|Resistance to Direct Medical
|received Nazi Germany's highest military decoration from
Hitler himself. In a letter to superior officers, Mölders expressed his
chagrin over the "euthanasia' program and threatened to return his decoration.
Perhaps we could not have expected from the medical or the psychiatric
profession as impassioned an ethical condemnation as Bishop Galens. But
we could have hoped for a statement as comprehensive and morally clear as
Pastor Braunes or a commitment to patients as dedicated and tenacious as
Pastor Bodelschwinghs. Dr. Ewald's actions and memorandum come closest.
But he was constrained other physicians more so by Nazi
affiliations, by the German tradition of psychiatric and medical subservience
to governmental authority, and, more broadly, by ethical gaps in
twentieth-century medical professionalism. I say this not to render the
churches as a whole heroic: most Protestant and Catholic leaders either went
along with the Nazis or did nothing. Rather my point is that the Nazi attempt
at medical mystification of killing was given the lie not primarily by
psychiatrists or other physicians, many, of whom were directly involved in
carrying out the program, but by a few church leaders, who gave voice to the
grief and rage of victimized families with ethical passions stemming from their
own religious traditions.
Nazi leaders faced the prospect of either
having to imprison prominent, highly admired clergymen and other protesters
a course with consequences in terms of adverse public reaction they
greatly feared or else end the program. The latter was essentially the
recommendation of Himmler, who noted that the secret was no longer a secret,
though added, If operation T4 had been entrusted to the SS, things would
have happened differently, because when the Führer entrusts us
with a job, we know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless
uproar among the people.51 Hitler
apparently gave Brandt a verbal order on or about 24 August 1941 to end or at
least to stall operation T4.52*
But the killing of mental patients did not end: mass murder was just beginning.
* Dr. Friedrich Mennecke
(see pages 139-42) told postwar German court an anecdote that he thought
explained the end of the program on which he had served as expert. One day,
Hitler was traveling between Munich and Berlin on a special train when it
suddenly stopped at a station. Looking out the window to see what the problem
was, he saw a crowd watching the loading of a group of retarded patients into a
train. Seeing Hitler at the window, the crowd became threatening.53 Whether true or apocryphal, the
story says something about perceptions of degree of opposition.
Although the halt was accompanied by
a whispering campaign to the effect that Hitler had on his own
initiative stopped a program about which he had previously known nothing,54 many of the protests I
have discussed came after 24 August and in reference to a program that the
protesters clearly thought had not stopped. The halt was not only partial but
apparently allowed for the possibility of resumption.