What was the Nazi Holocaust

National Socialism: War and Holocaust

Michael Wildt

Michael Wildt is a trained bookseller and worked for Rowohlt Verlag from 1976 to 1979. He then studied history, sociology, cultural studies and theology at the University of Hamburg from 1979 to 1985. In 1991 he completed his doctorate on the subject of "On the way to the 'consumer society". Studies on Consumption and Eating in West Germany 1949-1963 ”and then worked as a research assistant at the Research Center for the History of National Socialism in Hamburg. From 1997 to 2009 he worked as a research assistant at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and completed his habilitation in 2001 with a study on the leadership corps of the Reich Security Main Office. Since 2009 he has been Professor of German History in the 20th Century with a focus on the Nazi era at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

His main research interests are National Socialism, the Holocaust, the history of violence in the 20th century and notions of social and political order in modern times.

Contact: mailto: [email protected] «

Peter Krumeich, Member of the professorial chair of Professor Wildt, contributed to the development of the content of the issue and, in particular, in coordination with the editorial team, took over the image research for this issue.

With the outbreak of war, the violence becomes more radical. Thousands of sick and disabled people are murdered, and the deportation and killing of the Jews of Europe is coordinated at the Wannsee Conference. Millions of people fell victim to Nazi terror in "actions" by the SS, SD and police forces and in the concentration and extermination camps.

Trains from all of the countries in Europe occupied by the National Socialists and from the German Reich roll into the extermination camps. (& copy Federal Archives, Image 183-68431-0005)


The decision to murder so-called life unworthy of life had already been made at the beginning of the war with the killing of sick and disabled people. Demands for the introduction of hereditary records, for a ban on marriage for unwanted couples to asylum for epileptics, mentally ill and criminals as well as for the sterilization of "inferior" people were already loud in the eugenic discussion of the Weimar Republic Alfred Hoche published an influential pamphlet entitled "The release of the annihilation of life unworthy of life" in which the Judeo-Christian respect for the inviolability of life was attacked with references to ancient societies such as Sparta. Right at the beginning of the Nazi regime, the Hitler government passed a "Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases" in July 1933, which allowed forced sterilization for the first time in Germany. Now the voices were getting louder and louder calling for the killing of disabled and mentally ill people .

Again and again the "Chancellery of the Führer of the NSDAP", a rather marginal institution that regulated Hitler's private affairs and personal submissions to him, received requests asking for permission to assist in dying Father asked to have his handicapped child killed. Hitler, who had always publicly mocked the "modern humanitarianism" in favor of the sick and weak, accepted the case and authorized the head of the "Führerkanzlei", Philipp Bouhler, and his own personal doctor, Dr. Karl Brandt, to kill the child and to proceed analogously in similar cases.When the two asked for written authorization in the course of the organizational preparations for the "euthanasia" murders, Hitler issued the murder order in October 1939, significantly backdated on September 1st to make the connection with the war clear.

In a small group, the functionaries of the "Führerkanzlei" prepared the murders of sick and disabled people together with doctors and founded a "Reich Committee for the Scientific Assessment of Hereditary and Constitutional Serious Ailments" to camouflage the company. had, which is why the "euthanasia" murders were planned under the code "T4". As early as August 18, 1939, a strictly confidential circular was issued by the Reich Ministry of the Interior to all state governments that midwives and doctors had to report malformed and disabled newborns immediately to the medical officers, who in turn had to check the reports and forward them to the "Reich Committee" In particular, the management of hospitals and psychiatric clinics is requested to report adult patients as well.

In Berlin, the registration forms were checked by three medical experts. Those people who were supposed to be murdered received a "+" sign on the sheet. The victims were then transferred to special hospitals in Bernburg, Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim and Sonnenstein using inconspicuous buses painted in gray kill them there.

Since the perpetrators needed poison for their murders, they turned to Himmler, who referred them to the Forensic Institute of the Reich Criminal Police Office. The responsible speaker, Dr. Albert Widmann, came up with the idea of ​​killing the sick with carbon monoxide. While Widmann was thinking of channeling the gas into the dormitories at night when the sick were sleeping, those responsible for the T4 campaign decided differently. The patients should be killed in specially set up gas chambers. The first attempt with humans took place in December 1939 or January 1940 in the old prison in Brandenburg. In addition to Hitler's "euthanasia" officers, Dr. Karl Brandt and Philipp Bouhler, the State Secretary responsible for health issues in the Reich Ministry of the Interior, Leonardo Conti, several bureaucrats and doctors, Albert Widmann also took part as an observer, who instructed the doctors how to do this The assembled participants watched the agonizing suffocation of the victims through a peephole in the door. Widmann subsequently procured the carbon monoxide gas necessary for the "euthanasia" murders from the Ludwigshafen plant of IG Farben, today's BASF. By the end of the war, around 275,000 sick and disabled people had been murdered in Germany and the occupied territories.

