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1939: The War Against The Jews
 pg. 169 
"Euthanasia" and Operation T-4

In October 1939 Adolf Hitler wrote the following memo: "Reich Leader [Philip] Bouhler and Dr. med. [Karl] Brandt are charged with the responsibility of enlarging the authority of certain physicians, designated by name, so that patients who, on the basis of human judgment, are considered incurable, can be granted a mercy death after a discerning diagnosis."

Those words authorized a systematic Nazi program to eliminate lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life"). These "worthless" people included mentally and physically disabled Germans and Austrians, children and adults, who were regarded as a blight on the Third Reich's "racial integrity" and as an unacceptable economic burden for the state. Although Hitler signed the authorization for this so-called "euthanasia" program in October 1939, the document was backdated to September 1--the day World War II began--to create the impression that the "mercy killings" were a wartime necessity.

The euthanasia campaign, called Operation T-4, was code-named after the address of the confiscated Jewish villa at Tiergartenstrasse 4, which was the address of the program's central administrative offices. Hitler chose Bouhler, the head of his private Chancellery, and Dr. Brandt, one of his doctors, to oversee T-4. However, responsibility for its day-to-day implementation fell to Viktor Brack and his deputy, Werner Blankenberg. Statistics show that under the leadership of these men, 70,000 to 80,000 people--including 4000 to 5000 Jews--became victims of the euthanasia killings.

The Nazis tried to conceal what was happening, but when public protests exploded--many of them from Germany's Catholic and Lutheran leaders--Hitler officially halted Operation T-4 on August 24, 1941. Nevertheless, the killing continued in greater secrecy until the spring of 1945. From 1939 through 1945, Operation T-4 and other euthanasia actions murdered between 200,000 and 250,000 disabled people.

Medical personnel selected who would die based on data gathered from hospitals, nursing homes, and other public health facilities. The patients selected to die were transported to one of six euthanasia centers in Germany and Austria: Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadamar, or Brandenburg. The doctors, nurses, and other specialists who worked at these centers employed different methods of murder. Starvation and lethal injection were used at first, but eventually the method of choice was gassing with carbon monoxide in chambers disguised as tiled showers. After gold teeth were harvested, the corpses were burned in crematoria.

Operation T-4 anticipated the Holocaust. The euthanasia program's ideology of racial purity, methods of destruction, and administrative personnel would play key roles in the "Final Solution."
Photo: Karl Bonhoeffer-Nervenklinik/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

 September 1-October 25, 1939: Operation Tannenberg, carried out by SS Einsatzgruppen (mobile kill squads), leads to the murders of Polish Jews and Catholic intellectuals and to the burnings of synagogues in Poland.
 September 2, 1939: In Stutthof, Poland, a subcamp is established for "civilian prisoners of war."
 September 2, 1939: As 1400 Jews escaping from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia land on a Tel Aviv, Palestine, beach, British soldiers shoot and kill two refugees.
 September 3, 1939: Great Britain and France declare war on Germany. The British government cancels all visas previously granted to "enemy nationals"; one effect is that German Jews can no longer immigrate to safety in England.
 September 3, 1939: At a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, an organization informally recognized as the ad hoc Jewish government of Palestine, David Ben-Gurion vows that Jews will fight Hitler. A total of a million and a half Jews will fight in the armed forces of nations opposing Germany: 555,000 Jewish servicemen and women in the American Armed Forces; 500,000 for the Soviet Union; 116,000 for Great Britain (26,000 from Palestine and 90,000 from the British Commonwealth); and 243,000 Jews for other European nations.
1939: The War Against The Jews
 pg. 169 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.