"Well, are you again looking for new victims, you mass murderers?" These words were spoken by a female psychiatric patient to a group of doctors who were involved in the eugenic mass murder campaign in Nazi Germany between 1939-1945. At Noon on May 2, 2004 there will be a gathering in Toronto in front of the Cenotaph at Old City Hall in downtown Toronto as part of the International Commemoration of the Victims of Eugenic Mass Murder. This memorial is taking place in Germany, Holland, Chicago and Toronto to remember those people who perished because of their diagnostic label in a society which viewed them with contempt. We will gather to remember these victims of eugenics policies and urge vigilance against the poisonous hatred that gave rise to their murders, malignant ideas which did not die with the Third Reich.
Between 1939-45, at least 200,000 men, women and children were murdered due to eugenic policies first promoted by medical professionals who received the active support of the of the German state. The victims were psychiatric patients and people with developmental and physical disabilities.
Ideas, which led to this barbaric eugenics policy, did not originate in the mind of Adolf Hitler. Instead, he supported what others had been promoting long before his assumption of power. Doctors and political activists on both the left and right in Germany, the United States and Canada, among other countries, publicly supported the forcible sterilization and, in some cases, outright murder, of people with disabilities. Leading psychiatrists, such as Canadian C.K. Clarke (1857-1924), expressed their support for eugenics long before the Nazi period saw the most draconian application of these ideas anywhere in the world. Indeed, in 1942, after the eugenic mass murders had commenced and became known inside and outside of Germany, the "American Journal of Psychiatry" published the views of psychiatrist Foster Kennedy who advocated the murder of so-called "defective" children. In an editorial, the APA journal fully supported his murderous ideas. By this time, eugenics practices had a long history outside of Germany.
Legislation, first in Indiana in 1907 and eventually in 30 states, saw the passing of sterilization laws with at least 60,000 victims in the United States over the next six decades. Alberta (1928) and British Columbia (1933) also passed eugenics laws with approximately 3,000 people sterilized in both provinces combined, by the early 1970s. Eugenic mass murder did not take place in North America as it did in Nazi Germany. But the ideas, which led to the killings in Germany, had, as its inspiration, the writings and legal advocacy of leading members of the medical, judicial and political elite in North America and Germany long before the Nazis came to power.
Psychiatrists, especially professors of psychiatry and psychiatric department heads, played leading roles in planning and administering the eugenic mass murder program. The first people targeted in the systematic mass killing of specific groups of people under Hitler were disabled children and psychiatric patients. Most victims were murdered in 6 German-psychiatric "killing centres": Hadamar, Hartheim, Grafenek. Sonnenstein, Brandenburg, and Bernburg. The method of killing in Nazi Germany included gassing, injections, starvation and various other forms of abuse. The murderers were doctors, nurses and attendants who were not ordered to carry out this policy but did so as willing volunteers. Historians have shown that there was no coercion by Nazi officials of hospital staff to kill people with disabilities. These clinical murderers viewed psychiatric patients and people with developmental disabilities as "life unworthy of life". This policy was first implemented with the compulsory sterilization law of July 1933, introduced less than six months after Hitler assumed power in Germany. Forced sterilization was eventually imposed on up to 400,000 Germans who were categorized as having mental and physical disabilities.
Between 1939-1941, 70,000-80,000 people were murdered in gas chambers in mental institutions in Germany. They were targeted as "worthless" members of society. These eugenic victims were the first to die in gas chambers under Nazi rule. The murderers who established this method of killing people in asylums would proceed to transfer their barbaric "expertise" to the death camps of Poland where the Jews of Europe became their primary victims. From 1941-45 other methods of murder besides gassing were employed on people in mental institutions. An unknown number of psychiatric patients and people with developmental disabilities were also murdered in Eastern Europe in the wake of German invasions. Only a few of the medical murderers were ever punished during the post-war period.
There are people who still think
the world would be better off without psychiatric patients or people
with disabilities, including psychiatrists
for a "gene" for schizophrenia, for example. There is a direct
link between these ideas and the eugenic ideas from the early 20th
century where people
believed to have supposedly "defective" hereditary traits
are viewed as a "burden" on society.
Today, May 2, 2004, we join in remembering all victims of eugenics mass murder in Nazi Germany. Above all else, we recognize these men, women and child victims of eugenics policies as HUMAN BEINGS whose life and memory are as valuable and cherished as that of all victims of tyranny during this terrible period in world history. Just as is said of the six million Jews, and millions of others, such as Roma people, homosexuals, and Slavs, we say in regard to psychiatric patients and all people with disabilities who were murdered under the Nazis and their accomplices: "Never Again!"
Please take one minute of silence to remember the 200,000 victims of eugenics mass murder between 1939-1945.
To view more photos, click here.
On May 2, 2004, International Association Against Psychiatric Assault erected
a memorial glass plaque in the crematorium next to the gas-shower at the Bernburg
Psychiatric Institution, Germany, to honor the victims of
psychiatry. Details and Photos.
Statement from Association for Medical and Therapeutic Self-determination in the Netherlands.
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McFarland-Icke, Bronwyn Rebekah. Nurses in Nazi Germany: Moral Choice in History Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.
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