Physicians played an important role in the euthanasia killing operation. We have seen how scientists and physicians advocated the exclusion of those considered "unworthy of life" and how their racial and eugenic theories were absorbed and integrated into the Nazi movement. Using scientists to legitimize their ideology, the Nazi leaders granted them limited control over the implementation of exclusionary policies. Physicians and scientists thus served the state as theorists and experts. During the 1930s, they implemented sterilization legislation against the handicapped and provided expert advice on classifying Jews and Gypsies. As we have seen, once the regime moved from exclusion to extermination in late 1939--a decision made by political leaders, not expert advisers--physicians helped to manage the killings, while scientists did not hesitate to profit from the enterprise. Scientists and physicians thus proposed, justified, and managed the killings. Some joined the ranks of the bureaucratic killers (Schreibtischtäter). But some also became killers on the scene (tatnahe Täter).
The move from theory to realization, from advocacy of the "destruction of life unworthy of life" to the actual killing of human beings, was, even for theorists, a giant step. For example, in November 1939, Brack asked Paul Nitsche, a leading advocate of euthanasia, to "establish gas chambers and to assume supervision over their operation." Pointing to his "advanced age" and his distaste for the "secrecy game [Geheimnistuerei]," Nitsche refused to supervise a killing center.1 Of course, once the centers operated, Nitsche and his colleague Heyde could not resist the opportunity to watch a killing procedure.2
For the killing jobs, Τ4 needed physicians who were young, aggressive, and ambitious. Such men staffed the killing centers and the children's killing wards. Of course, older physicians were also involved in killings with injections, tablets, and starvation--but not with gas. But such older physicians-- Hermann Pfannmüller at Eglfing-Haar, Valentin Faltlhauser at Kaufbeuren- Irsee, and Adolf Wahlmann at Hadamar--were exceptions and usually gave orders to younger physicians and to nurses who did the actual killing.
Various myths have been created to explain the role of physicians in Nazi killing operations. Authors dealing with Nazi crimes have ascribed to physicians as a group a unique commitment to serve humanity and have thus viewed their participation in these crimes as a particularly egregious fall from grace. The mystification of physicians started early. On one side, they were described as "angels of death," a phrase widely applied to Josef Mengele, who