Herzog to spotlight fate of disabled Shoah victims

In 1939, the Nazi regime began focusing on the elimination of hundreds of thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities.

holocaust disabled 224 (photo credit: )
holocaust disabled 224
(photo credit: )
In 1939, months after World War II started, the Nazi regime initiated perhaps its most brutal program of the Holocaust, focusing on the elimination of hundreds of thousands of children and adults with mental and physical disabilities to ensure the purity of the Aryan race. Exactly how many of these people were murdered or experimented on is unclear. Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog announced Monday that his office would highlight "the appalling stories of Nazi efforts to kill people with disabilities" at this year's Holocaust Martyrs and Victims Remembrance Day on Thursday. "[It is] our job to retell the stories of these victims who have been all but forgotten," said Herzog, who will participate in a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony at the Ilanot Special Needs school in Jerusalem and will light a candle in the Knesset for all the victims of Nazi atrocities. "Their stories should serve as a warning to everyone in a moral and humane society that there should be equality for all people," he said, adding that even today some believe that the disabled are nonproductive citizens. "In light of this Nazi crime, our challenge today is to recognize that every person in our society must be included," said Herzog. "We must continue to tell these stories so that we never forget them." In a press briefing, the minister pointed out that even though there were many museums and memorials both in Israel and abroad dedicated to remembering the victims of Holocaust, "it is very unusual to find reference to the slaughter of people with disabilities." In his 1986 book The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton wrote that 80,000 to 100,000 adult mental patients from institutions; 5,000 children in institutions; and 1,000 Jews were transported to the German regime's killing centers. However, the Jewish Virtual Library notes that "these figures may well be too low and that twice these numbers of people may have perished. The fact is that we do not know and shall probably never know." According to other resources on the subject, including the most comprehensive book to date - Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities (2004) by Suzanne E. Evans, a lawyer and journalist who is completing her doctorate in history at the University of California, Berkeley - the Nazis murdered disabled people as part of their T4 Euthanasia Program. This "nightmarish process... is a neglected aspect of the Holocaust," Evans writes. In her book, Evans uses available records describing the "Nazis' Children's Killing Program, in which tens of thousands of children with mental and physical disabilities were murdered by their physicians, usually by starvation or lethal injection." The book recounts the T4 program, in which adults with disabilities were disposed of in six official centers, and the development of the Sterilization Law that allowed the forced sterilization of at least a half-million young adults with disabilities. It also notes "the inescapable implications of these Nazi medical practices for our present-day controversies over eugenics, euthanasia, genetic engineering, medical experimentation and rationed health care."