There is not a great deal known about T4 in comparison with other aspects of Nazi Germany and the Second World War; what little is known is difficult to verify and amongst the accounts there is conflicting or contradictory data. T4 in fact was the Führer Chancellery and the initials "T4" came from the full address which was Tiergartenstrasse 4, Berlin. However, it is important to bear in mind two factors when attempting to appreciate the lack of information.
T4 was the source of orders and measures which were "Geheime Reichssache" [Secret Reich Matters] and those involved who served as tools in its execution were bound by silence. The euthanasia program was considered to be one of these, and this is one of the reasons why there is so little information, with much of it conflicting, concerning its workings and its relation with the Chancellery itself. A second factor to be borne in mind is that the whole thing was planned with great care prior to the signing of the authorization by Hitler and in fact meetings involving top German psychiatrists had been taking place some months prior to the date of his authorization. As it was a very thorough program, the creators were sufficiently foresighted to take steps to cover their tracks and conceal the evidence. One of their more brilliant ideas was to finally assign the personnel who had been trained in the euthanasia institute, and who later went on to much bigger things, to theaters of war where their survival was most certainly to be minimal. Many of the personnel were assigned to the Yugoslav front where Tito's partisans had a reputation for never taking prisoners, and a great many of them died there.
The "Project T4" was fully integrated into the organizational structure of the Reich and fell under section IIb. "Mercy-death" of the Chancellery of the Führer [KdF]. It was divided into two departments the administrative one headed by Philipp Bouhler, a shadowy figure (once described as one of the dictators of the dictators) and the medical section headed by Hitler's personal physician Dr. Karl Brandt.
In the middle of 1939 the end-phase of the administrative preparations of the euthanasia program was started. It dealt almost entirely with keeping it secure and secret. The German people were under no circumstances to become suspicious and the project was to roll without any interference. It was therefore necessary to disguise the activities as much as possible.
Questionnaires had already been prepared by the psychiatric committee and advisers, and in October these were sent to the mental institutions of Germany. These questionnaires required answers to a number of questions including name, marital status, nationality, next of kin, whether regularly visited and by whom, who bore the financial responsibility and how long in the institution, how long sick, diagnosis, chief symptoms, whether bed-ridden, whether under restraint, whether suffering from an incurable sickness or complaint, and whether a war injury or not. And, what was the race of the patient. These questionnaires were prepared and sent out by one of the front groups which operated under T4.
In classic psychiatric style four front groups had been set up to shield the actual source of the operations in T4 from scrutiny. The idea being essentially that T4 itself would issue orders to the front group who would then carry out the necessary measures. Anybody seeking to trace back the administrative chain, say from a hospital where patients were being taken to be murdered, would arrive at one of these four front groups and the chances of getting any further back than that were very small.
The front group which sent out the questionnaires, had them returned and handled them, was named Realms Work Committee for Institutions for Cure and Care. This became the Headquarters for the whole of the organisation and was started for this purpose.
There was a parallel organization, another front group devoted exclusively to the killing of children, for obviously some specialization was needed in this area, and the front group catered for those who had knowledge and experience of children. It was known under the ambiguous name of Realms Committee for Scientific Approach to Severe Illness due to Heredity and Constitution. In association with these two organizations were the Charitable Company for the Transport of the Sick which transported patients to the killing centers, and the Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care which was in charge of making the final arrangements.
The decree of the Reich Ministry of the Interior of August 18 1939, which introduced the requirements for registration of "deformed new-born" was a great advantage to the children project. At first this applied only the children up to the age of 3, but after 1941 this project included youths to the age of 16.
These four cover organizations safeguarded the project T4, the Reich Chancellery, and the euthanasia committee from unwanted discoveries. Those who took the initiative were very secure and if anyone had attempted to retrace the administrative chain, let us say from an institute whose patients were moved to killing-institutes, he would probably have reached one of the four cover organizations. The chances that he would get much further were very small.
Ironically the relatives of the patients were charged with the cost of the killing, without however being informed as to what they were paying for. The questionnaires having been sent out were completed by the psychiatrists, doctors in charge of the patients in the asylums. When the questionnaires came back they were evaluated by the psychiatric and professional members of T4 who were mainly leading professors of psychiatry in German Universities. The whole business was in keeping with the euthanasia program in that no one was ever actually examined in person, in direct violation of any normal medical approach or standards, especially when one considers that life or death hung on the decision of the psychiatrist evaluating. Processing of the questionnaires was done very rapidly; for example one expert between November 14th and December 1st 1940 evaluated 2,109 of them.
