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

By Henry Friedlander | Go to book overview

Chapter 9 The Handicapped Victims

The victims of Nazi mass murder are now but grisly statistics. It is difficult to see individual faces behind the vastness of the number 6 million. The men, women, and children murdered in the so-called euthanasia program are among the most invisible of the 6 million. Many of the survivors were kept institutionalized even after liberation. In fact, we have seen that in at least one institution the killings continued even after the war until discovered by the Allies. Only a few handicapped survivors appeared as witnesses at war crimes trials, although they had much to tell; most had been sterilized against their will and all had lived through years of fear and abuse. Stigmatized as "cripples," "psychotics," or "psychopaths," they did not publicly discuss their terrible experiences. We have no memoirs from the survivors of the euthanasia program. A narrative of their experiences can be reconstructed only from surviving documents and postwar trial records. Only recently have some case histories of those who perished and some oral histories and private letters of their relatives been published.1

Surviving photographs are of no help. Staged Nazi propaganda pictures simply depicted individual members of inferior groups as proof of their supposed degeneration; this applies to the handicapped as well as Jews, Gypsies, and blacks.2 Only a few surviving family photographs give us a glimpse of the shadowy victims.3

Even surviving documents often provide only a tantalizing impression but few if any details about the lives, suffering, and deaths of individual victims. About some victims we know almost nothing, although documents concerning them have survived. For example, we know nothing about Otto Martin, born in 1889, who possibly survived. His killers could not find him. Gekrat wrote twice to the Thuringian Ministry of Interior, asking for Martin's location. He had been placed on the list for transfer but was misplaced afterward; possibly he and his records had been moved to another institution. We have no idea whether he escaped his killers.4

We also know nothing specific about Alma Wäldchen, born in 1891, except that she was killed in 1940. Surviving documents that mention her name concern the state insurance company responsible for her disability pension (Invalidenrente). The company knew only that Wäldchen had been transferred and asked the Thuringian Ministry of Interior to release her current address. The T4 Central Accounting Office for State Hospitals and Nursing Homes finally informed the ministry of her death.5

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