The T4 program AKA Aktion T4 was a postwar name for mass murder through involuntary euthanasia in Nazi Germany.The name T4 is an abbreviation of Tiergartenstraße 4, a street address of the Chancellery department set up in the spring of 1940, in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, which recruited and paid personnel associated with T4. Certain German physicians were authorized to select patients “deemed incurably sick, after most critical medical examination” and then administer to them a “mercy death” (Gnadentod). In October 1939 Adolf Hitler signed a “euthanasia decree” backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized his personal physician Karl Brandt and Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler to implement the program.
The immediate occasion for the beginning of the organized euthanasia of children is considered in the literature to be the so-called case of “Child K”.
Beginning in October 1939, public health authorities began to encourage parents of children with disabilities to admit their young children to one of a number of specially designated pediatric clinics throughout Germany and Austria. In reality, the clinics were children’s killing wards. There, specially recruited medical staff murdered their young charges by lethal overdoses of medication or by starvation.
In this particular case, the parents submitted a request that their severely disabled child be granted a “mercy killing”, the application being received at an unverifiable time before the middle of 1939 at the Office of the Führer (KDF), also known as Hitler’s Chancellery. This office was an agency of the Nazi Party and a private chancellery placed under the direct authority of Hitler which employed about 195 staff in 1939. Main Office IIb under Hans Hefelmann and his deputy, Richard von Hegener, was responsible for “clemency”. The head of Main Office II and thus Hefelmann’s superior was the Oberdienstleiter, Viktor Brack, one of the leading organizers of Nazi euthanasia.
The reports of this case are mainly based on statements of defendants in post-war trials, which time and again pointed to the case of a “Child K”. According to French journalist, Philippe Aziz, in an interview, this child was supposed to have been traced in 1973 to a “Kressler” family in Pomßen. However, Benzenhöfer came to the conclusion, after several days of investigation, that “Child K” was in fact Gerhard Herbert Kretschmar, born on the 20 February 1939 in Pomßen and who died on 25 July 1939.In 2007, however, Benzenhöfer learned from the sister of the deceased child, that he was not disabled and had died a natural death. As a result, Benzenhöfer had to revise his assertion.
The identity of the child is thus still unclear. New research opens the possibility that it could have been a girl who died as early as March 1938 at the Leipzig-Reudnitz Children’s Hospital.This children’s hospital was directly connected to the University Children’s Hospital of Leipzig and its director, Werner Catel. The previously accepted statements by members of Hitler’s Chancellery (KdF) in the scientific literature postwar are thus open to question. A precise dating of the events surrounding the case of “Child K” is (as at 2008) not possible on the basis of the statements. It is conceivable that the period beginning in 1938 (for carrying out the said killing) until early/mid-1939 (for the start of concrete planning phase) is realistic. If the case of “Child K” actually took place in March 1938, for which there is some evidence, then the case can at best be described as an impetus for the euthanasia of children in Germany and not as its specific cause or trigger.
According to the testimony of the participants, the request on 23 May 1939 led to a meeting of the parents of the child with the director of the University Children’s Hospital, Leipzig, Werner Catel, about the chances of survival of her malformed child.According to Catel’s own statement, he held that the release of the child by an early death was the best solution for everyone involved. But because actively assisting death was still punishable under the Third Reich, Catel advised the parents to submit an appropriate request to Hitler via his private chancellery. About this request, in a statement before the investigating judge on 14 November 1960, Hefelmann said the following:
“I worked on this request, as it was in my department. Since Hitler’s decision was requested, I forwarded it without comment to the Head of Main Office I in the KdF, Albert Bormann. As a simple act of mercy was being requested, I did not deem the involvement of the Reich Interior Minister and the Minister of Justice necessary. Because, as far as I know, Hitler had not made a decision with regards to such requests, it also seemed impractical to me, to involve other authorities.”
To the recollections of his boss, Hefelmann’s deputy, Richard von Hegener, added:
“As early as about half a year before the outbreak of the war, there were more and more requests from incurably sick or very seriously injured people who asked for relief from their suffering, which was unbearable to them. These requests were especially tragic, because under existing laws a doctor was not allowed to take such wishes into account. Because the department, as we were reminded again and again, was under Hitler’s orders to deal on precisely with such cases that could not be resolved legally, Dr. Hefelmann and I felt committed, after a while to take a number of such requests to Hitler’s personal physician, the then senior doctor, Dr. Brandt, for him to submit and obtain a decision from Hitler on what should be done with such requests. Soon afterwards, Dr. Brandt told us that Hitler had decided, following this presentation, to grant such requests if it was proven by the doctor attending the patient as well as the newly formed health committee, that the suffering was incurable.”
During the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial, Brandt said the following about the case of “Child K”:
“I personally know of a petition that was sent to the Führer in 1939 via his adjutant’s office [Adjutantur]. The case was about the father of a malformed child who applied to the Führer asking that the life of this child or this creature would be taken. At the time, Hitler ordered me to address this matter and to go to Leipzig immediately – it had happened in Leipzig – in order to confirm on the spot what had been asserted. I found that there was a child who had been born blind, appeared imbecilic and who was also missing a leg and part of the arm. […] He [Hitler] had given me the task, to discuss with the doctors in whose care the child was, to determine whether the disclosure of the father was correct. In the event that he was right, I was to tell the doctors, in his [Hitler’s] name, that they could carry out euthanasia. In doing so, it was important that it should be done in such a way that the parents could not feel at any later stage that they themselves were burdened by the euthanasia [of their child]. In other words, that these parents should not have the impression that they themselves were responsible for the death of the child. It was further beholden on me to say that if these doctors themselves were involved in any legal proceedings as a result of these measures, carried out on behalf of Hitler, these proceedings would be quashed. Martin Bormann was then tasked, to notify this accordingly to the then Minister of Justice, Gürtner, in respect of this case in Leipzig. […] The doctors were of the opinion that preserving the life of such a child was not actually justified. It was pointed out that it is quite normal that in maternity hospitals under certain circumstances for euthanasia to be administered by the doctors themselves in such a case, without calling it such, any more precise term is not used
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