Euthanasia in Nazi Germany

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Beginning in October 1939, Adolf Hitler secretly approved an experimental program which by intent and in practice sterilized and removed “undesirable” citizens from the German population. These “undesirables” were German, Jewish, or Gypsy patients who were in most cases handicapped or deemed incurable. It is estimated that the Nazi regime was responsible for over 400,000 sterilizations and over 70,000 deaths from euthanasia from 1933-1945. Despite the fact that many of the “undesirables” were part of German families who supported the Nazis, they were viewed as threats to the Aryan race and were targeted for extinction. Historians have long wondered why theories on experimental programs designed to sterilize and remove “undesirables” from the population resurfaced after Hitler took office in 1933. While the decision to implement sterilization and euthanasia to protect the Aryan race was influenced by theories on Eugenics long before when Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933, only when Hitler took office were these theories placed into action. Although, the sterilization and “euthanasia” influences from scientific views prior to the Nazi regime did not resurface until after 1933, they were not directly responsible for the atrocities that occurred. For it took an economic depression, the spread of Nazi propaganda, the intimidation of an environment of persecution, and the outbreak of World War 2 to trigger efforts made by influential sterilization and euthanasia theorists to protect the Aryan race.

Defeat in the First World War and the conditions outlined in the Treaty of Versailles drove Germany into severe economic ruin. During this time cost cutting solutions were explored in all sectors of German society. In 1920 ''The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life”' was published. This was written by two German professors named Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche who were the prophets of direct medicalized killing and most influential on Adolf Hitler. Hoche and Binding offered a solution to the economic crisis and justified the killing of human beings who fell into these categories by suggesting that the lives of such human beings were 'not worth living', and were 'devoid of value." Their intent was to rid society of the 'human ballast and enormous economic burden' of care for the mentally ill, the handicapped, retarded and deformed children, and the incurably ill. Hoche’s and Binding’s idea of destroying unworthy life was not immediately carried out, but terms such as “Human ballast” and “empty shells of human beings” resurfaced and influenced the sterilization and “euthanasia” programs carried out by the S.S. after 1933.

While Hoche and Binding influenced the sterilization and “euthanasia” carried out by the Nazi’s in 1939, it was the destitution of Germans that played a more significant role in the well-being of Germany. A number of nations suffered mass economic depression and looked to eugenics as the solution for their pain and suffering. The views of Hoche and Binding were revisited in Hitler’s speech at the Nuremberg rally in 1929. Hitler remarked “If Germany were to add one million children per year and remove “700-800,000 of the weakest people then the final result might even be an increase in strength.” As a result, sharp cuts were made to state mental hospitals in 1930, which caused squalor and overcrowding. The need to cut costs in state funded mental hospitals would never have been explored if not for severe financial ruin which plagued Germany during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Desperate times in Germany called for a change in priority between people seen as “fit” and people who were viewed as “unfit.” Although, the cuts in state funding were influenced by Hoche and Binding not all of the states funding was taken from mental hospitals prior to Hitler taking office in 1933. Only after Hitler took office was when the German government eliminated all funding to state mental hospitals.

In the late...
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