People with Disabilities
Nazi propaganda against the disabled.
Roland Klemig (Photo #07671)
On July 14, 1933, the Nazi government instituted the “Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases.” This law, one of the first steps taken by the Nazis toward their goal of creating an Aryan “master race,” called for the sterilization of all persons who suffered from diseases considered hereditary, such as mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism. With the law’s passage the Third Reich also stepped up its propaganda against people with disabilities, regularly labeling them “life unworthy of life” or “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden upon society.
Just a few years later, the persecution of people with disabilities escalated even further. In the autumn of 1939, Adolf Hitler secretly authorized a medically administered program of “mercy death” code-named “Operation T4,” in reference to the address of the program’s Berlin headquarters at Tiergartenstrasse 4. Between 1940 and 1941 approximately 70,000 Austrian and German disabled people were killed under the T4 program, most via large-scale killing operations using poison gas. (This methodology served as the precursor to the streamlined extermination methods of the “Final Solution.”) Although Hitler formally ordered a halt to the program in late August 1941, the killings secretly continued until the war’s end, resulting in the murder of an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.
The following bibliography was compiled to guide readers to selected materials on Nazi persecution of people with disabilities that are in the Library’s collection. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Annotations are provided to help the user determine the item’s focus, and call numbers for the Museum’s Library are given in parentheses following each citation. Those unable to visit might be able to find these works in a nearby public library or acquire them through interlibrary loan. Follow the “Find in a library near you” link in each citation and enter your zip code at the Open WorldCat search screen. The results of that search indicate all libraries in your area that own that particular title. Talk to your local librarian for assistance.
Background Information ↑
Burleigh, Michael. Death and Deliverance: “Euthanasia” in Germany c. 1900-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. (R 726 .B87 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Provides background information on the historical development of euthanasia and eugenics in Germany with an emphasis on the Weimar and the pre-war Nazi eras. Explores the Nazi perception of an economic benefit to killing disabled people and shows how the Nazis used propaganda to sway public opinion against those with disabilities.
Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfang Wippermann. The Racial State: Germany, 1933-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. (DD 256.5 .B93 1991) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the history of Nazi racial policies, with a particular emphasis on the Nazi goal of creating a “racial utopia.” Describes the regime’s murderous activities from euthanasia to the mass murder of Jews and Gypsies in the context of its racial policies.
Caplan, Arthur L., editor. When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and the Holocaust. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 1992. (R 853 .H8 W54 1992) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of eighteen essays from a 1989 conference on medical ethics and the Holocaust. Focuses particularly on the implications of Nazi medical practices for contemporary controversies regarding eugenics, euthanasia and medical experimentation. See especially the section titled, “Medical Killing and Euthanasia: Then and Now.”
Dunai, Eleanor C. Surviving in Silence: A Deaf Boy in the Holocaust: The Harry I. Dunai Story. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. (DS 135 .H93 D863 2002) [Find in a library near you]
The personal story of a deaf Jewish boy living in war-torn Hungary. Describes his experiences in a Jewish school for deaf children, the dramatic changes brought about by the Nazi occupation, and his struggles to survive under the fascist Arrow Cross Party in Budapest. Also describes his post-war life up until the birth of his first child in 1963. Includes numerous black and white photographs and some endnotes.
Evans, Suzanne E. Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004. (D 804.5 .H35 E93 2000) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the fate of the disabled during the Nazi era, both under the T4 program and in the concentration camps. Brings to light the Swiss government’s denial of entry to those refugees with disabilities and the prevalence of forced sterilization and other eugenic policies in Switzerland from 1933 to 1945. Also available online at http://www.dralegal.org/publications/forgotten_crimes.php.
Friedlander, Henry. “Registering the Handicapped in Nazi Germany: A Case Study.” Jewish History 11, no. 2 (1997): 89-98. (D 804.5 .H35 F75 1997) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the creation of a registry of persons with disabilities which was then used to target individuals for extermination. Includes endnotes.
Gallagher, Hugh Gregory. “Holocaust: Disabled Peoples.” In Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, edited by Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons, and Israel Charny, 205-230. New York: Routledge, 2004. (HV 6322.7 .C46 2004) [Find in a library near you]
Outlines the history and impact of the T4 program upon the disabled community. Features the postwar testimony of several of the victims’ relatives who had struggled against the Nazi bureaucracy to save their family members.
Kühl, Stefan. The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. (HQ 755.5 .U5 K84 2002) [Find in a library near you]
Outlines the connections between the American and German eugenics movements. Examines the influence of American eugenicists upon the Nazi approach to racial hygiene that lead to the practice of forced sterilization in Germany. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
Meinecke Jr., William F. Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2007. (D 804.3 .N43 2007) [Find in a library near you]
Details Nazi ideology as applied to a variety of victim groups including political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles and other Slavs, as well as German citizens of African and Roma descent or persons with physical and mental disabilities. Supplemented by excerpts of writings by perpetrators. Includes photographs, a bibliography, and an index.
