Silent resistance to Aktion T4 was predictably followed by open protests, both private (protest letters) and public (protest rallies). Yes, you read it correctly, open protests – in Nazi Germany it was possible to protest against (some) Nazi projects without fear for one’s freedom (let alone one’s life).
From the beginning of 1940, more and more letters of protest against the program (some signed even by Party members!) began to arrive both the Reich Chancellery and the Ministry of Justice.
However, these letters failed to stop the mass murder. They were ignored at best and triggered sharp rebukes (and not just rebukes) at worst. When a district judge in Brandenburg Lothar Kreyssig (the only the only German judge who attempted to stop the Action Tk), wrote to Gürtner stating (correctly) that the T4 program was illegal (since no law or formal decree from Hitler had authorized it); Gürtner promptly dismissed the troublesome judge from his post, telling him,
“If you cannot recognize the will of the Führer as a source of law, then you cannot remain a judge [in Germany]”
So the opponents of Aktion T4 had to resort to public protest rallies. The first open protest against the removal of people from asylums took place at Absberg in Franconia in February 1941 and others quickly followed.
The SD report on the incident at Absberg noted that
“the removal of residents from the Ottilien Home [mental hospital] has caused a great deal of unpleasantness” and described large crowds of Catholic townspeople, among them Party members, protesting against the Action [T4]”
Similar petitions and protests occurred throughout Austria as rumors spread of mass killings at the Hartheim Euthanasia Centre (these rumors were, of course, true) and of mysterious deaths at the children’s clinic, Am Spiegelgrund in Vienna.
Obviously, there was nothing mysterious about these deaths – mentally and/or physically sick or deformed children (or those deemed “unfit for society”) were being ruthlessly murdered by lethal injection.
Again, these protests failed to put an end to this heinous crime. So – to an immense surprise of the Nazis (to put it mildly) – the protest were joined by the Christian Church. More specifically, by both Catholic and Lutheran Churches.
The Nazis were surprised to no end, because initially the institutions run by both churches were quite cooperative with the involuntary euthanasia program (apparently many Church officials had not exactly orthodox attitude towards God’s commandment “Thou shalt not murder”).
As the result, about half of the victims of the involuntary euthanasia program, came from mental asylums run by Lutheran or Catholic Church – often with the explicit approval of the Protestant or Catholic managers of these institutions.
Even after Holy See announced on December 2nd, 1940 that the Aktion T4 grossly violated the natural and positive Divine Law and that “the direct killing of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects can not be allowed [by the Church]”, this declaration was not upheld by some Catholic authorities in Germany.
And then the Church position for some reasons (most likely, they could no longer tolerate mass murders as the latter put too heavy a burden on their consciousness) changed radically.
The first major protest came from the Protestants. The Lutheran theologian Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (director of the Bethel Institution for Epilepsy at Bielefeld) and Pastor Paul-Gerhard Braune (director of the Hoffnungstal Institution near Berlin) protested directly to Dr. Karl Brandt (manager of the medical side of the program) and indirectly to Hermann Göring, whose first cousin Dr. Matthias Heinrich Göring was a prominent psychiatrist and the director of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute.
Bishop Theophil Wurm, presiding over the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg, sent a letter of protest to Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. Another Lutheran official in Württemberg, Reinhold Sautter, the Supreme Church Councilor of the Württemberg State Church, complained to the Nazi Ministerial Councilor Eugen Stähle against the murders in Grafeneck Castle.
Again, the Nazis ignored these protests completely – so the murders continued unopposed. Still, in March of 1940 the SD office in Austria sent a confidential report to Berlin strongly recommending that from now on Aktion T4 must be must be implemented in total secrecy to avoid a very probable backlash of public opinion – something that was not needed at all in the time of war.
And then all Hell broke loose for the project managers of Aktion T4.
As is usually the case, this Hell had both the first and the last name (and a lot of names in between). And a position. Clemens Augustinus Emmanuel Joseph Pius Anthonius Hubertus Marie Graf von Galen, then Bishop of Münster.
