August 24th in German History: Adolf Hitler Orders the End of the T4 Killings

Erlass von Hitler - Nürnberger Dokument PS-630 - datiert 1. September 1939.jpg
Hitler’s order to begin carrying out T4.

The T4 killings were the systematic mass murder of much of the elderly, critically ill and disabled population of Germany. T4 is an abbreviation of the address of a government building which recruited and organised those involved in the program. On August 24th, 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered that the systematic killings stop. However, they continued to be carried out by hospitals and old-age homes throughout the remainder of the war.

The sterilization of the disabled was a normalized practice during the first half of the 20th century. In most western nations, the practice was legal and even encouraged. In 1933, the Nazi government made sterilization for the mentally ill mandatory. Those with physical disabilities were also subjected until 1937, when the labor shortage forced the government to declare all those who could work useful and thus exempt. In 1939, the government began the killing of children with hereditary disabilities and later that year the program expanded to adults in occupied Poland and Eastern Germany. Gassing began in 1940 and that year over 35,000 people were killed. Although many individual church hospitals allowed their patients to be euthanized, the Catholic Church issued condemnations of the practice and German church officials began protesting. Many families attempted to take their relatives out of sanitariums and hospitals, but too often they were prevented from doing so. By August of 1941 the planned 70,000 deaths had been reached and Hitler ordered that the program be suspended so that the resources could be used on the Eastern Front. However, local Nazi Party officials and directors of mental institutions continued to kill disabled adults and children until the war’s end. An estimated 200,000 people were killed during the war in Germany and Austria.

The T4 program was the logical conclusion of the ablest beliefs of the first half of the 20th century. The belief that the disabled are inherently less valuable and damaging to society leads to their dehumanization. Especially during times of crises, such as wartime, those who society views as less are subjected to persecution and attack.

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