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  • Writer's pictureIlka Knüppel

Terms and Definitions used in this blog regarding Aktion T4 research

There are terms used in this blog and the book to describe physically and intellectually disabled persons or institutions that are outdated and offensive, such as ‘cretin,’ ‘asylum,’ ‘handicapped,’ and ‘retarded’. Please note that we, the authors, in no way support the use of these terms; however, to capture the contextual integrity of the quotes in which they are used, we have allowed them to remain in some circumstances. We feel including the terms as originally used adds to the reader’s understanding of the viewpoints of the perpetrators.


Here are definitions of terms used in this blog and book:


Aktion T4 [Operation T4]-


In October of 1939, Adolf Hitler signed a secret authorization in order to protect participating physicians, medical staff, and administrators from prosecution. This authorization was backdated to September 1, 1939, to suggest that the effort was related to wartime measures.


The Führer Chancellery was compact and separate from state, government, or Nazi Party apparatuses. For these reasons, Hitler chose it to serve as the engine for the ‘euthanasia’ campaign. The program's functionaries called their secret enterprise [Aktion]"T4." This code-name came from the street address of the program's coordinating office in Berlin: Tiergartenstraße 4.


According to Hitler's directive, Führer Chancellery director Phillip Bouhler and physician Karl Brandt led the killing operation. Under their leadership, T4 operatives established six gassing installations for adults as part of the "euthanasia" action. These were:


  • Brandenburg, on the Havel River near Berlin

  • Grafeneck, in southwestern Germany

  • Bernburg, in Saxony

  • Sonnenstein, in Saxony

  • Hartheim, near Linz on the Danube in Austria

  • Hadamar, in Hessen.


Beseitigung [removal] – “In 1929, at the Nazi Convention in Nuremberg, Hitler had proposed the annual ‘removal’ (literally ‘Beseitigung’) of 700,000 to 800,000 of the ‘weakest’ Germans as a means of rapidly improving the overall health and capabilities of the German race.”


Desinfektion [disinfection] - one of the terms used to camouflage the euthanasia killings.


Euthanasia – (‘Euthanasie’ in German) The term ‘euthanasia’ poses such a problem. In common usage, the term means the act of painlessly putting to death a person suffering from a terminal and incurable disease…The Nazis used the term ‘euthanasia,’ and also ‘mercy death,’ as a euphemism to disguise their murder of the handicapped. They killed them for racial and eugenic reasons, not to ease the suffering of the individual. Their killing operation was a secret government operation and not an act of individual mercy.”


Euthanasia in Nazi Germany had three components. National Socialist Germany and its occupied territories used euthanasia to murder upwards of 300,000 physically or mentally disabled persons, including children in Kinderfachabteilungen (special children’s wards):

Aktion T4 - gassing program started in 1939 through 1941 used on hospitalized patients in psychiatric facilities. (Aktion T4 is the component we focus on in this book.)

Aktion 14f13 - also called "Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) 14f13" used from 1941-1944 to kill concentration camp prisoners deemed sick or unfit for work.

Decentralized or ‘wild’ euthanasia - killing of “the old, sick and frail in hospitals after the T4 program had stopped.” Vehicles such as trucks or vans were specially adapted to be used as mobile gassing chambers.


Handicapped - “Who was considered [by the Nazis to be] handicapped, mentally or physically, could vary enormously from place to place and time to time.”


Lebensunwertes Leben [Unworthy of life] – “The term unworthy of life, or ‘Lebensunwertes Leben’, was coined by the lawyer Karl Binding and the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche in their eugenicist treaties, ‘Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens (1920)’, which the Nazis took as a legitimization for the euthanasia program.”


Krankenmorde- [“sick killing” or “patient killing”] This German term describes the National Socialists’ murders and encompasses Aktion T4:


“The Nazi regime program of mass murder of the sick and disabled, incorporating the separate processes of the murder of psychiatric patients by SS (paramilitary) and Wehrmacht (armed forces) in occupied territories; children’s euthanasia, Aktion T4, decentralised euthanasia, and sporadic killing of asylum patients in Germany and Austria for bed space.”


The Krankenmorde also targeted their own German veterans of WWI and WWII such as shell-shocked veterans of the Russia campaign. When news that German veterans were being killed by their own government started circulating, it created a major furor among the German people; just as one of the architects of Aktion T4, Brandt, had feared it would.

Jewish people were included in the Krankenmorde, but not specifically because of their Jewishness at the beginning. In 1940, Jews became “eligible”.


“In 1940 and early 1941, when the radical killing solution was already being applied to the handicapped, the policy toward Jews did not include killings…. But when the international conditions and the progress of the war made a more radical solution possible, the killings were expanded to include Jews.


Neither Holocaust nor Genocide:


The persons killed in the Krankenmorde are not included in the definition of the Holocaust. We, the authors, understand that some Judaic Studies scholars and Holocaust organizations view any inclusion of non-Jews as an affront to the memory of the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust and, also, as a type of ‘soft denial’ of the Holocaust itself. This is never our intent.


“The idea that the Krankenmorde was both a precondition and preliminary step to the Nazi’s Final Solution’ became an integral part in the history of the Holocaust, particularly in the landmark works of Henry Friedlander and Robert J. Lifton.


However, the elimination of over 300,000 persons with disabilities must certainly be acknowledged as a precursor to the Holocaust. In fact, “Aktion T4 is recognized as crucial in the genesis of the carbon monoxide gas chambers of the ‘Final Solution’.” The quote we’ve found that most accurately describes Aktion T4 vis-à-vis the Holocaust is Matthew Rozell’s description: “By definition, the T-4 euthanasia program is not the Holocaust, but it is concurrent and intersects.


The Krankenmorde victims are also not included in a definition of a genocide event:

“As the UN’s construct of genocide does not acknowledge ‘disability’ or ‘illness’ as the defining characteristic of a targeted group, the Krankenmorde does not prima facie meet current international criteria for a genocide.


300,000 souls have not been included in any count, their names hidden from history, their stories not researched, and almost lost to human memory. They have been hidden from the light long enough. Term it what you will, victims of National Socialists and/or prelude to the Holocaust, these people deserve to be known and remembered.


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