The Holocaust and disabled people
The Holocaust and disabled people: FAQ - frequently-asked questions
17th October 2008
How did the Nazis see disabled people?
The Nazis claimed that the social and economic problems that Germany experienced in the 1920s and early 1930s were due in part to the weakening of the population created by an unfair burden.
What was the fate of disabled people in Nazi Germany?
It should be noted, however, that Nazi Germany wasn't the only regime to practise the forced sterilisation of disabled people, and it wasn't even the first. As disabled writer Jenny Morris explains in her book Pride Against Prejudice, as early as 1907 American states passed compulsory sterilisation laws covering people thought to have genetic illnesses or conditions. European states that followed suit in the 1920s and 1930s included Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Turkey. In Nazi Germany sterilisation was followed by an active killing program, which started in 1939.
How did the Nazis kill disabled people?
Hitler ordered the suspension of the program in 1941 after opposition from groups within Germany, including Catholic churchmen. However, killings were restarted the following year in a more secretive way, and continued until the end of World War Two. (Hadamar only ceased operation shortly before liberation by American troops in March 1945). During this latter phase of the T4 Program, death was via an overdose of lethal medication or by starvation.
In total, an estimated 275,000 disabled people are believed to have been killed by the Nazis.
Was there any opposition to this?
Other opposition to the Nazis was inevitably of a more secretive nature. One person who resisted the Nazi persecution both of disabled people and Jews was Otto Weidt, who employed and protected blind and deaf people in his workshop in Berlin's Rosenthaler Strasse. The workers were safe because the brushes and brooms manufactured in the workshop were declared "vital for military purposes". An exhibition telling the story of Otto Weidt was held at the Jewish Museum in Berlin in 2004.
Von Stauffenberg had access to Hitler on a daily basis at the War Office in Berlin but, as a disabled war hero, he was above suspicion. He left a bomb under a table in the map room that Hitler was due to visit - but at the last minute an officer moved the briefcase in which the device was hidden. Although the bomb exploded, Hitler survived. His only injuries were cuts to his hands and damaged eardrums. Von Staffenberg was court-martialed and shot, along with other conspirators.
Were there any exceptions to the Nazi policies towards disabled people?
Did the extermination of disabled people pave the way for the larger extermination programs?
What have disabled people done to highlight this forgotten story of the Holocaust?
There have also been plans for a theatrical project entitled The First To Go, about the plight of disabled people in Nazi Germany, written by writer and actor Nabil Shaban. It was all set to go ahead until Nabil - perhaps best known as a star of Doctor Who - handed back funds of nearly £25,000 given to his company Sirius Pictures by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Nabil chose to return the money last year as a protest against the Iraq war. This effectively terminated the project. In a press release he said that he felt the government money given to him was "blood money", and that it would be hypocritical to accept it. Since this move, no interest has been expressed in reviving the project. Nabil has also written a movie script, The Inheritance, based on the play. Again, it has proven impossible to get funding.
In March 2003, Nabil Shaban gave Ouch the full story behind the project, and explained in more detail why he decided to hand back the cash.
'Resistance: which way the future?' is a film-based touring installation by artist-activist Liz Crow of Roaring Girl Productions. Taking the Nazi programme of mass-murder targeting disabled people as its starting point, it explores what this history means for us today and asks 'If you could do just one thing...' Currently on its UK tour, the work has also recently toured to Washington DC's Kennedy Center.
More information - including where to see the installation, how to book it and additional resource materials - at http://www.roaring-girl.com/productions/resistance-on-tour
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