Euthanasia and the Third Reich

Michael Burleigh describes how the traditional debate over euthanasia was given a perverted twist by the Nazi use of it for a campaign of mass extermination, and the films and actors they used to enlist support for it.

In March 1933, under the headline ‘Bethel also celebrates the German uprising’, a Westphalian newspaper reported that the inmates of the Bethel asylum had listened eagerly to the speeches of Hindenburg and Hitler relayed to them over loudspeakers. ‘This community too’, the article continued, ‘feels itself to be a living member of the great national family’. Enthusiasm would have turned to trepidation, had the patients read the text of a speech Hitler delivered in August 1929 – ‘If Germany was to get a million children a year and was to remove 700-800,000 of the weakest people then the final result might even be an increase in strength' - or learned of a cabinet meeting in July 1933 where it was decided to pass a law permitting the compulsory sterilisation of people suffering from a number of allegedly 'hereditary' illnesses. The latter included such elastic conditions as 'feeble-mindedness' or 'chronic alcoholism'.

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