Bioethics News

Nazi euthanasia victims honoured in Bundestag

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On January 27, Germany’s Bundestag commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the inmates of Auschwitz concentration camp. This year the focus was placed on the 300,000 disabled victims of the notorious Aktion T-4 euthanasia program.

Under Aktion T-4, people were gassed or given a lethal injection and cremated since 1939 in six killing facilities in Germany and Austria. This helped the Nazi regime to refine its system for processing millions, rather than just thousands of victims.

During the ceremony, a few relatives of victims related their stories. A philosopher, Hartmut Traub, narrated the story of his 27-year-old uncle Benjamin, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which had virtually became a death sentence in Nazi Germany. In 1941 he was taken on an “outing” with 60 other inmates of a mental institution to Hadamar where they were executed with carbon monoxide. Gold teeth and the brains of more interesting “specimens” were removed. “For six months, the dark clouds from the crematorium hung over the city, plainly visible for all to see,” said Hartmut Traub.

After the war many families tried to repress the stories of their murdered relatives. “For a long time, the euthanasia victims were the forgotten victims,” Maike Rotzoll, Deputy Director of the Institute for the History and Ethics of Medicine in Halle, told Deutsche Welle. “That’s why it’s enormously important for us that this ceremony took place in the Bundestag. I think it’s also enormously important for the relatives, who experienced the topic being taboo for so many years, to be allowed to speak and for this group of victims to be honoured in this way.”

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.