The perpetrators could not keep these murders secret. Relatives asked where their sick family members had been taken and received only evasive, flimsy answers, and finally formal letters with the death notice. In the locations of the killing centers, such as Grafeneck in the Münsingen district on the Swabian Alb, it quickly became known that there were an unusually large number of deaths in the hospitals. Many of the patients themselves suspected the fate that lay ahead of them, resisted and shouted for help with the removal. At church offices, reports from parish priests about the unexpected death of the sick and the immediate cremation of their corpses increased. In July 1940, the guardianship judge Dr. Lothar Kreyssig from Brandenburg / Havel outraged the Reich Ministry of Justice and demanded clarification about the fate of the people entrusted to him. Justice Minister Franz Gürtner also received reports of disturbing rumors circulating in other places. The Wuerttemberg Evangelical Bishop Theophil Wurm wrote personally to Reich Minister of the Interior Frick on July 19, 1940 to protest against the "annihilation of life." In August, the Catholic Bishops' Conference also took a position internally and called for an end to the killings When the news about the "euthanasia" murders spread more and more within the population, family members even turned to the police for help and finally the Münster bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen publicly preached against the murders at the beginning of August 1941 the regime leadership backed down. On Hitler's instructions, the "euthanasia" of adults in the German Reich was officially stopped - and secretly continued on children, in the concentration camps and in the occupied territories. Several "murder experts" from the killing centers such as Christian Wirth, Irmfried Eberl or Franz Stangl found after a few Months back to work in the extermination camps in Germany-occupied Poland, where her knowledge of killing people with gas was used again.

After the attack on Poland, SS units also killed sick and disabled people there, not least in order to use the homes in which these people were housed as accommodation for themselves and for ethnic German settlers. The SS-Kommando Lange, which excelled in these murders, developed a new method: The victims were crammed into a van and suffocated there with CO from gas bottles. In 1941, the Reich Security Main Office had 30 such cars converted so that the engine exhaust gases could be fed in through a hose, so that people died in terrible agony. The SS used these gas vans in the Kulmhof / Chełmno extermination site near Łódz´, in the Sajmište camp near Belgrade and in Maly Trostenez near Minsk and delivered them to the Einsatzgruppen as mobile killing instruments.

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The fate of Emilie R.

Emilie R., born in Alsfeld in 1891, married the police secretary Christian R. in 1912. She had four children and was sane until confusion and depression emerged in 1931. At the time, her husband was on sick leave with a hip problem - which led to great fears for her job and the family's reputation. On November 30, 1931, her husband took her to the Frankfurt University Nervous Clinic for the first time, where the diagnosis “anxious relationship psychosis” was recorded. In December she was released at her husband's request, but was not considered cured. In April 1936 Emilie R. was again admitted to the Frankfurt mental hospital and this time diagnosed with "paranoid dementia" - Emilie R. suffered from "delusions". The clinic immediately applied for sterilization, although the family was not aware of any similar illnesses and all the children were in excellent health. On May 12, 1936, Emilie R. was released as unhealed to the Hadamar State Hospital, where she only stayed for five months. Her husband applied to have her transferred to the denominational St. Valentinushaus in Kiedrich. In one of the last entries in her medical history in Hadamar it said: “7/8/36. Still under the influence of her hallucinations. Can't be moved to work. ”This also explains why the institution had no objection to a transfer, because Emilie R. could no longer be used for work. In the denominational nursing home, her relatives were usually denied visits, and the husband also had to make every effort to obtain permission to visit. They were forbidden to walk to Eltville on the day of their silver wedding anniversary, as Emilie R. fell under the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Children” and was not sterilized. In August 1939 she was transferred from the St. Valentinushaus to the Eichberg asylum and on February 21, 1941 she was transported to the Hadamar euthanasia facility on a collective transport. She was murdered there on the same day. Her medical records were then sent to the Sonnenstein T4 facility near Pirna and her death was recorded on March 1, 1941 in Sonnenstein.

Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen (ed.), Bettina Winter (edit.), “Relocated to Hadamar”. On the history of a Nazi "euthanasia" institution. Accompanying volume for an exhibition by the State Welfare Association of Hesse. Historical series of publications by the State Welfare Association of Hesse, catalogs, vol. 2. Kassel 1991, p. 103



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A sermon against killing

Sermon of the Bishop of Münster Clemens August von Galen on August 3, 1941:

“Devout Christians! In the joint pastoral letter of the German bishops of June 26, 1941, which was read out on July 6 of this year in all the Catholic churches in Germany, it reads among other things: 'Certainly there are positive commandments according to the Catholic moral doctrine which no longer oblige if their fulfillment with too much would be very difficult. But there are also sacred conscience obligations from which no one can free us, which we have to fulfill, no matter what the cost, no matter what our life. Never, under no circumstances should a person kill an innocent person outside of war and righteous self-defense. ‘On July 6th, I already had reason to add the following explanation to these words of the common pastoral letter:
'For several months now we have been hearing reports that on the order of Berlin, people who have been ill for a long time and who may appear incurable are being forcibly removed from mental hospitals and nursing homes. After a short time, the relatives regularly receive notification that the patient has died, the corpse has been burned and the ashes can be delivered. There is a general suspicion, bordering on certainty, that these numerous unexpected deaths of the mentally ill do not occur of their own accord, but are brought about on purpose, that one follows the doctrine that claims that one can destroy so-called life unworthy of life, that is, kill innocent people, if one does thinks her life is no longer worth anything for the people and the state. A terrible doctrine that wants to justify the murder of innocent people, which fundamentally approves the violent killing of disabled people, cripples, incurably sick and the elderly who are no longer able to work. ‘
As I have reliably learned, lists are now being drawn up in the sanatoriums and nursing homes of the Province of Westphalia of those foster people who, as so-called unproductive national comrades, are to be transported away and killed in a short time. The first transport left the Marienthal facility near Münster this week. [...] I did not receive any news of intervention by the public prosecutor or the police. On July 26th, I had already raised a very serious written objection to the Provincial Administration of the Province of Westphalia, which is responsible for the institutions to which the sick are entrusted for care and healing. It didn't do any good. The first transport of those who were innocently sentenced to death left Marienthal. And, as I hear, 800 patients have already been transported from the Warstein sanatorium. So we have to expect that the poor, defenseless sick will be killed sooner or later.
Why? Not because they committed a crime worthy of death! Not because they attacked their caretaker or nurse, so that they had no choice but to oppose the attacker with force in order to preserve their own life in just self-defense. These are cases in which, in addition to killing the armed enemy of the country in a just war, the use of force up to and including killing is permitted and not infrequently required.
No, those unhappy sick people do not have to die for such reasons, but because they have become unworthy of life after the judgment of some office, after the opinion of some commission, because according to this opinion they belong to the unproductive national comrades. [...]
If one establishes and applies the principle that one may kill unproductive fellow human beings, then woe to us all when we grow old and decrepit! If one is allowed to kill the unproductive fellow human beings, then woe to the invalids who have used, sacrificed and forfeited their strength and healthy bones in the production process! If one can forcibly eliminate the unproductive fellow human beings, then woe to our good soldiers who return home as seriously injured in the war, as cripples, as invalids.
If it is once admitted that people have the right to kill unproductive fellow human beings, and if it only affects poor, defenseless mentally ill people at first, then the basic principle is the murder of all unproductive people, i.e. the terminally ill, the cripples unable to work Invalids of work and war, the murder of all of us is released when we become old and decrepit and thus unproductive. [...]
Woe to people, woe to our German people, if the holy commandment of God: You shall not kill !, which the Lord proclaimed under thunder and lightning on Sinai, which God our Creator wrote in people's consciences from the beginning, do not just transgress will, but if this transgression is even tolerated and carried out with impunity! "

Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen. Files, letters and sermons 1933-1946, Volume II, arr. v. Peter Löffler (Publications of the Commission for Contemporary History, Series A, Sources; Vol. 42), 2., exp. Ed., Schöningh Verlag Paderborn 1996, p. 875 ff.