Down syndrome and the Third Reich

I have a grand nephew who has Down syndrome, what aches me a lot I haven’t seen him yet. When he was born there were complications so he was on and out of the hospital. He is fine now, but because of the Covid pandemic I haven’t been able to fly to the Netherlands as of yet.

This made me think, if this would have been the 1930/40s in the Netherlands there was a chance I would never get the chance to see him. The Nazis would have probably murdered him.

At the beginning of World War II, individuals with mental or physical disabilities were targeted for murder in what the Nazis called the “T-4,” or “euthanasia,” program. The first to be eliminated was too young to speak on their own behalf. In fall 1938, the parents of a severely disabled infant petitioned Hitler for the right to kill their child. He granted the petition and saw in the request an opportunity to encourage what he called “mercy killings” or “euthanasia.” which became the T4 program. I have written about the T4 victims in the past.

In this post I just want to focus on one victim to remember all the forgotten victims.

Anna Lehnkering was born with a learning disability. In 1934, she was diagnosed as “congenitally feebleminded,” sterilized and committed to an institution. In 1940, she was sent to the Grafeneck euthanasia facility and gassed to death. According to her death certificate, Lehnkering, who once dreamed of working in a nursery, died of peritonitis, an inflammation of the tissue lining the stomach.

Sigrid Falkenstein found her aunt’s name – Anna Lehnkering – on a list of 30,000 people who were murdered by the Nazis as part of the Aktion T4 project in the year 1940/1941. This spurred Sigrid on to find out more both about her Aunt and Aktion T4, the Nazi programme for sterilising and murdering those with mental or physical disabilities.

One and a half years after being sterilised, Anna was admitted to
hospital suffering from kidney disease. The doctor persuaded Anna’s
mother that she needed to be institutionalised as they would be able to
offer the care that Anna needed. In December 1936 Anna was taken to
a so-called healing and care home. Anna underwent further diagnoses
and tests of her intelligence, with mathematical questions as well as
general knowledge.

Anna was murdered on 23 April 1940. She was gassed. The T4 program was, in essence, a trial run for the Holocaust. It became the template for industrialzed murder.

At least 6,000 children up to the age of 16 were secretly murdered by deliberate starvation or lethal injection.

As far as I am aware there wasn’t an equivalent to the T4 program in the countries occupied by the Nazis. However, that doesn’t mean that people with disabilities were not murdered by the Nazis


Aktion T4: leerschool voor de Holocaust

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