Anyone who ever had to go through a medical procedure will know how important the job of a nurse is. When you arrive at the medical facility it is usually a Nurse who sees you first, A nurse will care for you set you mind at ease, often they get to do the mots horrible tasks after or during a surgery. I remember well how some nurses went beyond their duty when I was in hospital.
It is therefore so surprising that so many nurses in the third reich, were willing participants in the mass murder of the disables and also others.
Christian nurses’ associations dominated German nursing when the Nazis rose to power in 1933. At the time, nursing was widely considered to be more of a spiritual calling or a public service than a professional career. The Nazi regime reorganized Germany’s professional nursing associations. It barred Jewish nurses and restricted membership to politically reliable “Aryans.” Nazi propaganda promoted the idea that nursing was a patriotic service to the state. Nazi nurses’ associations encouraged values of militaristic duty and obedience. Nursing schools began indoctrinating students with Nazi ideology through classes on race and eugenics.
Many nurses who did not necessarily support the Nazi regime still implemented its discriminatory and murderous policies through the course of their regular, daily work. Engaging with patients more frequently and directly than doctors, nurses were often the ones who actually applied the regime’s medical policies. Nurses played a central role in the regime’s so-called “euthanasia” program. Under the program, roughly 250,000 children and adults with mental and physical disabilities were murdered. They were killed by starvation, lethal injection, or gassing.
Although some of these nurses reported that they struggled with a guilty conscience, others did not see anything wrong with their actions, and they believed that they were releasing these patients from their suffering.
Staff at the T4 “killing centres”, where the euthanasia programme was carried out, swore an oath of silence and nurses accompanied patients on special buses with windows blacked out to the gas chambers. at one such “killing centre” at Hadamar near Frankfurt in Germany in 1941, nurses and staff drank beer to celebrate the killing of their 10,000th patient in a special ceremony right outside the door of the gas chamber.
Factors influencing the nurses’ willingness to kill are described and include the socialization of the German people toward euthanasia as well as ideological commitment, economic factors, and putative duress.
Although the Nazis actually carried out the mass murder of the disabled, There were sentiments globally towards euthanasia, for example: A 1937 Gallup poll showed that 45% of the American population was in favor of euthanasia for “defective” infants.
Nurses in Nazi Germany were under the illusion that they were remaining true to their professional ethics, unaffected by the social change around them. Nurses weren’t only working in the T4 centres but also in the concentration camps like Auschwitz and Ravensbrück.
During the Ravensbrück Trials several nurses were sentenced to death.
The first Ravensbrück trial was held from December 5, 1946 until February 3, 1947, against sixteen Ravensbrück concentration camp staff and officials. All of them were found guilty. Twelve were sentenced to death. One died during trial and two committed suicide. The death sentences ,except for one, were carried out on May 2—3, 1947, in Hamelin prison.
Elisabeth Marschall was the Head Nurse at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Her duties included selecting prisoners for execution, overseeing medical experiments, and selecting which prisoners would be shipped to Auschwitz. At the Hamburg Ravensbrück Trials, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. On 3 May 1947 she was hanged by British executioner Albert Pierrepoint on the gallows in Hameln prison. Aged 60, she was the oldest female Nazi to be executed.