In October 1939, Hitler signed an euthanasia decree authorizing the chief of his private Chancellery (“Kanzlei des Führers der NSDAP” or short “KdF”) Reichsleiter Phillipp Bouhler and Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation Dr. med. Karl Brandt (also Hitlers personal physician) to carry out a secret euthanasia program, aiming to empower certain physicians (called: “T4-Gutachter”) to select patients who, on the basis of “human judgement”, were considered incurably sick. It was Hitlers wish, that these selected patients would be recommended for a “Gnadentod” (Eng: “mercy death”), but only after a very careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness. The document was officially backdated to the 1st of September 1939.
The document reads; “Reichsleiter Bouhler und Dr. med. Brandt sind unter Verantwortung beauftragt, die Befugnisse nazentlich zu bestimmender Ärzte so zu er weitern, dass nach menschlichen Ermessen unheilbar Kranken bei kritiechster Beurteilung ihres Krankheitszustandes der Gnadentod gewihrt werden kann.”
The decree, together with the cold efficienty of the ones that put it to practice, would cause the disappearance and death of an estimated 70,000 men, women and children between October 1939 and August 1941, after which the program was “officially” terminated under the pressure of a public outrage when evidence of the killings had surfaced or rather; fell from the sky, as ashes of the cremation center in Hadamar had rained down in the neighboring towns.
Another 200,000 victims were killed as a result of the unofficial continuation of the program up to the end of the war in 1945. The last victim of the T4 program was killed in the state hospital of Kaufbeuren-Irsee, Bavaria on the 29th of May 1945, even though the Allies had occupied this town more than three weeks before!
“Aktion T4” and “Aktion 14f13”
It is much discussed if the name “Aktion T4” was already used by the Nazis during the program or whether it has come up later during the Nuremberg Trails. What is clear is that the abbreviation “T4” stands for “Tiergartenstraße 4”, which was the address of a villa in Berlin that formed the offices of “Zentraldienststelle-T4” (Eng: Central Office T4), which was made responsible for the task of planning and organizing (and implementing) Hitlers national “Euthanasia” program “Aktion T4”, during this time referred to as “Aktion” or “Eu-Aktion”. The office was also responsible for “Aktion 14f13” or “Sonderbehandlung 14f13”, another euthanasia program aimed at concentration camp inmates who were judged too sick, too old or unfit for labour.
Though the office was part of the Kdf, it was placed outside of the Chancellery’s offices to hide it’s connection to it. From 1941, Dietrich Allers was put in charge of Zentraldienststelle-T4 and he divided the organisation in 6 divisions (Medical, Office, Research, Transport, Human Resource and Inspection).
For communications to the outside world (mostly by letter) the office operated under four different names, depending on the nature of it’s involvement.
- “Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft Heil- und Pflegeanstalten”
Eng: Reich Association for Healing and Nursing Homes (Government Office)
- “Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Anstaltspflege”
Eng: Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care (Foundation)
- “Gemeinnützige Krankentransport GmbH”
Eng: Charitable Corp. for Patient Transport (Corporation)
- “Zentralverrechnungsstelle Heil- und Pflegeanstalten”
Eng: Central Accountancy department Healing and Nursing Homes
The Killing Institutions
After initially using lethal injections to kill the victims, of whom most of them were children during this stage, the organisation soon turned to gassing the victims when the list of people “recommended” for a mercy death grew larger and larger. Adult men and women began to dominate the death list and the organization needed a more efficient alternative. “Institutions” were built in Brandenburg, Baden-Württemberg , Linz (Austria), Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Hesse, where large numbers of people could be gassed at once and then cremated. False death certificates were sent to the families of the victims with a “plausible cause”, along with an urn of ashes. It was highly questionable if these ashes belonged to the actual family member.
Visit Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin
We knew there would not be a lot we would find at this location. The villa at the Tiergartenstrasse was heavily damaged by Allied bombing and taken down after the war. Nowadays it is a grey square with bus stops in front of the Berliner Philharmonie building. Even though I expected it, I was still disappointed. There are a few information boards telling about “Aktion T4” in short and the villa that stood here. Then there is a modern style sculpture. A style that I have come to hate, especially here, because it’s so empty and tells us nothing about what happened or the misery and the suffering of the people and their families it is supposed to commemorate. A memorial made of two rusty metal sheets forming a corridor. I walked through it and we left. It could have been erected anywhere.
WW2 is a story of endless black pages. But this one, to me, is one of the blackest of all. Aktion T4 is the birth of the holocaust, of the endlösung. Of Operation Reinhard. It shows educated people who should have dedicated their lives to protect, cure and nurse the weak and the sick, turn into ideological killers of men women and children. And then, there is the part that these crimes were committed largely among Germany’s own people, so somehow I had expected more involvement, more signs of the things that happened here. So that it will never be forgotten.