[disabilitystudies] An extract from "The Men behind Hitler"
Just to start a discussion going here is an extract from
"The Men behind Hitler" by Bernhard Schreiber.
Extract from "The Men behind Hitler" by Bernhard Schreiber
There is not a great deal known about T4 in comparison with
other aspects of Nazi Germany and the second World War; what
little is known is difficult to verify and amongst the accounts,
there is conflicting or contradictory data. T4 in fact was the
Fuhrer Chancellery and the initials T4 came from the full
address which was Tiergartenstrasse 4, Berlin. However it is
important to bear in mind two factors when attempting to
appreciate the lack of information.
T4 was the source of orders and measures which were "Geheime
Reichssache" (Secret Reich Matters), those involved who served
as tools in its execution were bound by silence. The euthanasia
programme was considered to be one of these and this is one of
the reasons why there is so little information, with much of it
conflicting, concerning its workings and its relation with the
A second factor to be borne in mind is that the whole thing was
planned with great care prior to the signing of the
authorisation by Hitler and in fact meetings involving top
German psychiatrists had been taking place some months prior to
the date of his authorisation. As it was a very thorough
programme, the creators were sufficiently foresighted to take
steps to cover their tracks and conceal the evidence. One of
their more brilliant ideas was to finally assign the personnel
who had been trained in the euthanasia institute and who later
went on to much bigger things, to theatres of war where their
survival was most certainly to be minimal. Many of the
personnel were assigned to the Yugoslav front where Tito's
partisans had a reputation for never taking prisoners and a
great many of them died there.
The "Project T4" was fully integrated into the organisational
structure of the Reich and fell under section llb. "Mercy
-death of the Chancellery of the Fuhrer" (KdF). It was divided
into two departments, the administrative one headed by Phillip
Bouhler, a shadowy figure "once described as the dictator of
the dictators" and the medical section headed by Hitler's
personal physician Dr Karl Brandt.
In the middle of 1939, the end phase of the administrative
preparations of the euthanasia programme was started. It dealt
with keeping it secure and secret. The German people were under
no circumstances or become suspicious and the project was to
roll without any interference. It was therefore necessary to
disguise the activities as much as possible.
Questionnaires had already been prepared by the psychiatric
committee and advisers and in October these were sent to the
mental institutions of Germany. These questionnaires required
answers to a number of questions including name, marital status,
nationality, next of kin, whether regularly visited and by whom,
who bore the financial responsibility and how long in the
institution, how long sick, diagnosis, chief symptoms, whether
bedridden, whether under restraint, whether suffering from an
incurable sickness or complaint and whether a war injury or not
. And what was the race of the patient. These questionnaires
were sent out by one of front groups which operated under T4.
In classic psychiatric style four front group had been set up to
shield the actual source of the operations in T4 from scrutiny.
The idea being that essentially T4 itself would issue orders to
the front group who would then carry out the necessary measures.
Anybody seeking to trace back the administrative chain, say
from a hospital where patients were being taken to be murdered
would arrive at one of these four front groups and the chances
of getting any further back than that were very small.
The front group which sent out the questionnaires, had them
returned and handled them, was named Realms Work Committee for
Institutions for Cure and Care. This became the Headquarters
for the whole of the organisation and was started for this
There was a parallel organisation, another front group devoted
exclusively to the killing of children, for obviously some
specialisation was needed in this area and the front group
catered for those who had knowledge and experience of children.
It operated under the ambiguous name of Realms Committee for
Scientific Approach to Severe Illness due to Heredity and
Constitution. In association with these two organisations were
the Charitable Company for the Transport of the Sick which
transported patients to the killing centres and the Charitable
Foundation for Institutional Care which was in charge of making
the final arrangements.
The decree of the Reich Ministry of the Interior of August 18,
1939, which introduced the requirements for registration of
"deformed new-borns" was a great advantage to the children
project. At first this applied only to the children up to the
age of 3, but after 1941, this project included youths to the
age of 16.
