BERLIN – In a solemn ceremony held in the overflowing foyer of the Berlin Philharmonic Concert hall next to Tiergarten Park on Tuesday morning, Germany dedicated its fourth and likely last Holocaust memorial, this time for the mentally and/or physically handicapped victims of the Third Reich.
Monuments dedicated over the past decade were for Jewish, gay and Roma victims, AFP reported.
The Bundestag voted in November 2011 to erect the memorial in honor of the victims of the Nazi’s so-called euthanasia program – code-named T4 – for Germans who were not considered “useful,” such as those who were physically handicapped, or psychiatric patients deemed unworthy to live.
Prof. Monika Grütters, the German culture minister, and Klaus Wowereit, the outgoing mayor of Berlin, spoke at the ceremony.
“Between 1940 and August 1941, more than 70,000 [handicapped] people were killed,” Grütters said, either gassed, neglected to death or given lethal injections.
Memorializing those lost,is a moral obligation for today’s German state, she said.
Wowereit, who last week announced he would step down from his post in December, said that this memorial in the heart of Berlin will send an important signal “against exclusion, intolerance, and hostility.
“We often forget that even today, around 10 percent of the people in our country live with mental or physical disabilities,” he said. “Our society has a social responsibility to these people... No life is unworthy. You have our solidarity, our encouragement and our empathy. You have the right to an equal life in our society. Because only by caring is our society worth living in.”
Two family members of people who were exterminated under the T4 program, Dr. Hartmut Traub, the nephew of a man named Benjamin Traub, and Sigrid Falkenstein, the niece of a woman named Anna Lehnkering, also spoke and shared their families’ stories.
Benjamin Traub was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 16, and ended up in a gas chamber.
Anna Lehnkering was 19 years old when she was sterilized, confined to a hospital, and was 24, when a doctor declared her “not useful.” She was gassed. Her crime, Falkenstein said, was that she attended a special school, and had difficulty learning to read, write or do math.
The memorial, a plain blue sheet of glass with a long, low wall in front of it that contains detailed information about the T4 program and the execution of the disabled persons, was designed by American artist Robert Serra and erected directly next to the site of the destroyed mansion that housed many of the SS officers and doctors who carried out the euthanasia program, “I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the victims,” Falkenstein said.