A few years ago, my husband and I were visiting Washington D.C. We love to see architecture, museums, monuments, and historical sites when we visit another city, so Washington D.C. is a wonderful place to visit, because it has so many treasures. We went to see the White House, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, as well as, places like the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was shot. While we were walking around the city, we stopped at every museum we ran across. One of the ones we saw was the Holocaust Museum.
When you go to the Holocaust Museum, you get a ticket and it has the time you are slotted to go in. We were fortunate, because there was a government shut-down that ended on the day we were exploring, and most people visiting the city believed the attractions were still closed. So, when we got our ticket, there was no wait, and we got to go in immediately.
When you check in at the museum, they give you an identification card. The card looks like a passport and has a picture of a person inside, and the picture in mine was of Judith Schwed. In the photo, she is a young girl of maybe ten years old. The little booklet tells about Judith’s life and ends with her being gassed at Auschwitz in 1944 when she was twelve years old.
I learned all this before actually entering the elevator to see the museum. A pretty hard hitting way to begin a tour, but considering where we were it was entirely heart wrenching, stomach turning, and appropriate.
I will tell you right now, that I didn’t make it through the whole museum. About half way or three fourths of the way through there were hundreds of old shoes in a pile next to the walkway. On one of the walls there was a quote from Eli Wiesel’s book, Night. After that I couldn’t go on. I had to leave the building. It was overwhelming. The experience was so deep and dark it got into my mind and heart and was too much to continue to contemplate.
It was in that space that I first learned of T-4.
T-4 was a program developed by the Nazis to kill “life unworthy of life.” Included in that group were people with schizophrenia and bipolar (called manic depressive at the time). They weren’t the only ones killed though, the deaf, the blind, and disabled of all kinds were killed, eventually this program expanded to include the Gypsies and the Jews.
When I returned home, I wanted to know more about what happened to the mentally ill people during the Holocaust. I bought a book by Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Genocide from Euthanasia to the Final Solution. In this book, Friedlander, writes that at first, people with a mental illness were sterilized (starting as early as 1934). Later, the Nazis began experimenting with ways to kill them. Before they made “showers” with gas at “killing centers” they drove those they wished to kill around in a van that filled up with the deadly gas, but this method proved to be difficult and inefficient.
Here is a quote from Friedlander’s book, “the chronology of Nazi mass murder unambiguously shows the killing of the handicapped preceded the systematic murder of Jews and Gypsies.”
There was a time, when a regime, considered the mentally ill “Life unworthy of life.”
Google T-4 for more information and you will discover it is even more disturbing than what I have written here, and its origins (not the killings), eugenics, extended past the German borders and into the United States.
*For further horrors, look up sterilization in the United States.