A highly controversial individual, to put it mildly. A great gentleman, a true aristocrat, a Renaissance-style prince of the Church, he was a staunch German nationalist and patriot; he considered the Treaty of Versailles unjust (if not an outright armed robbery) and viewed Bolshevism (correctly) as a mortal threat to Germany and the Church.
Like other realists in the Holy Roman Catholic Church he firmly believed that only the Nazis could save Germany, the whole Europe and the Christian Church from being destroyed by the Bolsheviks so he was the first bishop to publicly acknowledge the Nazi regime.
Von Galen was a fierce anti-Communist (he later supported the battle on the Eastern Front against Joseph Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union). Which was no surprise as he was one of the most well-informed bishops in the Catholic Church about relentless persecution of Catholics within the Soviet Union after 1918 (by 1938, the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union was all but annihilated by the Bolsheviks).
He embraced the “stab-in-the-back theory” (one of the cornerstones of Nazi ideology). In other words, he completely agreed with the Nazis that the German military was defeated in 1918 only because it had been undermined by defeatist elements on the home front.
He was an ardent anti-Semite Galen did not protest the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws, or the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938. Until his death, he refused to recognize that publicly referring to Jews as “degenerate”, “rejected”, and “lost” or labeling anarchy or liberalism as “Jewish”, in any way aided the Nazi regime or and its racist antisemitism.
In Church matters, he always was a staunch conservative and a committed enemy of Modernism. He was firmly committed to Christ’s commandments to submit to a lawful state and to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” so he always assured the Nazi leaders that the Church would remain loyal to the Nazi state in all lawful matters. When Hitler invaded Poland, he offered a patriotic benediction.
On the other hand, he was a no less committed ideological opponent of the Nazis (and arguably the most vocal one at that). As bishop, Galen campaigned against the totalitarian approach of the Nazi Party in national education, appealing to parents to insist on Catholic teaching in schools.
Citing the recently agreed-upon Reichskonkordat assurance that the Catholic Church had the right to determine its own religious instruction, he successfully forced (!) the National Socialists to permit continued Catholic instruction in Catholic schools.
It was one of the first instances where the Reichskonkordat was successfully used by the Catholic Church against the Nazi government, which was one of the intentions of Pope Pius XI in the first place.
In 1936, when the Nazis removed crucifixes from schools, Galen’s protest led to a public demonstration (yes, such things happened in Nazi Germany). Together with Munich’s Cardinal Faulhaber and Berlin’s Bishop Preysing, Galen helped to draft Pope Pius XI’s anti-Nazi encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern) of 1937 – the only papal encyclical written and published in German (just about all of them were in Latin).
In 1934, von Galen began to attack the racial ideology of the Nazi regime, partly poking fun at it, partly critiquing its ideological basis as presented by the Nazi chief ideologiue Alfred Rosenberg.
In January 1934, he criticized Nazi racial policies (declaring the Nazi theory of the purity of German blood a pure nonsense) and equated unquestioning loyalty to the Reich (demanded by the Nazis) with “slavery”. He derided the neo-pagan theories of Rosenberg and called them nothing more than “an occasion for laughter in the modern educated world”.
He boldly told his audience that “whoever does not listen to the Church is a heathen and officially is a sinner” thus publicly proclaiming the Nazis… well, the latter. He equated the rejection of Christianity by the Nazis with rejection of worldly authority, leading to anarchy and chaos (which in reality was, of course, not the case).
By late 1935, Galen was urging a joint pastoral letter from the German bishops to protest about an “underground war” of the Nazis against the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
When Aktion T4 became public knowledge, Bishop von Halen took it personally. Very personally. In his fiery sermons he fiercely attacked the Nazi regime, courageously denouncing the lawlessness of the Gestapo, the confiscations of church properties, and the Aktion T4.
