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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

1939 - Aktion T4 Begins in Secrecy: Why is it so important to know about this euthanasia program?

English translation of order pictured below:

“Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are entrusted with the responsibility of extending the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, so that patients who, after a most critical diagnosis, on the basis of human judgment are considered incurable, can be granted mercy. -- A. Hitler"

Although it was actually October of 1939 when Hitler signed the order authorizing Karl Brandt and Philip Bouhler to begin the secret euthanasia program Aktion (Action) T4, Hitler backdated the letter to September 1, 1939. This was in order to coincide with the commencement of the invasion of Poland, and the beginning of WWII in Europe.

The name of Aktion T4 came from the location of its headquarters at Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin, Germany. The irony of naming the euthanasia program after the location of the headquarters was that it was located in a confiscated Jewish villa obtained through a forced sale. Tiergartenstraße 4 had been purchased by Georg Liebermann on July 31, 1909, and he converted it into a three story building with 30 rooms, an elevator, and a ballroom. After Liebermann's death in 1926, the villa had mostly been rented out until it was confiscated by the Nazis for their own use in 1934 or 1935.

Why is learning about the secret euthanasia programs so very important to history? Because they were the key to the implementation of Hitler's Final Solution:

“The euthanasia killings – that is, the ‘systematic and secret execution’ of the handicapped – were Nazi Germany’s first organized mass murder, in which the killers developed their killing technique. They created the method for selecting the victims. They invented techniques to gas people and burn their bodies. They employed subterfuge to hide the killings, and they did not hesitate to pillage the corpses. The euthanasia killings proved to be the opening act of Nazi genocide.”

(Emphasis added by me)

Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Germany.

There is a detailed write up of Aktion T4 available on Wikipedia at: so I do not need to regurgitate that in this space.

There is a memorial to the victims of Aktion T4 in Berlin, at the site of the villa used as Nazi headquarters. It's a "must visit" if you are in Berlin, in my opinion. Look on Google Maps for Gedenk- und Informationsort Fur Die Opfer Der Nationalsozialtistschen >>Euthaniasie<< - Morde. It is a 15 minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate.

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