundreds of reports at a time.
On each they marked a + (death), a - (life), or occasionally a ?
meaning that they were unable to decide. Three "death" verdicts
condemned the person and as with reviews of children, the process
became less rigorous, the range of conditions considered
"unsustainable" grew broader and zealous Nazis further down the chain
of command increasingly made decisions on their own initiative.
The first gassings in Germany proper took place in January 1940 at
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,
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
Euthanasia Centre in Saxony (15,000 dead), Bernburg
Euthanasia Centre in Saxony-Anhalt and
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. 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.
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.
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
NUMBER OF EUTHANASIA VICTIMS
The SS functionaries and hospital staff associated with the Action T4
in the German Reich were paid from the central office at
Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, beginning in spring 1940. The SS and
police from the SS-Sonderkommando Lange responsible for murdering
majority of patients in the annexed territories of Poland since
October 1939 took their salaries from the normal police fund,
supervised by the administration of the newly formed Wartheland
district. The programme both in Germany and occupied Poland was
overseen personally by Heinrich Himmler.
Aktion T4 (official data), 1940 – September 1941
NUMBER OF VICTIMS
20 January 1940
8 February 1940
21 November 1940
30 July 1943
6 May 1940
31 July 1942
Total by year
TERRITORIES OF OCCUPIED POLAND
EXTERMINATION OF MENTALLY ILL
Number of victims
November 1939 – March 1940
October – November 1939
22 Sep 1939 – Jan 1940 (1941–44)
7 Dec 1939 – 12 Jan 1940 (July 1941)
12 January 1940
31 March 1940 (16 June 1941)
21 May – 8 July 1940
13 March 1940 – August 1941
(minimum of) 850
Helenówek (et al.)
1940 – 1941
1940 – 1945
Total by number
There were notable differences between the two countries. In the
German T4 centres there was at least the semblance of legality in
keeping records and writing letters. In the Polish psychiatric
hospitals no one was left behind. The methods of killing included
gas-vans, sealed army bunkers, but also machine guns. The families
were not informed about the murdered relatives, and the wards, cleared
of patients, were handed over to the SS.
TECHNOLOGY AND PERSONNEL TRANSFER TO DEATH CAMPS
See also: Category:Action T4 personnel and
After the official end of the euthanasia programme in 1941, most of
the personnel and high-ranking officials, as well as gassing
technology and the techniques used to deceive victims, were
transferred under the jurisdiction of the national medical division of
the Reich Interior Ministry. Further gassing experiments with the use
of mobile gas chambers (Einsatzwagen) were conducted at Soldau
concentration camp by
Herbert Lange following
Operation Barbarossa .
Lange was appointed commander of the
Chełmno extermination camp in
December 1941. He was given three gas vans by the
RSHA , converted by
the Gaubschat GmbH in Berlin, and already before February 1942 killed
a total of 3,830 Polish
Jews and around 4,000 Gypsies under the guise
of "resettlement". After the
Wannsee conference , implementation of
gassing technology was accelerated by Heydrich. Beginning in spring
1942 three industrial killing centres were built secretly in
east-central Poland. The SS officers responsible for the earlier
Aktion T4, including Wirth, Stangl and
Irmfried Eberl , had important
roles in the implementation of the "Final Solution" for the next two
years. The first killing centre equipped with stationary gas
chambers modelled on technology developed under
Aktion T4 was
established at Bełżec in the
General Government territory of
occupied Poland. Notably, the decision preceded the Wannsee Conference
of January 1942 by three months.
Gas chamber in
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
Hitler told Bouhler that, "the Führer's Chancellery must
under no circumstances be seen to be active in this matter." The
Franz Gürtner , had to be shown Hitler's letter in
August 1940 to gain his cooperation.
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
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
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
Franconia in February 1941 and others followed. The SD report on the
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. Similar petitions and protests
occurred throughout Austria as rumors spread of mass killings at the
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.
Nazi euthanasia and the Catholic Church
The Lutheran theologian
Friedrich von Bodelschwingh
Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (director of the
Bethel Institution for
Bielefeld ) and Pastor Paul-Gerhard
Braune (director of the Hoffnungstal Institution near Berlin)
protested. Bodelschwingh negotiated directly with Brandt and
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. Bishop Theophil
Wurm , presiding the
Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg ,
wrote to Interior Minister Frick in March 1940 and the same month a
confidential report from the
Sicherheitsdienst (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, complained to the Nazi Ministerial
Councillor Eugen Stähle for the murders in Grafeneck Castle. Stahle
said "The fifth commandment Thou shalt not kill, is no commandment of
God but a Jewish invention".