These four cover organisations safeguarded the project T4, the
Reich Chancellery and the euthanasia committee from unwanted
discoveries. Those who took the initiative were very secure and
if anyone had attempted to retrace the administrative chain let
us say, from an institute, whose patients were moved to killing
institutes, he would probably have reached one of the four cover
organisations. The chances that he would get much further were
Ironically, the relatives of the patients were charged with the
cost of the killing, without however being informed as to what
they were paying for. The questionnaires having been sent out
were completed by the psychiatrists, doctors in charge of the
patients in the asylums.
When the questionnaires came back, they were evaluated by
members of the psychiatric and professional members of T4 who
were mainly leading professors of psychiatry in German
Universities. The whole business was in keeping with the
euthanasia programme in that no one was ever actually examined
in person, in direct violation of any normal medical approach or
standards, especially when one considers that life or death hung
on the decision of the psychiatrist evaluating. Processing of
the questionnaires was done very rapidly, for example one expert
between November 14th and December 1st 1940 evaluated 2,109 of
At the beginning of the euthanasia programme, and for some time
during it, Jewish people were very carefully excluded from
amongst the people who were being accorded "a blessed release
from their sufferings". The reason apparently was that such a
worthwhile fate was obviously not to be given to Jewish people,
"that only Germans would benefit by such a humane measure."
At the time the questionnaires went out, or perhaps even
earlier, a number of mental hospitals or convenient buildings
were being converted for their later use and were to be the
killing centres and schools for murder.. Death chambers were
erected in the buildings disguised as shower-baths and
crematoriums both of which were identical to those later to be
established in "the Jew-killing centres in Poland".
There appears to have been six principal death institutes and
murder schools and these
Hartheim (in Austria)
Sonnestein, the hospital of the super-expert Dr Nitsche.
The system seems to have worked in the following fashion:-
On the basis of the replies to the questionnaires the Institute
from which they had been returned were notified that a number of
patients were to be moved, allegedly to make available beds for
the war wounded, or to be moved for better treatment. A number
of reasons were made known or put around as the reason for
removal. These patients were collected by the front
organisation, Charitable Transport Company for the Sick which
then took them to one of these killing centres where they were
exterminated within a few hours of their arrival. As a further
camouflage they were not always taken directly to the killing
centre on some occasions they were taken to an intermediate
hospital where people were led to believe that they were there
to be placed under observation.
The total number of victims of the euthanasia programmes
difficult to determine but as there were 300,000 to 320,000
mental patients in 1939 and only 40,000 in 1946 it would seem
that the figure of 275,000 deaths mentioned in the Nuremberg
Trials was reasonable accurate.
The victims were not confined to mentally incurable patients as
the programme progresses and gained momentum other undesirables
were included. It was obviously too great an opportunity to be
missed to not included anyone else who wasn't worthy of life.
Amongst those caught up in the dragnet for the murder institute
were "psychotics, schizophrenics, patients suffering from the
infirmities of old age as well as epileptics" Other patients
having a variety of organic neurologic disorders including the
various forms of infantile paralysis (POLIO) Parkinsonism,
Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and brain tumours. We also know
that children were disposed of similarly, when the orphanages
and reformatories were searched for further candidates.
It should be borne in mind that according to one expert at least
50% of the patients murdered would, if allowed to survive would
have been able to recover and lead useful lives.
As we have seen T4 went into a great deal planning to disguise
its operations and those of the killing centres as ordinary
mental hospitals and this was testified to in the Nuremberg
Trials by Viktor Brack, the chief of the whole section ll of KdF
and therefore one of the main persons responsible for the smooth
execution of the euthanasia programme. At the Nuremberg Trials
he testified that patients walked calmly in with their towels
and stood with their little pieces of soap under the shower
outlets waiting for the water to start running.
I have been able to find more material on some murder
institutions than others, but the following account could be
taken as fairly representative of the other five murder
institutions. Hartheim was situated near Linz which was in
turn also close to Hitler's birthplace in Austria.
