On this day in 1941, Adolf Hitler orders that the systematic murder of the mentally ill and handicapped be brought to an end because of protests within Germany.
In 1939, Dr. Viktor Brack, head of Hitler’s Euthanasia Department, oversaw the creation of the T.4 program, which began as the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective.” Children were transported from all over Germany to a Special Psychiatric Youth Department and killed. Later, certain criteria were established for non-Jewish children. They had to be “certified” mentally ill, schizophrenic, or incapable of working for one reason or another. Jewish children already in mental hospitals, whatever the reason or whatever the prognosis, were automatically to be subject to the program. The victims were either injected with lethal substances or were led to “showers” where the children sat as gas flooded the room through water pipes. The program was then expanded to adults.
It wasn’t long before protests began mounting within Germany, especially by doctors and clergy. Some had the courage to write Hitler directly and describe the T.4 program as “barbaric”; others circulated their opinions more discreetly. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and the man who would direct the systematic extermination of European Jewry, had only one regret: that the SS had not been put in charge of the whole affair. “We know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless uproar among the people.”
Finally, in 1941, Bishop Count Clemens von Galen denounced the euthanasia program from his pulpit. Hitler did not need such publicity. He ordered the program suspended, at least in Germany. But 50,000 people had already fallen victim to it. It would be revived in occupied Poland.