He bravely attacked the Gestapo for converting church properties to their own purposes – including use as cinemas and brothels. He protested against the mistreatment of Catholics in Germany: the arrests and imprisonment without legal process, the suppression of the monasteries, and the expulsion of religious orders.
But his sermons went further than defending the Holy Roman Catholic Church. He spoke of a moral danger to Germany from the regime’s violations of basic human rights: “the right to life, to inviolability, and to freedom is an indispensable part of any moral social order”, he said – and any government that punishes without court proceedings “undermines its own authority and respect for its sovereignty within the conscience of its citizens”. He declared that it was the holy duty of Christians to resist the taking of human life, even if it meant losing their own lives.
Compared to “all of the above”, Bishop von Halen was far too fearless, outspoken, passionate and influential (he was a recognized master of both spoken and written world) to be silenced.
Worse, he has started a genuinely mass movement and was rapidly becoming a public leader. Public leader who was in opposition to the Nazi regime, mind you. Although for obvious reasons his sermons were not reported in the German press, they were circulated illegally – and widely – in leaflets.
Not surprisingly, these leaflets found their way to the other side of the English channel where the British High Command predictably decided to use them as a powerful anti-Nazi propaganda weapon.
Tens of thousands of leaflets were dropped by the Royal Air Force bombers onto German troops and civilians. Which, obviously, did not make the patriotic bishop happy (to put it mildly).
In short, by the end of summer of 1941, Clemens Augustinus Emmanuel Joseph Pius Anthonius Hubertus Marie Graf von Galen was becoming a very serious problem for Aktion T4, for the whole Nazi regime and for Adolf Hitler personally. And that was something that the latter (now engaged in an open existential war with the Bolshevist Soviet Union) could not afford.
Hence something had to be done with the troublesome bishop – and fast. Murdering or even interning him in a concentration camp was out of the question as could have triggered a revolt by Catholics hence making the “medicine” far worse than a “disease”.
Besides, von Halen was highly valuable for Josef Goebbels and his Ministry of Propaganda, more specifically as an important support tool for persecution of Jews and fighting the war with the Soviet Union.
Hence, Adolf Hitler had no other choice but to suspend Aktion T4 indefinitely. And that’s exactly what he did – on August 24th, 1941.
And that’s where the real mystery begins. According to the “mainstream” version of events, only gassing (i.e. one of the methods of euthanasia) was suspended, but not the murders – only now they were committed using lethal injection.
In other words, mainstream historians claim that on the initiative of institute directors and local Nazi party leaders, the killing of adults and children continued, albeit less systematically, until the end of the war.
Hartheim, Bernburg, Sonnenstein and Hadamar facilities continued in use as “wild euthanasia” centers to kill people sent from all over Germany, until 1945 thus raising the total death toll of Aktion T4 in Greater Germany to about 200,000.
I have a serious problem with this version because the “mainstream” historians want to make us believe that (1) doctors and managers of mental asylums, local party leaders and administrators of killing centers boldly violated the directive of their Führer that explicitly ordered them to put an end to killings; and (2) they somehow managed to raise the level of security from virtually nonexistent to airtight.
Both statements, IMHO, are preposterous. Hence, I am inclined to believe that the real death toll in Germany is much closer to the initial estimate of 70,000 than to the now almost universally accepted 200,000.
And that while the doctors in Germany continued to euthanize children and adults (in just about all nations, it was and still is being done), it was done far, far less frequently that when Aktion T4 was in effect.
Consequently, it would be fair to conclude that Clemens von Galen did put an end to the Nazi involuntary euthanasia program in Greater Germany. Which automatically means that had he (or some other influential individual) protested against the Holocaust in the same way, the latter very probably would not have happened and lives of the Jews (at least in Greater Germany) would have been saved.
But not, of course, on the occupied territories. Bishop von Galen either did not know or (more likely) did not care what was being done to non-Aryan mentally and/or physically sick, deformed or handicapped individuals (looks like he was more nationalist than Catholic). So there Aktion T4 continued unabated which ultimately claimed about 100,000 human lives.