It was an old castle dedicated as an asylum to the poor, feeble
minded and stupid in 1898. Hartheim, in company with the other
institutions, not only served as a murder institute for the
disposal of mental patients but also functioned as a murder
school for personnel. The medical directors in charge of
Hartheim were two doctors, Dr Rudolf Lohnauer an Austrian who
later became an expert in 14f13 of which we will hear more later
and Dr Georg Renno. They took their orders direct from T4 and
were responsible for the "medical " training of personnel. The
training of staff was designed to harden the personnel
psychologically to the experience of having to exterminate and
observe the deaths of tens of thousands of people day after day,
week after week, apart from any technical training they were
given. However from later activities in the operation of the
death chambers and crematoria it was obvious that they were
being schooled for bigger and better things in the workings of
the third Reich. Most of the personnel concerned in these later
activities had passed through one of these murder schools.
The administrative official in charge at Hartheim was captain
Christian Wirth a former policeman who had been selected by T4
to supervise the training. Apart from being places for
disposing of unwanted mental patients and to train personnel
these institutions also provided scientific testing grounds for
the perfection of the murder techniques as devised by the
psychiatrists in the euthanasia committees of T4. The deaths of
the victims were clinically studied, photographed and perfected.
In the war crimes trials that took place after the war in
Germany, it was proved that in the death camps of Treblinka
Belzec and Sobibor special photographers also took pictures of
people being gassed just as they had at Hartheim and other
institutes. in addition experiments took place with various
gases to perfect the most effective one. During these tests
psychiatrists with stop watches would observe the dying patients
through the peepholes in the cellar door which served as a gas
chamber in Hartheim and the length of the death struggle was
clocked down to one tenth of a second. Slow motion picture were
taken and studied by the psychiatric experts at T4 in Berlin.
People's brains were photographed to see exactly when death had
occurred. Nothing was left to chance. The psychiatrists were
The actual training of the students proceeded in an orderly
progression of familiarisation. At first they watched the
experiment as observers, as their training progresses they
graduated to participation in the actual murders by conducting
the patients into the chambers, releasing the gases, watching
during the death struggle and finally, ventilating the chambers
and removing the bodies. the selection of the students was
conducted by the high ranking Nazi officials who were personally
and directly responsible to the Fuhrer Chancellery.
The whole operation was shrouded in very tight security.
Everybody involved realised that there could be no slip ups -
there could be no leakage of information because they weren't
dealing with "sub-humans or Jews", these victims were Germans
and Austrians and the reaction of the public would be very
strong. And in fact when the programme later became obvious to
the inhabitants in the vicinity of the murder institutes there
was an outcry against it.
Obviously after so much familiarity with the deaths of the
victims the students became insensible to the cries and pleas of
the murdered. In the process of their being hardened the
students were observed closely by their teachers who noted their
reactions and made reports on the students' progress. If the
students were able to observe and participate in the murders of
their own nationalities even though they were deformed or mad
and were German or Austrian nationality how much easier it would
be to do the same to the "sub-humans".
Students who didn't complete the course because they cracked,
couldn't go on with it or were unsuitable were sent to the war
front from where the Commander in charge of the unit would
assign them to a suicide squad. This would account for the lack
of people with conscience willing to come forward to testify to
what they had been involved in.
The total number of victims at Hartheim is difficult to estimate
but at the Dachau trial in 1947, testimony was given that from
"30 - 40 unwanted humans" were treated in the cellars every
day. As Hartheim was in operation for about three years that
would account for about 30,000 people. Hartheim also had
another purpose. It served as a safety valve when executions
taking place in nearby concentration camps such as Mauthausen
and Dachau became more than the staff could manage. Victims
were sent to Hartheim and "dispatched" there. Later towards the
end of the war Hartheim became just another place for
extermination, its staff and personnel having been assigned to
other duties. It was well situated for use in the euthanasia
programme, lying near a railway but not too close and around the
castle were a few little houses and farms. It was 27 km from
Linz and from there only another 23 km from Mauthausen.