Pross, Christian, and Götz Aly. The Value of the Human Being: Medicine in Germany 1918-1945. Berlin: Arztekammer Berlin, 1991. (R 509 .W472 1991) [Find in a library near you]
Exhibition catalogue providing an overview of the history of medicine in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Looks particularly at racial science, the treatment of the disabled, and medical experimentation. Copiously illustrated and accompanied by a useful chronology.
Ryan, Donna F., and John S. Schuchman, editors. Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. (HV 2746 .D43 2002) [Find in a library near you]
Collection of essays and supporting materials drawn from the 1998 conference held at Gallaudet University. Explores the Nazi theories of racial hygiene and describes the experiences of the deaf under the Third Reich. Also includes excerpts from the testimonies of six deaf Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust. Provides end notes for each entry, numerous photographs, and an index.
The T4 Euthanasia Program ↑
Amir, Amnon. “Euthanasia in Nazi Germany.” PhD diss., State University of New York at Albany, 1977. (R 726 .A55 1977) [Find in a library near you]
One of the first in-depth studies in English about the victims and practice of medical killing under Hitler’s regime. Describes the operation of the secret “14f13” program that arose after the cessation of Operation T4 with the aim of killing those concentration camp inmates deemed mentally ill by camp doctors.
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. (DD 256.5 .F739 1995) [Find in a library near you]
Traces the mass exterminations of the Holocaust back to the first secretive murder of a handicapped child in a Nazi-run medical clinic. Details the development and expansion of the T4 program and examines how the killing methods of euthanasia later evolved into the “Final Solution.”
Gallagher, Hugh Gregory. By Trust Betrayed: Patients, Physicians, and the License to Kill in the Third Reich. Arlington, VA: Vandamere Press, 1995. (R 726 .G35 1995) [Find in a library near you]
Focuses on the T4 program of medical killing, examining its origins, implementation, and changes in light of public protest. Reviews the response of the legal community and the Christian churches to the program, and analyzes the doctors’ motives for participating in medical killing.
Heberer, Patricia. “‘Exitus Heute in Hadamar’: The Hadamar Facility and ‘Euthanasia’ in Nazi Germany.” PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2001. (R 726 .H43 2001) [Find in a library near you]
Institutional history of the Hadamar facility for the mentally and physically handicapped. Studies the administration of the T4 program at Hadamar, focusing at local and regional levels rather than on central authorities, and examines the roles and motivations of the perpetrators. Explores the fates of a variety of victims and the ideological and biomedical forces that led to their destruction. Includes footnotes, a glossary, and a bibliography.
Kogon, Eugen, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rückerl, editors. Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993. (D 804 .G4 N2913 1993) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the use of poison gas as a method of murder during the Holocaust. Includes a chapter focusing on the six main euthanasia clinics of Operation T4, reviewing their selection process, killing methods and efforts to maintain secrecy.
O’Neill, Sandy. “First They Killed the ‘Crazies’ and ‘Cripples’: The Ableist Persecution and Murders of People with Disabilities by Nazi Germany 1933-45: An Anthropological Perspective.” PhD diss., California Institute of Integral Studies, 2000. (D 804.5 .H35 O54 2000) [Find in a library near you]
Studies the history of Nazi eugenics and euthanasia from the standpoint of “ableism” or discrimination against people with disabilities. Discusses the relative lack of attention paid to disabled victims within the literature of Holocaust studies and the continuing problem of ableist discrimination.
Thornton, Larry Patrick. “Weeding the Garden: Euthanasia, National Socialism, and Germany, 1939-1945.” PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1991. (R 726 .T56 1991) [Find in a library near you]
Focuses on the history of Nazi euthanasia from the start of Operation T4 until the end of the war. Reviews the theories of racial hygiene that served as the basis of the program, the policies and procedures established to carry out the killings, the steps taken to maintain secrecy, the opposition that developed, and the ways in which the killings continued even after Hitler rescinded the order authorizing Operation T4. Includes an extensive set of appendices consisting of English translations of primary documents.
Wilhelm, Hans-Heinrich. “Euthanasia Program.” In Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, edited by Israel Gutman, 451-454. New York: Macmillan, 1990. (Reference D 804.25 .E527 1990) [Find in a library near you]
Provides an overview of the policies, procedures and impact of Operation T4. Briefly examines the response of the public and program participants to the killings, and offers estimates of the numbers of those put to death under the program.
Documentation and Postwar Trials ↑
Aly, Götz, Peter Chroust, and Christian Pross. Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. (R 853 .H8 A42 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Provides an introduction to the history of medicine under the Nazis and background information on the practice of euthanasia at the hospitals and psychiatric clinics of Nazi Germany. Includes information from primary sources, such as diary entries and letters from doctors involved in euthanasia and medical experiments.
Biesold, Horst. Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999. (HV 2748 .B5413 1999) [Find in a library near you]
Uses archival research, institutional studies, and interviews with survivors to describe the persecution of deaf people under the Third Reich. Explores the collaborative system behind the forced sterilization and euthanasia program focused on the deaf and other handicapped people. Includes a chapter on the history and fate of Jewish deaf people in Germany.