At the beginning of the euthanasia program and for some time during it, Jews were very carefully excluded from amongst the people who were being accorded a blessed release from their sufferings. The reason, apparently, was that such a worthwhile fate was obviously not to be given to Jews, that only Germans could benefit by such a humane measure. That the euthanasia program was such a haphazard stab at resolving the social problem as an emergency measure was shown by the approach and organization of the whole thing.
At the time the questionnaires went out, or perhaps even earlier, a number of mental hospitals or convenient buildings were being converted for their later use and were to be the killing centres and schools for murder. Death chambers were erected in the buildings disguised as shower-baths and crematoriums both of which were identical to those later to be established in the Jew-killing centres in Poland.
There appear to have been six principal death institutes and murder schools, and these were Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim (in Austria), Brandenberg, Bernberg, and Sonnenstein, the hospital of the super-expert Dr. Nitsche. The system seems to have worked in the following fashion.
On the basis of the replies to the questionnaires, the Institute from which they had been returned were notified that a number of patients were to be moved, allegedly to make available beds for the war wounded, or to be moved for better treatment. A number of reasons were made known or put around as the reason for removal. These patients were collected by the front organization Charitable Transport Company for the Sick, which then took them to one of these killing centers, where they were exterminated within a few hours of their arrival. As a further camouflage they were not always taken directly to the killing center; on some occasions they were taken to an intermediate hospital where people were led to believe that they were there to be placed under observation.
The total number of victims of the euthanasia program is difficult to determine but as there were 300,000 to 320,000 mental patients in 1939 and only 40,000 in 1946 it would seem that the figure of 275,000 deaths mentioned in the Nuremberg Trials was reasonably accurate.
The victims were not confined to mentally incurable patients; as the program progressed and gained momentum other undesirables were included. It was obviously too great an opportunity to be missed to not include anyone else who wasn't worthy of life. Amongst those caught up in the dragnet for the murder institutes were psychotics, schizophrenics, patients suffering from infirmities of old age, as well as epileptics, and other patients suffering from a variety of organic neurology disorders, including the various forms of infantile paralysis, Parkinson, multiple sclerosis and brain tumors. We also know that children were disposed of similarly, when the orphanages and reformatories were searched for further candidates.
It should be borne in mind that according to one expert at least 50% of the patients murdered would, if allowed to survive, have been able to recover and lead useful lives.
As we have seen, T4 went into a great deal planning to disguise its operations and those of the killing centers as ordinary mental hospitals and this was testified to in the Nuremberg trials by Viktor Brack, the chief of the whole section II of KdF and therefore one of the main persons responsible for the smooth execution of the euthanasia program. At the Nuremberg trials, he testified that patients walked calmly in with their towels and stood with their lithe pieces of soap under the shower outlets waiting for the water to start running.
I have been able to find more material on some murder institutions than others, but the following account could be taken as fairly representative of the other five murder institutions. Hartheim was situated near Linz which was in turn also close to Hitler's birthplace in Austria. It was an old castle dedicated as an asylum to the poor, feeble minded and stupid in 1898. Hartheim, in company with the other institutions, not only served as a murder institute for the disposal of mental patients, but also functioned as a murder school for personnel. The medical directors in charge of Hartheim were two doctors, Dr. Rudolf Lohnauer, an Austrian who later became an expert in 14fl3 of which we will hear more later, and Dr. Georg Renno. They took their orders direct from T4 and were responsible for the "medical" training of personnel. The training of staff was designed to harden the personnel psychologically to the experience of having to exterminate and observe the deaths of tens of thousands of people, day after day, week after week, apart from any technical training they were given. However, from later activities in the operation of the death chambers and crematoriums, it was obvious that they were being schooled for bigger things in the workings of the Third Reich. Most of the personnel concerned in these later activities had passed through one of these murder schools.
The administrative official in charge at Hartheim was Captain Christian Wirth, a former policeman, who had been selected by T4 to supervise the training. Apart from being paid for disposing of unwanted mental patients, and to train personnel, these institutes also provided scientific testing grounds for the perfection of the murder techniques as devised by the psychiatrists on the euthanasia committees of T4. The deaths of the victims were clinically studied photographed and perfected. In the war crimes trials that took place after the war in Germany, it was proved that in the death camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, special photographers also took pictures of people being gassed, just as they had at Hartheim and other institutes. In addition, experiments took place with various mixtures of gases in order to perfect the most effective one. During these tests, psychiatrists with stop-watches would observe the dying patients through the peepholes in the cellar door, which served as the gas chamber in Hartheim, and the length of the death struggle was clocked down to one-tenth of a second. Slow motion pictures were made and studied by the psychiatric experts at T4 in Berlin. People's brains were photographed to see exactly when death had occurred. Nothing was left to chance. The psychiatrists were very thorough.
