Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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knew that a very different kind of killing had long been under way and had in fact already ended, at least officially, by the time the film was shown.
Hitler’s Involvement — The First “Mercy Killing”

Hitler had an intense interest in direct medical killing. His first known expression of intention to eliminate the “incurably ill” was made to Dr. Gerhard Wagner at the Nuremberg Party rally of 1935. Karl Brandt, who overheard that remark, later testified that Hitler thought that the demands and upheavals of war would mute expected religious opposition and enable such a project to be implemented smoothly. Hitler was also said to have stated that a war effort requires a very healthy people, and that the generally diminished sense of the value of human life during war made it “the best time for the elimination of the incurably ill.” And he was reportedly affected by the burden imposed by the mentally ill not only on relatives and the general population but on the medical profession. In 1936, Wagner held discussions with “a small circle of friends” (specifically, high-ranking officials, some of them doctors) about killing “idiotic children” and “mentally ill” people, and making films in “asylums and idiot homes” to demonstrate the misery of their lives. This theoretical and tactical linking of war to direct medical killing was maintained throughout.13

By 1938, the process had gone much further. Discussions moved beyond high-level political circles; and at a national meeting of leading government psychiatrists and administrators, an SS officer gave a talk in which he stated that “the solution of the problem of the mentally ill becomes easy if one eliminates these people.”14

Toward the end of 1938, the Nazi regime was receiving requests from relatives of newborns or very young infants with severe deformities and brain damage for the granting of a mercy killing.15 These requests had obviously been encouraged, and were channeled directly to the Chancellery — that is, to Hitler’s personal office. Whatever the plans for using war as a cover, the program for killing children was well under way by the time the war began. And from the beginning, this program circumvented ordinary administrative channels and was associated directly with Hitler himself.

The occasion for initiating the actual killing of children, and of the entire “euthanasia” project, was the petition for the “mercy killing” (Gnadentod, really “mercy death”) of an infant named Knauer, born blind, with one leg and part of one arm missing, and apparently an “idiot.” Subsequent recollections varied concerning who had made the petition and the extent of the deformity, as the case quickly became mythologized.*
* Hans Hefelmann, chief of the responsible Chancellery office, remembered that the child lacked three limbs and that its grandmother made the request. Brandt made the father the petitioner.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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