Those who write about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust face delicate problems concerning how they use language. They must avoid the language usage employed by the perpetrators but often have no choice but to use terms coined by the Nazis because these terms have become common. But there must be no confusion about the meaning of such terms.
The term "euthanasia" poses such a problem. In common usage, the term means the act of painlessly putting to death a person suffering from a terminal and incurable disease. This is not its meaning in this book. The Nazis used the term "euthanasia," and also "mercy death," as a euphemism to disguise their murder of the handicapped. They killed them for racial and eugenic reasons, not to ease the suffering of the individual. Their killing operation was a secret government program and not an act of individual mercy. It was not applied against persons suffering from common physical diseases like cancer but only against those considered "life unworthy of life." The Nazis' victims did not suffer from diseases that were terminal or from disabilities that were necessarily incurable. And their deaths were certainly not painless.
When used in this book, the term "euthanasia" thus refers to the Nazi killing operation, which had nothing to do with the common meaning of the word. To make this clear, many authors enclose the word in quotation marks or always place "so-called" before it. But such usage, which could also be applied to "final solution" and other phrases, burdens the reader by making the text less readable. For the same reasons, I have not capitalized "final solution" or "euthanasia." In my discussion of euthanasia and the final solution, I have attempted to make the meaning of these terms perfectly clear without excessive use of quotation marks, "so-called," or capitalization. The reader will know that they refer to a government enterprise of outright murder.
The killing operation of Nazi Germany was directed against three biologically defined groups. The Nazis carefully defined, excluded, and tried to murder all members of these groups, in the process imposing on them a common identity that disregarded existing differences. Although we must realize that these persecuted groups were not homogeneous, it is impossible to discuss the victims without using a common term to describe them. But we must be aware that every group has the right of collective self-definition. I have identified the members of one persecuted group as "Jews," but I also know that it included persons who considered themselves Christians and others who preferred to be known as "Hebrews" or "persons of the Mosaic faith." I have