The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

By Henry Friedlander | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5 The Killing Centers

The T4 physicians used medication to kill handicapped children, but to kill the far larger number of handicapped adults, they had to devise a different method. For those patients, the T4 technicians established killing centers, thus creating the unprecedented institution that would symbolize Nazi Germany and the early t wentieth century.1

At Nuremberg, Karl Brandt described to his interrogator how the killers decided on this method for murder. At first, the physicians wanted to use injections of narcotics (in Brandt's words "Barbitur-Acid"), but this method would be too cumbersome; death would take time and was thus not considered "humane." Other physicians suggested the use of the gas carbon monoxide (in Brandt's words "coal-oxide"). Brandt claimed that he opposed this suggestion at first but changed his mind when he remembered that he had once passed out "painlessly" after inhaling fumes from a malfunctioning stove.2 Such recollections of a personal experience with gas, through a malfunctioning stove or a running automobile engine, were later mentioned by a number of persons involved with the development, at that time or later, of the killing method using gas.3 In addition, this method was generally known because the police were familiar with cases of suicide or accidental death through the inhalation of gas; for example, in Berlin such a case had been investigated in depth just before euthanasia gassing commenced.4

Brandt discussed the various killing methods with the Führer, and when Hitler supposedly asked him "which is the more humane way," Brandt recommended the use of gas. Thereupon they agreed on this agent for the mass killings.5 After giving this account, Karl Brandt proudly told his American interrogator: "This is just one case where in medical history major jumps are being made."6 This bizarre comment was not an isolated statement but only an extreme example of the fascination with technology exhibited by the managers of killing operations. Thus, when the engineer Walter Heess, who headed the KTI, was asked how one could justify using gas to kill human beings, he replied: "What are you talking about; after all, it works."7

Although they did not disagree about the outcome, participants remembered the scenario leading to the final decision differently. Albert Widmann, the KTI chemist, told investigators after the war that Leonardo Conti in the RMdI vetoed the use of injections and suggested the use of gas. Widmann thereafter discussed the technical details with Viktor Brack, and they tried to determine the best way to administer the gas. Widmann claimed that he


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