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. In
Michael Burleigh wrote
August von Galen
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 regarding the restriction of
killing to 'complete idiots', access to the sacraments and the
exclusion of ill Roman Catholic priests from these policies.
Despite a decree issued by the Vatican on 2 December 1940 stating
that the T4 policy was "against natural and positive Divine law" and
that "The direct killing of an innocent person because of mental or
physical defects is not allowed", the Catholic Church hierarchy in
Germany decided to take no further action. However, incensed by the
Nazi appropriation of Church property in
Münster to accommodate
people made homeless in an air raid, in July and August 1941, the
August von Galen , gave four sermons criticizing
the Nazis for arresting Jesuits , confiscating church property and for
the euthanasia program. Galen sent the text to
Hitler by telegram,
.... 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?
Galen's sermons were not reported in the German press but were
circulated as illegally printed leaflets. The text was dropped by the
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force over German troops. In 2009,
Richard J. Evans wrote
that "This was the strongest, most explicit and most widespread
protest movement against any policy since the beginning of the Third
Reich". Local Nazis asked for Galen to be arrested but Goebbels told
Hitler that such action would provoke a revolt in Westphalia and
Hitler decided to wait until after the war to take revenge. A
plaque set in the pavement at No 4
Tiergartenstraße commemorates the
victims of the Nazi euthanasia programme. Commemorative plaque
on wall on bunker No. 17 in
Fort VII .
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". Evans
considered it "at least possible, even indeed probable" that the T4
programme would have continued beyond Hitler's initial quota of 70,000
deaths but for the public reaction to Galen's sermon. Burleigh called
assumptions that the sermon affected Hitler's decision to suspend the
T4 program "wishful thinking" and noted that the various Church
hierarchies did not complain after the transfer of T4 personnel to
Henry Friedlander wrote 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 killing to be suspended.
Galen had detailed knowledge of the euthanasia program by July 1940
but did not speak out until almost a year after Protestants had begun
to protest. In 2002, Beth A. Griech-Polelle wrote that,
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.
In 1943, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Mystici corporis Christi
, in which he condemned the practice of killing the disabled. He
stated his "profound grief" at the murder of the deformed, the insane,
and those suffering from hereditary disease...as though they were a
useless burden to Society". On 26 September 1943, a condemnation from
the German bishops was read from every German pulpit, denouncing the
killing of "innocent and defenceless mentally handicapped, incurably
infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages, and disarmed prisoners
of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent".
SUSPENSION OF T4 KILLINGS
On 24 August 1941,
Hitler ordered the suspension of the T4 killings.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June, many T4 personnel were
transferred to the east to begin work on the final solution to the
Jewish question . The projected death total for the T4 program of
70,000 deaths had been reached by August 1941. The termination of the
T4 programme did not end the killing of people with disabilities; from
the end of 1941, the killing of adults and children continued less
systematically to the end of the war on the local initiative of
institute directors and party leaders. After the bombing of Hamburg in
July 1943, occupants of old age homes were killed. In the post-war
trial of Doctor Hilda Wernicke, Berlin, August, 1946, testimony was
given that "500 old, broken women" who had survived the bombing of
Stettin in June 1944 were euthanized at the Meseritz-Oberwalde Asylum.
The Hartheim, Bernberg, Sonnenstein and Hardamar centres continued in
use as "wild euthanasia" centres to kill people sent from all over
Germany, until 1945. The methods were lethal injection or starvation,
those employed before use of gas chambers. By the end of 1941, about
100,000 people had been killed in the T4 programme. From mid-1941,
concentration camp prisoners too feeble or too much trouble to keep
alive were murdered after a cursory psychiatric examination under
Action 14f13 .
Euthanasia trials and Doctors\' trial
After the war a series of trials was held in connection with the Nazi
euthanasia programme at various places including:
Dresden , Frankfurt
Tübingen . In December 1946 an American
military tribunal (commonly called the Doctors' trial) prosecuted 23
doctors and administrators for their roles in war crimes and crimes
against humanity . These crimes included the systematic killing of
those deemed "unworthy of life", including the mentally disabled, the
institutionalized mentally ill, and the physically impaired. After 140
days of proceedings, including the testimony of 85 witnesses and the
submission of 1,500 documents, in August 1947 the court pronounced 16
of the defendants guilty. Seven were sentenced to death and executed
on 2 June 1948, including Brandt and Brack.
The indictment read in part:
14. Between September 1939 and April 1945 the defendants Karl Brandt,
Blome, Brack, and Hoven unlawfully, wilfully, and knowingly committed
crimes against humanity, as defined by Article II of Control Council
Law No. 10, in that they were principals in, accessories to, ordered,
abetted, took a consenting part in, and were connected with plans and
enterprises involving the execution of the so called "euthanasia"
program of the German Reich, in the course of which the defendants
herein murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings, including
German civilians, as well as civilians of other nations. The
particulars concerning such murders are set forth in paragraph 9 of
count two of this indictment and are incorporated herein by reference.