Bryant, Michael S. Confronting the “Good Death”: Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1943-1953. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005. (D 804.5 .H35 B79 2005) [Find in a library near you]
Details the development of judicial procedures and processes relating to Nazi euthanasia trials. Highlights the American role in trials (1945-1947) and justice in West Germany. Includes endnotes, a glossary, bibliography, and an index.
Heberer, Patricia. “‘If I Transgress My Oath’: The Story of the Hadamar Trial.” MA Thesis. Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, 1989. (KZ 1177 .H33 H43 1989) [Find in a library near you]
Provides background information on the history of the Hadamar clinic and the practice of euthanasia there. Critically examines the subsequent United States Army war crimes trial against some of the employees of the clinic in light of the relatively low level of most of the defendants.
Kintner, Earl W., editor. Trial of Alfons Klein, Adolf Wahlmann, Heinrich Ruoff, Karl Willig, Adolf Merkle, Irmgard Huber, and Phillip Blum: The Hadamar Trial. London: W. Hodge, 1949. (KZ 1177 .H33 T75 1949) [Find in a library near you]
Uses trial transcripts to document the proceedings of the 1945 murder trial conducted by the United States Army against seven of the workers at the Hadamar clinic. Part of a series of war crimes trials transcripts published by Hodge in the early postwar period.
Stufflet, Shane Brian. “No ‘Stunde Null’: German Attitudes toward the Mentally Handicapped and their Impact on the Postwar Trials of T4 Perpetrators.” PhD diss., University of Florida, 2005. (HV 3008 .G3 S78 2005) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities in Germany and the effects on the euthanasia trials in 1967. Highlights judges’ statements and light sentences as examples of continued prejudice towards the disabled through the postwar era. Includes footnotes and a bibliography.
Film and Video ↑
Aviram, Nitzan. Healing by Killing [videorecording]. New York: New Yorker Films Video, 1999. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the role of doctors in the origins of the Holocaust. Shows how the Nazis’ mass killings grew out of the German medical establishment’s willing implementation of euthanasia and other practices with seemingly legitimate ends.
Burleigh, Michael. Selling Murder: The Killing Films of the Third Reich [videorecording]. London: Domino Films, 1991. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Looks at the methods by which the Nazis worked to eliminate the “weak” and purify the Aryan race by killing or sterilizing mentally and physically disabled people. Shows excerpts from Nazi propaganda films intended to justify and gain public support for their actions by reason of mercy, cost, or natural selection.
Michalczyk, John J. In the Shadow of the Reich: Nazi Medicine [videorecording]. New York: First-Run Features, 2003. (DVD Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Outlines the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for German doctors’ participation in the Nazis’ sterilization and euthanasia programs and later, in the victim selections and medical experiments at the death camps.
Museum Web Resources ↑
Holocaust Encyclopedia: Euthanasia Program
Summarizes the Nazi efforts to systematically kill the institutionalized mentally and physically handicapped. Describes the program’s history, the selection process, and the collaboration of medical personnel. Includes victim statistics, photographs, personal stories, a map, historical film footage, and a list of related links.
Holocaust Encyclopedia: Hadamar
Discusses the euthanasia activities carried out at the health facilities in the German town of Hadamar. Includes photographs, maps and film footage.
Holocaust Encyclopedia: The Hadamar Trial
Presents information related to the war crimes trials held for the staff of the Hadamar facility in the fall of 1945. Includes archival footage.
Library: Web Links on Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust
Provides links to several Web sites concerning persecution of people with disabilities.
The Nazi Persecution of Deaf People: Panel Presentation
Presents full text transcripts and audio files of a USHMM panel presentation sponsored by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies on August 14, 2001.
Special Focus: Nazi Persecution of the Disabled
Briefly summarizes the Nazis’ treatment of the disabled during the 1930s and 1940s. Includes interviews (in both audio and text formats) with Robert Wagemann, who narrowly escaped being killed as a child for his disability. Also provides related photographs, historical film footage, and links to additional sources of information on the disabled during the Holocaust.
Victims of the Nazi Era, 1933-1945: Handicapped
Outlines the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for German doctors’ participation in the Nazis’ sterilization and euthanasia programs and later, in the victim selections and medical experiments at the death camps. Part of the “Victims of the Nazi Era, 1933-1945” pamphlet series created by the Museum’s Division of Education. Available for view in HTML or for download in PDF format.
Additional Resources ↑
Ask at the reference desk to see the following subject files for newspaper and periodical articles:
- “Hadamar Memorial”
To search library catalogs or other electronic search tools for materials on disabled victims of the Nazi regime or related topics, use the following Library of Congress subject headings to retrieve the most relevant citations:
- People with disabilities--Germany--History
- People with disabilities--Nazi persecution
- Euthanasia--Government policy--Germany
- Insane, Killing of the--Germany
- Involuntary sterilization--Government policy
- Involuntary sterilization--History
- National socialism and medicine
- People with mental disabilities--Germany
Back to Top »