Why did the Nazis persecute disabled Germans?

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Helene Melanie Lebel

Helene Melanie Lebel, was a young Austrian woman who loved to swim and go to the opera.

In her late teens she developed mental illness and later had a nervous breakdown.

When she was just 29 years old she became a victim of the Nazi’s T4 euthanasia programme.

 

Forerunner to the Final Solution

The euthanasia programme had begun with lethal injections by doctors.

In order to speed up the process a new method was sought and gassings were implemented.

This was later put to use when the Nazis decided to murder the Jews of Europe.

The pure Aryan stereotype included only those Germans who were physically fit with an obedient mind to serve the Reich. Mentally and physically disabled Germans were regarded as a burden on society.

Propaganda

Once the Nazis obtained power, they began a huge propaganda campaign against mentally and physically disabled Germans. As early as July 1933, they passed The Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring. This law allowed the forced sterilisation of 350,000 men and women, who were deemed likely to produce 'inferior' children.

Throught the 1930s, German cinema constantly showed film of the mentally and physically impaired and how they were destroying Germany. This image was reinforced by using every medium at their disposal.

The T4 programme

In 1939 Nazi policy went a step further, when Hitler initiated a secret policy of euthanasia (so called ‘mercy killing’) for children with severe disabilities. Between 1939 and 1941, the T4 programme led to the murder, by doctors and medical staff, of at least 70,000 people.

Protests

Gradually people became aware of the programme and both theProtestant and Catholic Churches protested. In July 1941 a letter from the Catholic bishops was read out in all churches, declaring that it was wrong to kill. Opposition to the programme increased amongst the Catholic population of Germany.

During July and August 1941, Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, a Catholic Bishop issued three sermons condemning this practice; he sent a telegram of the third sermon to Hitler calling on him to “defend the people against the Gestapo”. This third sermon was also reproduced and sent all over Germany to families, and even to German soldiers on the Western and Eastern Fronts.

Fearing a public uprising across Germany, Hitler ordered a stop to the killings. However, the policy continued secretly through to 1945. For instance, after the Nazi invasion of Poland they ransacked the hospitals and murdered thousands of seriously ill Poles.