Hitler's stop order of August 1941 did not end the destruction of those considered "unworthy of life." The belief that his stop order ended the killings is based on a postwar myth. The stop order applied only to the killing centers; mass murder of the handicapped continued by other means. Moreover, the stop order did not apply to children's euthanasia, which had never utilized gas chambers. As with the children, after the stop order physicians and nurses killed handicapped adults with tablets, injections, and starvation. In fact, more victims of euthanasia perished after the stop order was issued than before.
The stop order had not reversed the decision to kill the handicapped. As we have seen, the long-range goal of ridding Germany of the disabled involved at first compulsory sterilization and then mass murder. Killing handicapped newborns was the highest priority; euthanasia organizers considered it crucial to prevent a new generation of disabled persons. Children's euthanasia was therefore initiated first and continued unabated even after the stop order.1 Furthermore, the killing of handicapped adults was just a radicalized substitution for sterilization, consuming at least 70,000 victims before Hitler issued his stop order. And Hitler issued this order only because popular knowledge of the killings and subsequent disquiet posed problems for the regime.
Some historians have argued that the stop order was issued in part because the first sweep had killed enough patients to make hospital space available for other purposes.2 But contrary to official claims, emptied hospitals were often not confiscated for military use; they were simply turned over to Nazi party organizations. The savings from killing about 70,000 handicapped wards of the state were not sufficient to have served as motivation for the murders.3
The first killing sweep had cleared out most patients from some regions but had left those in other regions virtually untouched. In the same way, in their first sweep through the occupied Soviet Union during the summer of 1941, the SS killing squads left alive large pockets of Jews and Gypsies to use as forced labor in camps and ghettos until it was convenient to kill them. Similarly, the killing frenzy in the Polish killing centers during 1942 and 1943 left alive some Jews and Gypsies for exploitation as concentration camp labor. The first sweep of euthanasia thus resembled the first sweep of the final solution, and the exploitation and killing of the handicapped after the stop order resembled the unsystematic and arbitrary method of destruction practiced in the concentration camps toward the end of the war.4