Aktion T4 – Aftermath

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By the time Aktion T4 was officially suspended (not terminated, but indefinitely suspended), mass murder of Jews in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union was already in full swing. And it appears that the decision to exterminate all Jews in German-controlled territories had already been made and begun to be implemented.

As with the euthanasia program almost two years earlier, victims were initially shot by either SS-men of Einsatzgruppen or (more often) by local willing collaborators – Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Russians, etc.

However (again like two years earlier), it was quickly found out that murder by a firing squad was too cumbersome, expensive (in terms of ammunition spent) and emotionally and psychologically hard on the SS personnel (even when they were only witnesses to the shootings).

Again, it was decided that a much more efficient method of mass murder was needed. Not surprisingly, poison gas was chosen as a replacement – first in stationary gas chambers and then also in mobile gas vans.

Which immediately created a strong demand for professionals with the necessary knowledge and experience – which could be only found in Aktion T4 personnel. Which creates another possible explanation for the sudden suspension of the euthanasia program right when the need for these professionals in other, far more important project, became evident.

In other words, Adolf Hitler suspended Aktion T4 not because he felt threatened by Bishop von Galen and his followers and not because the initial quota of 70,000 euthanized has been achieved, but simply because they had “far bigger fish to fry”, to put it bluntly.

This theory is supported by the irrefutable fact that Aktion T4 was suspended, not terminated. Which makes complete sense if we assume that the “final solution of the Jewish question” had obvious priority over the “final solution of the problem of mentally sick”.

After all, Hitler and his henchmen (incorrectly) believed that they were fighting the existential war with the “Jewish race”, not with mentally and/or physically handicapped. Hence they planned to suspend Aktion T4 to free up resources for the more important job and after it is done they would go back and complete the initial one.

Hence it is no surprise that over the next few months (by the end of 1941 at the latest), all key personnel and high-ranking officials, as well as gassing technology and the techniques used to deceive victims, were transferred to RSHA which was designated as the primary agency tasked with implementing the “final solution to the Jewish question”.

Although I tend to think that Adolf Hitler made the decision to totally and completely annihilate all Jews in German-controlled territories sometime in July of 1941, it is very much possible that this option of making these territories Judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”) was considered much earlier.

After all, for some reason in December 1939, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler decided to witness one of the gassings of mental patients (in Fort VII in Posen), although (1) he tried to avoid attending such events as much as possible; and (2) officially the SS was in no way tasked with Aktion T4 (it was the Party project).

The only logical explanation that comes to mind is simple and straightforward – already in 1939 Himmler was of the opinion that the “final solution of the Jewish question” (which had to be resolved one way to the other) would require total and complete extermination of Jews. And was actively looking for the most efficient tools, methods, processes and personnel.

So after the official (and very much real given the needs of the Holocaust project) suspension of Aktion T4 its key personnel only changed jobs – and continued to design, build, operate and maintain gas chambers, move thousands and thousands of victims to their deaths, manage killing centers, etc., etc.

Which for most of them quite predictably did not end well – most of the T4 (and Holocaust) perpetrators met untimely and violent deaths. Some were killed in action or were assassinated; many committed suicide; quite a few were arrested by the Allies, prosecuted for crimes against humanity, tried, (mostly) convicted and either executed or imprisoned.

A handful managed to escape justice; some were acquitted or received light sentences of even a “slap on the wrist” (sometimes Allied and especially the West German justice worked in even more mysterious ways than God Himself).

Aktion T4 became arguably the most thoroughly investigated, prosecuted and tried crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis (possibly because it was by far the best-documented so gathering evidence was almost effortless).

All-in-all seven trials were held – in Hadamar, Nuremberg (the so-called Doctor’s trial), Frankfurt am Main (there were actually four trials), Grafeneck, Hartheim and Klagenfurt with sentences ranging from a few years in jail to death by hanging or a guillotine.

On 29 June 1943, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Mystici corporis Christi, in which he condemned the fact that in Greater Germany

“physically deformed people, mentally disturbed people and hereditarily ill people have at times been robbed of their lives”

Following this, in September 1943, a bold but long overdue condemnation was read by bishops from pulpits across Greater Germany, denouncing the killing of

“the innocent and defenseless mentally handicapped and mentally ill, the incurably infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent”

The German national memorial to the people with disabilities murdered by the Nazis was opened in 2014 in Berlin. It is located in the pavement of a site next to the Tiergarten park, the location of the former villa at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin – the headquarters of Aktion T4.

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