on 3 November 2010
In spite of the large volume of studies of what is now called the Holocaust , little attention had been paid the Aktion T4 program one of the harbingers of the Final Solution.
Andre Pichot in his book ' The Pure Society from Darwin to Hitler ' notes that Raoul Hilberg (author of 'The Destruction Of The European Jews') seems to have little to say about the Aktion T4 killings nor for that matter the existing racial legislation of many countries in that time. Henry Friedlander had filled this gap by showing that the so called euthanasia program of Nazi Germany was organised by the Chancellery of the Führer(KdF),the Reich Ministry of Interior and the organisation T4.
The German medical profession and scientists in biological disciplines such as geneticists and anthropologists held eugenic ideas and views as did the International scientific community notably geneticists of all political tendencies.These eugenic ideas fused with the Nazis' anti-Semitic and racist ideology.One of the outcomes of this was 'Aktion T4' program.
Friedlander does not write about a policy of mercy killing or euthanasia. Euthanasia was a euphemism used by the Nazis to carry out the murder of handicapped Jews,Gypsies and Germans.The Aktion T4 program had nothing to do with terminating the life of persons with painful terminal disease. Aktion T4 was the elimination of 'life unworthy of Life'.
These murders of disabled and mentally ill Germans were the prelude to the systematic extermination of Jews,Gypsies,Slavs and other 'degenerate ' groups such as homosexuals and communists.Once a decision had been made to kill the handicapped then the rest was mere pragmatism.
Friedlander takes us through the shadowy administrative apparatus of T4 ,its personnel,their recruitment and Hitler's role in the T4 killings.He sifts through the evidence which precludes that the T4 killings were simply mercy killings for example he notes that the the forms used to document the T4 victims had insufficient space for the recording their medical details.The judiciary and the medical profession willingly collaborated with Hitler and the Nazis, their involvement was no aberration.
He debunks the view of Robert J Lifton ( author of'The Nazi Doctors').Lifton characterized those who participated in the Nazi organized killing programs as "healers turned killers and mass murder as 'medicalized killing'". Friedlander rejects Lifton's interpretations which describe some of the perpetrators as "decent Nazis" as opposed to a second group who had "psychopathic and sadistic tendencies".In other words whilst some of the perpetrators were sadists others simply had "misguided motives".He notes that some participants did what they did for motives other than ideological commitment. Friedlander views Lifton's interpretation as a mystification of the role of physicians in the Nazis killings and one dovetailing with a tendency in post war Germany to dilute their crimes and attribute to them motives which were at most misguided.Friedlander's view is clear-mass murder is not preventive medicine.
He notes that the SS were involved at the earliest stages of the killings.In Germany the Kdf directed the killings but in the Reich borders and occupied territories subterfuge was not required to alleviate public opinion so the SS organised the killings .The handicapped in Pomeranian state hospitals were killed by execution ,initially these were Germans but were soon followed by Jews and Gypsies.
Many of the early victims were children but he shows that in spite of limited resistance to the Hitler's T4 program, to the Nazis and to their helpers,there was no stop order.Contrary to received opinion the killings of children continued .
Friedlander feels that the ideological setting for Nazi genocide is the belief in the inequality of man. In this he perhaps gives too much weight to ideological imperatives and too little to economic imperatives.He does not explore the impact of Imperialism practised in Germany's African colonies e.g. attempted genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples of present day Namibia.He does not explore whether there was a connection with the scientists and doctors in the colonies and Nazi Germany.
In places the book is a tedious read but this is because he is careful to describe the bureaucratic structures set in place by the Nazis and their helpers.That kind of material is tough going but all too necessary.
on 18 June 2016
A superb and well detailed book by an author who is perhaps not too well known in the field of Third Reich history. The so-called 'T4 Euthanasia Programme' and the related 'Aktion 14f13' is well covered and this is excellent because without the work of, in particular, Henry Friedlander this aspect of the Nazi horrors would become all-but forgotten and overshadowed by The Holocaust. Whilst the latter view is not intended to play down The Holocaust - to do so would be hugely insulting - it should be remembered that T4 murdered not specifically Jews or other supposed 'undesirables' but ordinary Germans purely because they were sick, disabled, had been repeatedly in trouble with the law or were in some way branded antisocial or 'useless eaters'. This in theory included slow learners and even the unemployed. Many of the people involved with T4, which included Franz Stangl and Christian Wirth, later went on to manage the Final Solution and this book also provides a fascinating insight into the transition and perhaps how these men were able to do what they did in running the Aktion Reinhard death camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.