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Giving a Face to Faceless Victims: Profiles of Disabled Victims of the Nazi ‘Euthanasia’ Program

Date & Time:
April 20, 2016 | 3:00 pm
Biological Sciences 587
Dr. Patricia Heberer Rice, Acting Senior Historian, The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

From October 1939 until the final days of World War II, the “euthanasia” (T4) program and its corollary operations claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 disabled patients residing in institutional settings throughout Germany and in certain regions of German-occupied Europe.  Who were the victims of Nazi “euthanasia” policy?  Until recently, relatively little research has attempted to reconstruct the lives and fates of T4 victims.  Scholarly preoccupation with the over-arching killing apparatus has helped to overshadow the individual identities of these individuals. Lack of adequate documentation has heretofore presented a major obstacle:  many patient files have been lost or destroyed, while German privacy laws have ensured that the bulk of these records remained inaccessible to researchers. Utilizing patient files from the Bezirkskrankenhaus Kaufbeuren, formerly a notorious “euthanasia” facility near Augsburg, this presentation will offer a much-needed perspective to a field in which the analysis of process and perpetrator often precludes important questions about the victims themselves. For example, from what economic, educational, and social backgrounds did these persons stem?   Which kind of illnesses and conditions most often warranted inclusion in the killing operation?  Did a patient’s age, gender, or  behavior determine whether that individual lived or died?  Why did the “end phase” of the “euthanasia” program witness an increase in instances in mortality of victim who had little or no pathology, a phenomenon documented in anecdotal evidence at a number of T4 institutions?  This paper will examine these issues, attempting to construct a patient composite for victims murdered in “euthanasia’s” second killing phase (1942-1945), as represented by the example of Kaufbeuren.  An exploration of the comprehensive, yet compact, Kaufbeuren patient-file collection also offers us illustrative case studies which document the lives and deaths of  patients at the facility.

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