The actual training of the students proceeded in an orderly progression of familiarization. At first they watched the experiment as observers, as their training progressed they graduated to participation in the actual murders by conducting the patients into the chambers, releasing the gases, watching during the death struggle and finally ventilating the chambers and removing the bodies. The selection of the students was conducted by the high ranking Nazi officials who were personally and directly responsible to the Führer Chancellery.
The whole operation was shrouded in very tight security. Everybody involved realized that there could be no slip-ups - there could be no leakage of information, because they weren't dealing with sub-humans and Jews; these victims were Germans and Austrians and the reaction of the public would be very strong. And in fact, when the program later became obvious to the inhabitants in the vicinity of the murder institutes, there was an outcry against it.
Obviously, after so much familiarity with the deaths of the victims, the students became insensible to the cries and pleas of the murdered. In the process of their being hardened, the students were observed closely by their teachers who noted their reactions and made reports on their progress as pupils. If the students were able to observe and participate in the murders of their own nationalities, even though they were deformed or mad and were of German or Austrian nationality, how much easier it would be to do the same to "sub-humans". Students who didn't complete the course because they cracked, couldn't go o in with it or were unsuitable, were sent to the war front where the Commander in charge of the unit would assign them to a suicide squad. This would account for the lack of people with conscience willing to come forward to testify to what had been involved in.
The total number of victims at Hartheim is difficult to estimate but at the Dachau trial in 1947 testimony was given that from 30-40 unwanted humans were treated in the cellars every day. As Hartheim was in operation for about three years that would account for about 30,000 people. Hartheim also had another purpose. It served as a safety valve when executions taking place in nearby concentration camps such as Mauthausen and Dachau became more than the staff could manage. Victims were sent to Hartheim and "dispatched" there. Later, towards the end of the war Hartheim became just another place for extermination, its staff and personnel having been assigned to other duties. It was well situated for use in the euthanasia programme lying near a railway, but not too close, and around the castle were a few little houses and farms. It was 17 kilometers from Linz and from there only another 23 kilometers from Mauthausen.
Schooling of the personnel produced perfect murderers who were used to the smell of burnt flesh, had been taught how to trick people being led to their death, and how to steel themselves against the crying and pleading of the victims. Pupils were naturally rewarded, not only with alcohol and women, which were always kept handy for them, but also received medals. Usually, these were the Iron Cross Second Class and, unlike other awards which had noted in the register the reason for their being given, in these cases " Geheime Reichssache" [Secret Reich matter] was noted in the appropriate column.
One of the murder institutes, Hadamar, achieved some notoriety at the time of the euthanasia programme. In December 1939 a member of the Court of Appeals of Frankfurt-on-Main wrote to the Minister of Justice complaining about the situation. He said that among the population there were constant discussions over the question of the destruction of the socially unfit, especially in places where there were mental institutions. Vehicles used to transport the mental patients from the institutes had come to be recognised by the inhabitants. With busloads of victims converging on Hadamar, things had reached such a state that even the children were calling out as the buses passed that "they are taking some more people to be gassed".
The writer had obviously found out enough to be able to describe in his letter that there were stories circulating about transported victims being immediately stripped to the skin, dressed in paper shirts and forthwith taken to a gas chamber where they were liquidated with hydrocyanic acid gas, and the bodies reported to be moved to crematoriums by means of conveyor belts, six bodies to a furnace. He also went on to recount rumours about future victims and believed that these would include the inhabitants of Homes for the Aged and others. Interestingly, the psychiatrist in charge at Hadamar was Dr. Adolf Wahlmann an active member of the German mental hygiene movement, who had demonstrated cardiazol-shock treatment to delegates from the European Mental Hygiene Reunion (which took place in Munich in 1938).
This was not, however, the only letter of complaint, and many more followed when the never-ending smoke that fined the skies in the vicinity of the institutes for murder indicated that something was obviously terribly wrong. Various members of the communities (usually people with some standing), sent complaints to whoever they thought would be in a position to act. The main source of complaints appear to have come from the Church, and protests were raised by various Bishops and Cardinals usually addressed to the Ministry of Justice. The Bishop of Limburg for instance addressed a complaint to the Ministry concerning the institute of Hadamar, and it was very similar to the one by the member of the Court of Appeals, mentioned earlier, when children were calling out as the vans arrived, only now parents were even threatening their children that if they weren't quite bright, they would be put in the oven at Hadamar.
Obviously, with the mounting protests and complaints, the whole operation was receiving far too much publicity and it was at this point in about December 1941 that a change in procedure occurred. And here we come to another of the myths with which this period is littered. It was commonly believed that as the protests grew they came to the ears of the Führer who ordered an end to the killings. However, be that as it may, the killings did not stop. They simply took on a different form. Many of the writers and articles dealing with this period state that the program ended. What actually happened was that the same aims were procured by different means. The gas chambers were no longer used and the crematoria also fell into disuse. These were replaced by lethal injections and even starvation, the bodies being disposed of by mass burial.
