Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“Wild Euthanasia”: The Doctors Take Over 
methods did not have to be changed: drugs and starvation, and not gas, had been employed from the beginning. The killing of children had been considerably less visible, taking place as it did on wards in smaller facilities without the telltale evidence of noxious smoke and odors that stemmed from large-scale gassing. The program had been based more on presumed eugenic and scientific grounds than on direct economic ones (the children did not work and ate less) and had not created the degree of public controversy that adult killing did. If anything, the reporting methods for ostensible abnormalities became more systematic. Research efforts, mostly post-mortem studies, also became more systematic, as sometimes happened in adult “wild euthanasia.” Not only did the regime remain closely involved, but the greater part of the killing of children took place after the official ending of the “euthanasia” project. What did become more “wild” was the method of deciding which children should be killed. Now even the pretense of review boards of “expert opinion” was abandoned: any child considered in some way impaired, and sent through the administrative system to any of the “special pediatric units” of the original project, was still fair game. Beyond that, institutional doctors could proceed according to their own inclinations.

Adult “wild euthanasia” involved more radical changes for psychiatrists. No longer operators of gas chambers, they returned to the familiar terrain of syringes, oral medications, and dietary prescriptions for achieving the same end. From the regime’s medical bureaucracy came the continuing message that mental patients were “useless eaters,” burdens on the state and its war effort, “life unworthy of life.” Permission to kill was clear enough, even if a little indirect. As one psychiatrist later testified, “In conversation with other participants in the program I learned that there would be no fuss if some physician or other in an institution stood ready to kill a patient by injection or overdose, if he was convinced that the patient’s extinction was desirable.” And there was a partial merger of child and adult “euthanasia” programs as the age limit of the children’s program was raised to sixteen years: “to some extent this expansion was to offer a substitute for the cancelled program.”² There were, in fact, documented cases of patients of about that age who had managed to survive the official end of the adult “euthanasia” program only to be fatally reclassified as a child.³*

That same psychiatrist added, “Such things would ... happen without
* In late 1944, the directors of several Reich Committee children’s facilities were told at a Berlin meeting to include adults. No reason was given, but they were told to omit the usual procedures because they “would take too long.” The institutions’ doctors were given the power of selection. Dr. Hildegard Wesse of the Uchtspringefacility recalled, when on trial, that she realized this was an extraordinary order, but thought that “those in Berlin” must be acting under pressure of war. Uchtspringe then had twenty-five hundred patients, with new transports arriving from the East daily. Dr. Walter Schmidt, head of a small children’s section at Eichberg, recalled a “few so-called special authorizations [Sonderermächtigungen]”: that is, severely malformed adults who arrived with Reich Committee documentation, often including a family request for killing.4   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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