Werner Catel—Deciding Who Lives

Werner Catel

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Holocaust I found is, the fact, that so many who were instrumental in so many evil deeds were allowed to continue after the war.

In February or March 1939, a farmer called Richard Kretschmar and requested Catel’s permission to euthanize one of his children. The child, now known as Gerhard Kretschmar, often referred to as Child K, was born blind and deformed.

Werner Catel deferred the matter and advised the father to write directly to Hitler for permission. Hitler subsequently sent Dr Karl Brandt to confer with Catel to decide a course of action. On 25 July 1939, the decree passed to euthanize Child K. This was the first child killed under Aktion T4 or the T-4 program. Technically, the poor boy became the pilot case.


A year later, Werner Catel set up children’s wards in Leipzig-Dösen and the University Children’s Hospital in Leipzig. He was an expert on the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses. Sometimes, he killed children with mental or physical disabilities with his own hands.

The T4 program was influenced by a popular book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens [translation: Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living], written in 1922 by Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding.


Catel argued for the reintroduction of euthanasia. As had Binding and Hoche, Catel identified three possible types of euthanasia.

Reine Euthanasie
Real euthanasia was the killing of a person suffering from so much pain that an ever-increasing amount of pain-reducing drugs had to be administered. It consequently leads to the person’s death.

Euthanasie im engeren Sinne
The killing of a patient whose illness “according to medical experience” is so bad “that there is no hope of recovery”, but whose death is also not to be expected shortly. (See terminal sedation)

Euthanasie im weiteren Sinne
The extermination of the life of an idiot child or an adult in a similar condition. Catel defined”idiot children as being such monsterswhich are nothing but a massa carnis [translation: lump of flesh].

Basically, Werner Catel was one of the people who felt they had the right to decide who would live or die.

After the war, Catel fled from Soviet-controlled Leipzig in 1946, to West Germany. The West German authorities de-Nazified him in 1949, and classed him as »Persons Exonerated. Afterwards, he was shortlisted for several professorships. In 1954, he was appointed Professor of Paediatrics in Kiel, despite the fact his function on the Reich Committee was known. Due to public pressure and the debate about his role in National Socialism, Catel took early retirement in 1960. Catel continued to propagate in public the idea of the euthanasia of children with mental and physical disabilities.

He died on 30 April 1981 at age 88. Many of his victims did not even reach the age of 88 months.


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Der Spiegel



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