As far as the psychiatrists were concerned it was business as usual, and the euthanasia program continued throughout the war. And in Bavaria it continued even until a few days after the war when children were still being murdered. If Hitler did order an end to the euthanasia murders, their continuance only goes to show how determined the psychiatrists were to pursue their own aims regardless of his wishes.
After the State had been relieved of the ghastly burden of so many of these undesirables, mental patients and useless-eaters, the operation, still under the direction of eminent mental health psychiatrists in T4, was expanded under the code of 14f13. From being limited to mental hospitals and institutions it now embraced German and Austrian inmates and Jews in concentration camps who were sick or invalid, usually as a result of the conditions extant in these places. The starting date for the operation of 14f13 appears to have been some time in December 1941. Special commissions composed of psychiatrists attached to the Berlin staff of T4 were dispatched to the concentration camps to clear the medical bays and sick quarters by way of selection of ill and undesirables. Patients selected were usually dispatched to one of the six killing centers and disposed of there.
At Auschwitz around this time about 800 patients in the infectious block were sent to death chambers. Testimony was given at Nuremberg after the war by the S.S. camp doctor at Dachau that at the end of 1941 a commission composed of 4 psychiatrists under the leadership of Professor Dr. Werner Heyde, SS Standartenführer and lecturer in neurology and psychiatry at Würzburg University, arrived at the camp and immediately proceeded to their business. They selected several hundred patients incapable of work who were thenceforth transported to the gas chambers and disposed of. The decision for selection rested upon the incapacity of the prisoners to perform work. Jews were disposed of much more easily by the declaration that they were enemies of National Socialism.
Evidence is shown in a letter written by Dr. Fritz Mennecke, a member of this commission dated November 25th, 1941, which he wrote from Buchenwald, another concentration camp which they visited. The letter was addressed to his wife and gave a brief account of his clinical duties on the commission during the day:
"At noon we took time off for lunch then we continued our examinations until 4.00 p.m. I examined 105 patients whilst Muller took 78 so that we finished off the first lot of 183 questionnaires. The second lot consisted of 1200 Jews who were not examined and it was enough to pick out from their documents the reason for their arrest and enter it in the questionnaires."
Apart from the people already covered, the action was extended to include adults and children in many Polish asylums. However there is little evidence available to me at this time regarding these particular murders, and this is a very fruitful area to be examined in the future. Apart from the psychiatrists themselves involved in the program, others also took advantage of the rare opportunity of so many specimens offered them. One of these was a brain specialist Dr. Julius Hailervorden, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Dillenberg, Hessen-Nassau, who had the good luck to be able to obtain hundreds of brains from the killing centers for use in his laboratory. These brains were from mental patients in various institutions who had been killed by carbon monoxide gas. He freely admitted that he himself had initiated this collaboration in the euthanasia program and stated:
"I heard that they were going to do that, and so I went up to them and told them, `Look here now, boys (Menschenskinder), if .you are going to kill all these people, at least take the brains out so that the material could be utilised.' They asked me: `How many can you examine?' and so I told them `An unlimited number-the more the better.' I gave them the fixatives, jars and boxes, and instructions for removing and fixing the brains, and then they came bringing them in like the delivery van from the furniture company. The Charitable Transport Company for the Sick brought the brains in batches of 150-250 at a time... There was wonderful material among those brains beautiful mental defectives, Mal-formations and early infantile diseases. I accepted those brains of course. Where they came from and how they came to me was realty none of my business."
The development of occurrences up to this time shows plainly that there were no limits to the enthusiasm that the psychiatrists in Berlin felt for T4. How patriotic they must have considered themselves when they then decided to put their brave teams into action in the East, to help the wounded in ice and snow. As Dr. Fritz Mennecke told his wife in a letter on 12th January 1942.
"Since the day before yesterday a large delegation from our organization, headed by Herr Brack, is on the battlefields of the East to help in saving our wounded in the ice and snow. They include doctors, clerks, nurses, and male nurses from Hadamar and Sonnenstein, a whole detachment of 20-30 persons. This is a top secret. Only those persons who could not be spared were excluded. Professor Nitsche regrets that the staff of our institution at Eichberg had to be taken away so soon."
This quote speaks for itself, when one considers who was "helping" the wounded in ice and snow. It becomes evident that the German soldiers in the East had to fight three fronts: the Russian Army, the partisans and the enemies in their own ranks. As if the war-killing had not been enough, now special committees were put into action to relieve the wounded German soldiers from their painful existence. The soldiers thus were not only in a fix strategically, but also morally as well; if they were wounded, how would they be "helped"?