Schooling of the personnel produced perfect murderers who were
used to the smell of burnt flesh and had been taught how to
trick people being led to their death and how to steel
themselves against the crying and pleading of victims. Pupils
were naturally rewarded not only with alcohol and women which
were always kept handy for them but also received medals.
Usually these were the Iron Cross second class and unlike other
awards which had noted in the register the reason for their
being given in. these cases, "Gehelme Reichssache" (secret Rich
matter) was noted in the appropriate column.
One of the murder institutes, Hadamar, achieved some notoriety
at the time of the euthanasia programme. In December 1939 a
member of the Court of Appeals of Frankfurt on Main wrote to
the Minister of Justice complaining about the situation. He
said that among the population there were constant discussions
over the question of the destruction of the socially unfit
especially in places where there were mental institutions.
Vehicles used to transport the mental patients from the
Institutes were converging on Hadamar things had reached such a
state that even the children were calling out s they passed that
"they are taking some more people to be gassed."
The writer had obviously found out enough to be able to describe
in his letter that there were stories circulating about
transported victims being immediately stripped to the skin,
dressed in paper shirt and forthwith taken to a gas chamber
were they were liquidated with hydrocyanic acid gas and the
bodies reported to be moved by conveyor belt, to the
crematorium, six bodies to a furnace. He also went on to
recount rumours about future victims and believed that these
would include the inhabitants of Homes for the Aged and others.
Interestingly the psychiatrist charge of Hadamar was Dr Adolf
Wahimann an active member of the German mental hygiene movement
who had demonstrated cardiazol-shock treatment to delegates from
the European Mental Hygiene Reunion which took place in Munich
This was not however the only letter of complaint and many more
followed when the never ending smoke that filled the skies in
the vicinity of the institutes indicated that something was
obviously terribly wrong.. Various members of the communities
(usually people of some standing) sent complaints to whoever
they thought could be in a position to act.
The main source of complaints appear to have come from the
Church and protests were raised by various bishops and cardinals
usually addressed to the Ministry of Justice. The Bishop of
Limburrg for instance addressed a complaint to the Ministry
concerning the Institute of Hadamar and it was very similar to
the one by the member of the Court of Appeals mentioned earlier
when children were calling out as the vans arrived only now
parents were even threatening that if they weren't quite bright
they would be put in the ovens at Hadamar.
Obviously with the mounting protests the whole operation was
receiving far too much publicity and it was at this point in
about December 1941 that a change in procedure occurred.. And
here we come to another of the myths with which this period is
littered. It was commonly believed that as the protests grew
they came to the ears of the Fuhrer who ordered an end to the
killings. However be that as it may, the killings did nor stop,
they simply took on another form. Many of the writers and
articles dealing with this period state that the programme
ended. What actually happened was that the same aims were
procured by different means. The gas chambers were no longer
used and the crematoria fell into disuse. These were replaced
by lethal injections and even starvation, the bodies being
disposed of by mass burial.
As far as the psychiatrists were concerned it was business as
usual and the euthanasia programme continued throughout the war.
In Bavaria it continued even until a few days
after the war when children were still being murdered. If
Hitler did order an end to
euthanasia murders, their continuance only goes to show how
determined the psychiatrists were to pursue their own aims
regardless of his wishes.
Special Action 14f13
After the State had been relieved of their ghastly burden of so
many of these undesirables, mental patients and useless -
eaters, the operation still under the direction of eminent
mental health psychiatrists in T4 was expanded under the code of
14f13. From being limited to mental hospitals and institutions
it now embraced German and Austrian inmates and Jews in
concentration camps who were sick or invalid usually as a result
of the conditions extant in these places. The starting date for
the operations of commissions of 14f13 appears to have been some
time in December. 1941. Special commissions composed of
psychiatrists attached to the Berlin staff of T$ were dispatched
to the concentration camps to clear the medical bays and sick
quarters by way of selection of ill and undesirables. Patients
selected were usually dispatched to one of the killing centres
and disposed of immediate there.