— International Military Tribunal
Earlier, in 1945, American forces tried seven staff members of the
Hadamar killing centre for the killing of Soviet and Polish nationals,
which was within their jurisdiction under international law, as these
were the citizens of wartime allies. (
Hadamar was within the American
Zone of Occupation in Germany. This was before the Allied resolution
of December 1945, to prosecute individuals for "crimes against
humanity" for such mass atrocities.) Alfons Klein, Karl Ruoff and
Wilhelm Willig were sentenced to death and executed; the other four
were given long prison sentences. In 1946, newly reconstructed German
courts tried members of the
Hadamar staff for the murders of nearly
15,000 German citizens at the facility. Adolf Wahlmann and Irmgard
Huber , the chief physician and the head nurse, were convicted.
See also: Category:Action T4 personnel and
T4 marker (2009) in Berlin
August Becker , initially sentenced to three years after the war,
in 1960 was tried again and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was
released early due to ill health and died in 1967.
Werner Blankenburg lived under an alias and died in 1957
Philipp Bouhler committed suicide in captivity, May 1945.
Werner Catel was cleared by a de-nazification board after World
War II and was head of pediatrics at the University of Kiel. He
retired early after his role in the T4 program was exposed.
Leonardo Conti hanged himself in captivity, 6 October 1945
Ernst-Robert Grawitz killed himself shortly before the fall of
Berlin in April 1945
* Dr. Herbert Linden committed suicide in 1945. Overseers of the
program were initially Herbert Linden and Werner Heyde. Linden was
later replaced by Hermann Paul Nitsche.
* Dr. Fritz Cropp d. 6 April 1984, Bremen. A Nazi official, in 1933,
in Oldenburg, Cropp was appointed the country medical officer of
health. Two years later, in 1935, he transferred to Berlin, where he
worked as a ministerial adviser in the Division IV (health care and
people care) in the Ministry of the Interior. In 1939, he became
Assistant Director. Fritz Cropp was involved in the Nazi "euthanasia",
the so-called action T-4, in 1940. He was Herbert Linden's superior.
He was responsible for patient transfers.
Werner Heyde after having escaped detection for 18 years,
killed himself in 1964 before being brought to trial.
Heinrich Gross was tried twice. One sentence was overturned
and another was suspended; he died in 2005.
Lorenz Hackenholt vanished in 1945.
Erich Koch served time in prison from 1950 to his death in 1986
Erwin Lambert died in 1976.
* Dr. Friedrich Mennecke died in 1947 while awaiting trial.
Philipp, Landgrave of Hesse , the governor of
Hesse-Nassau , was
not tried for his part in the T4 programme; he died in 1980.
Aktion T4 memorial at
Tiergartenstraße 4, Berlin
Paul Nitsche was tried and executed by an East German court in
Carl Schneider hanged himself in his prison cell in
1946, while awaiting trial.
Franz Schwede was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1948 and was
released in 1956; he died in 1960.
Ernst Illing was the director of the Vienna
Psychiatric-Neurological Clinic for Children Am Spielgrund , where he
killed about 200 children, sentenced to death on 18 July 1946
* Dr. Marianne Türk was a doctor at Vienna Psychiatric-Neurological
Clinic for Children Am Spielgrund where, together with Ernst Illing,
she killed 200 children. She was sentenced to 10 years prison on 18
The Ministry for State Security of East Germany stored around 30,000
files of the T4 project in their archives. Those files became
available to the public only after the
German Reunification in 1990,
leading to a new wave of research on these wartime crimes.
The German national memorial to the people with disabilities murdered
by the Nazis was dedicated in 2014 in Berlin. It is located in the
pavement of a site next to the
Tiergarten park , the location of the
former villa at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, where more than 60 Nazi
bureaucrats and doctors worked in secret under the "T4" program to
organize the mass murder of sanatorium and psychiatric hospital
patients deemed unworthy to live.
Nazi doctors (list)
Nazi eugenics , the racially based social policies that placed the
improvement of the
Aryan race at the heart of Nazis ideology.
Nazi medical experimentation
Operation Reinhard , men of
Aktion T4 provided expertise for
building the extermination camps during the
* Aktion 14f13 (1941–44), a Nazi extermination operation that
killed prisoners who were sick, elderly, or deemed no longer fit for
T4-Gutachter experts selecting victims killed by gas in
Ich klage an , Nazi pro-euthanasia propaganda film
Life unworthy of life
Am Spiegelgrund clinic
Soldau concentration camp
Jewish skeleton collection
Nazi euthanasia and the Catholic Church
* ^ Sandner wrote that the term
Aktion T4 was first used in
post-war trials against doctors involved in the killings and later
included in the historiography.
