Psychiatrists

Question:

Do you have information on the psychiatric 'retirement' of political dissidents and/or Jews?

Brian Harmon answers:

Hello, My name is Brian Harmon, and I am one of the volunteers answering questions for the Holocaust History Project. You may receive additional answers from one of my colleagues.

There was a great deal of psychiactric involvement in the Nazi T4 program, whereby mental patients were systematically killed after having been evaluated by psychiatrists as "incurable".

A followup program called 14f13 did target Jews, political dissidents, and other individuals in concentration camps as "incurable", but the psychiatric examinations were largely discarded. Patients were often selected for killing simply on the basis of group membership (i.e. being Jewish or a communist) rather than by the T4 method of selection based on individual examinations of each patient. Additionally 14f13 often used the term "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) to describe the killing of these prisoners, while the T4 program was rarely described using that term.

Despite the abandonment of individual examination the killings were made to appear as medical as possible. Doctors often selected the patients and filled out medical questionnaires on each executed prisoner. This medicalization of killing would be used again in the death camps, as it was doctors who often selected which prisoners would live or die.

The 14f13 program was relatively small in scope compared to the death camps, but it was an important link between the "euthanasia" of mental patients in the T4 program and the medicalized slaughter in camps such as Auschwitz.

The 14f13 and T4 programs are discussed in more detail in Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide.

regards,

- Brian Harmon

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