At Auschwitz, around this time about 800 patients in the
infectious block were sent to the death chambers. Testimony was
given at Nuremberg after the war by the S.S. camp doctor
at Dachau that at the end of 1941 a commission composed of 4
psychiatrists under the leadership of Professor Doctor Werner
Heyde SS Standartenfuhrer and lecturer in neurology and
psychiatry at Wurzburg University arrived at the camp and
immediately proceeded to their business. They selected several
hundred patients incapable of work who were then transported to
the gas chambers and disposed of. The decision for selection
rested upon the incapacity of the prisoners to work. Jews were
disposed of much more easily by the declaration that they were
enemies of National Socialism.
Evidence is shown in a letter written by Dr Fritz Mennecke a
member of the commission dated November 25th 1941 which he wrote
from Buchenwald, another concentration camp which they visited.
The letter was addressed to his wife and gave a brief account of
his clinical duties on the commission during the day: "At noon
we took time off for lunch then we continued our examinations
until 4 pm. I examined 105 patients whilst Muller took 78 so
that we finished off the first lot of 183 questionnaires. The
second lot consisted of 1200 Jews who were not examined and it
was enough to pick out from their documents the reason for their
arrest and enter it in the questionnaires."
Apart from the people already covered the action was extended to
include adults and children in many Polish asylums. However
there is little evidence available to me at the moment regarding
these particular murders and this is a very fruitful area to be
examined in the future. Apart from the psychiatrists themselves
involved in the programme others also took advantage of the rare
opportunity of so many specimens offered them. One of these was
a brain specialist Dr Julius Hallervorden, director of the
Kaiser Wilhelm institute in Dillenberg Hessen-Nassau, who had
the good luck to be able to obtain hundreds of brains from the
killing centres for use in his laboratory. These brains were
from mental patients who had been killed by carbon monoxide gas.
he freely admitted that he himself had initiated this
collaboration in the euthanasia programme and stated, " I heard
that they were going to do that and so I went up to them and
told them "Look here now boys, if you are going to kill all
these people at least take the brains out so that the material
could be utilised." They asked me How many can you examine ?"
and so I told them "An unlimited number the more the better." So
I gave them instructions for removing the brain and the
fixatives, jars and boxes and then they came bringing them in
like the delivery van from the furniture company.. The
Charitable Transport Company for the Sick brought the brains in
batches of 150-250 at a time... There was wonderful material
among those brains, beautiful mental defectives, malformations
and early infantile diseases. I accepted those brains of
course. Where they came from was really none of my business."
The development of occurrences up to this time shows plainly
that there were no limits to the enthusiasm that the
psychiatrists in Berlin felt for T4. How patriotic they must
have considered themselves when they then decided to put their
brave teams into action in the East to help the wounded in ice
and snow. As Dr Fritz Mennecke told his wife in a letter dated
12th January 1942.
"since the day before yesterday a large delegation from our
organisations headed by Herr Brack is on the battlefields of the
East to help in saving our wounded in the ice and snow. They
include doctors, clerks, nurses and male nurses from Hadamar and
Sonnestein, a whole detachment of 20-30 persons. This is top
secret. Only those persons who could not be spared were
excluded. Professor Nitsche regrets that the staff of our
institution at Eichberg had to be taken away so soon."
This quote speaks for itself when one considers who was
"helping" the wounded in the ice and snow. It becomes evident
that the German soldiers in the East had to fight three fronts,
the Russian Army, the partisans and the enemies in their own
ranks. As if the war killing was not enough, now special
committees were put into action to relieve the wounded German
soldiers from their painful existence. The soldiers thus were
not only in a fix strategically but also morally , if they were
wounded, how could they be "helped"?
translated by H.R, Martindale0
Extract from "The Men behind Hitler" by Bernhard Schreiber
It is my desire that this book be distributed as widely as
possible; and thus I hereby not only give my consent, but urge
the distribution, translation, publication, reprinting and
quoting of this book in part or in whole by any person, group or
organisation that may wish to so do.
Unfortunately, my financial situation made it impossible to
distribute this book as widely as I would have liked and I hope
that the step I have taken will inspire others to actively
participate in this German warning to the world.