Tiergartenstraße 4 was the location of the Central Office and
administrative headquarters of the Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Heil-
und Anstalts- pflege (Charitable Foundation for Curative and
Robert Lifton and
Michael Burleigh estimated that twice the
official number of T4 victims may have perished before the end of the
* ^ Estimated range between 200,000 and 250,000 unofficial victims
of policy upon the arrival of Allied troops in Germany.
* ^ This was the result either of club foot or osteomyelitis .
Goebbels is commonly said to have had club foot (talipes equinovarus),
a congenital condition.
William L. Shirer
William L. Shirer , who worked in Berlin as a
journalist in the 1930s and was acquainted with Goebbels, wrote in The
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) that the deformity was from a
childhood attack of osteomyelitis and a failed operation to correct
* ^ Lifton thinks this request was "encouraged"; the severely
disabled child and the agreement of the parents to his killing were
* ^ These were Professor
Werner Catel (a
Hans Heinze , head of a state institution for children with
intellectual disabilities at Görden near Brandenburg; Ernst Wentzler
a Berlin pediatric psychiatrist; and the author Dr. Helmut Unger.
* ^ Lifton concurs with this figure, but notes that the killing of
children continued even after the T4 programme was formally ended in
* ^ The second phase of
Operation Tannenberg referred to as the
Unternehmen Tannenberg by Heydrich's Sonderreferat began in late 1939
under the codename
Intelligenzaktion and lasted until January 1940, in
which 36,000–42,000 people, including Polish children, died before
the end of 1939 in Pomerania.
* ^ Several drafts of a formal euthanasia law were prepared but
Hitler refused to authorise them. The senior participants in the
programme always knew that it was not a law, even by the loose
definition of legality prevailing in Nazi Germany.
* ^ According to Lifton, most Jewish inmates of German mental
institutions were dispatched to Lublin in Poland in 1940 and killed
* ^ These figures come from the article
Aktion T4 on the German
Wikipedia, which sources them to Ernst Klee.
* ^ Role of T4 "Inspector"
Christian Wirth in the Holocaust.
* ^ A B Proctor 1988 , p. 191.
* ^ A B Sandner 1999 , p. 385.
* ^ Hojan & Munro 2015 .
* ^ Bialas & Fritze 2014 , pp. 263, 281.
* ^ A B Sereny 1983 , p. 48.
* ^ Proctor 1988 , p. 177.
* ^ Longerich 2010 , p. 477.
* ^ Browning 2005 , p. 193.
* ^ Evans 2009 , p. 107.
* ^ A B C Burleigh 2008 , p. 262.
* ^ A B Evans 2009 , p. 98.
* ^ Burleigh & Wippermann 2014 .
* ^ Adams 1990 , pp. 40, 84, 191.
* ^ Ryan & Schuchman 2002 , p. 25.
* ^ A B Lifton 1986 , p. 142.
* ^ A B Ryan & Schuchman 2002 , p. 62.
* ^ Burleigh 1995 .
* ^ Lifton 2000 , p. 102.
* ^ A B C Sereny 1983 , p. 54.
* ^ A B Miller 2006 , p. 160.
* ^ A B C Breggin 1993 , pp. 133–148.
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* ^ Joseph 2004 , p. 160.
* ^ Bleuler 1924 , p. 214.
* ^ Read 2004 , p. 36.
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* ^ Evans 2005 , p. 508.
* ^ Kershaw 2000 , p. 256.
* ^ Friedman 2011 , p. 146.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , p. 50.
* ^ Schmidt 2007 , p. 118.
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* ^ Proctor 1988 , p. 10.
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* ^ Lifton 1986 , p. 62.
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* ^ Lifton 1986 , pp. 62–63.
* ^ Schmitt 1965 , pp. 34–35.
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* ^ A B Padfield 1990 , p. 261.
* ^ A B Kershaw 2000 , p. 253.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , p. 64.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , pp. 66–67.
* ^ Browning 2005 , p. 191.
* ^ Padfield 1990 , p. 261, 303.
* ^ A B Lifton 1986 , p. 77.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , p. 67.
* ^ Annas & Grodin 1992 , p. 25.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , pp. 71–72.
* ^ Burleigh 2000 , p. 54.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , p. 71.
* ^ Lifton 1986 , p. 74.
* ^ Klee 1983 .
* ^ A B Sereny 1983 , pp. 41–90.
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