During the Holocaust, the Nazi’s viewed those with mental illnesses or disabilities as “biological enemies” (Mueller & Beddies, 2006). It was believed that such people were inferior to the rest of the population and considered to be a drain on society. Under Hitler’s rule, the Nazi’s were willing to do whatever it took to rid Europe of such people; a process that soon became known as “racial hygiene” (Mueller & Beddies, 2006). The following excerpt from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website is only an introduction of what was to become of the mentally ill under Nazi reign….
“On July 14, 1933, the German government instituted the Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases. This law called for the sterilization of all persons who suffered from diseases considered hereditary, including mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism”
During the Holocaust, German psychiatrists and physicians were quick to believe that any mental or physical ailment was hereditary(Mueller & Beddies, 2006, Strous, 2008). This presented a threat to Hitler and his regime. If these “unfit” members of society were to procreate, the world would never be rid of them (Gittelman, 2006). In reaction to this belief, extermination programs were put into effect to prevent any further transmission of disease as well as greatly diminish the number of living Jewish people with mental illnesses. In 1933, sterilization and euthanasia programs were put into effect (Strous, 2008). Information on Hitler’s decree known as “mercy death” can also be found in the euthanasia section of this website.
After the retraction of Hitler’s T4 “mercy death” program (found in the eugenics section), starvation and drugs became the most prominent way of putting individuals with disabilities to death. This was happening in both psychiatric hospitals as well as concentration camps (Strous, 2008)
Apart from attempting to exterminate the “different” and Jewish population, physicians in concentration camps frequently performed experimental medical procedures (Jotkowitz, 2008). The patients for these gruesome procedures were often those with some sort of physical or mental ailment. The patients were often left with further disabilities or disfiguration. Today, the medical practices performed would be seen as medical torture. The foundation of these medical experiments was the enhancement of Hitlers military force. This lead to the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics.
The murder of the Jewish mentally ill serves to bridge the gap between Hitler’s euthanasia programs and the Final Solution (Strous, 2008)