The road to the mass industrial genocide, later called the Holocaust, was paved with a series of small implementations, many of which at face value did not appear to foreshadow the potential for mass industrial killing, except by those that understood the maxim that Organizational Structure Dictates Outcome (1).
Before the Final Solution against the Jews was implemented in 1942, hundreds of thousands of victims of state-sanctioned killing were already dying in ways that were later used against Jews and other groups targeted by the National Socialist regime.
One of these early health programs that helped launch the industrial killing by the state was known as Tiergartenstrasse 4 or Aktion T4. Officially starting in 1939, but in some individual cases occurring earlier, an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 were killed during the Aktion T4 program's official lifetime, 10,000 of them “Aryan” German children by the government-run medical boards in Germany.
PHOTO: A few of the 10,000 German targets of the National Socialist Health Codes and Medical/Genetic Review Boards known as Erbgesundheitsgericht.
These small implementations were fundamentally embedded in “health” regulations that society was sold into believing were for everyone’s health and safety. These incremental programs were backed by the leading doctors and scientists of the day. Not only German but British, French, and American scientists wrote literature that supported the Nazi state-controlled health policies. A series of promotions and actions by the government, official and non-official organizations, and “influencers” of the day created the conditions that both masked the potential outcome from the masses as well as allowed it to gain mass acceptance at various stages.
Most mass killing events, from Stalin's political purges and ethnic and class-based genocidal food policies to Mao and Hitler's "science" based race and political campaigns of killing and "taming populations" to facilitate the violence, all depend on a gradual inculcation of the ideas and actions in the minds of the population. The "end game" presented all at once would lead to blowback that would derail the programs as they rely on collaboration at all levels.
The process of Gleichshaltung, politicizing the Pavlovian conditioning model to "level the mind" of a national population, was critical for the Nazis to initially co-opt the medical community in Germany, Austria, and later Europe. Then the medical community itself was critical in the process of Gleichshaltung to the citizens to have the population either actively or passively collaborate with the programs (2). In 1933, when the formerly stateless migrant from Austria, Adolf Hitler, gained power, the Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses or “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring” was passed. Giving the state power to kill the “useless eaters.” who were seen as a drain on state resources. Contrary to cheesy B movies, this was not done with jackbooted uniformed cosplayers. It was done by Erbgesundheitsgericht, or “Genetic Health Courts,” staffed by leading judges, doctors, and scientists. The decision of the Genetic Health Court could be appealed to the Erbgesundheitsobergericht or “higher” Genetic Health Court. This court system staffed by physicians and judges gave a veneer of legitimacy that transcended the politics that lay behind the law and organizational structure.
Other laws and ordinances were built upon the authorization given by the 1933 law so that by 1939, Aktion T4 was possible. White-coated killers justified the program because of “science” and used the legal system and state bureaucracy as a shield and enabler.
WHITE COATED KILLERS
PHOTO: Dr. Werner Catel
Dr. Werner Catel was one of three leading doctors in Aktion T4. After the war, he was employed by a Children’s Mental Home, sidelined with the University of Kiel, and continued to advocate for the killing of children who would be a burden to the state as late as 1962. He died in 1981. Dr. Catel was the lead on the “trial balloon” case in the Summer of 1939 that allowed Aktion T4 to move forward. A family described as “ardent Nazis” appealed directly to Adolf Hitler to be allowed to kill their child, Gerhard Kretschmar, who reports described variously as blind, prone to seizures, and missing limbs. Hitler assigned a team consisting of Dr. Karl Brandt, Dr. Helmut Kohl, and Dr. Werner Catel. The records suggest that the child was killed with Luminal at the Leipzig clinic. Days later, Aktion T4 began full implementation. The “trial balloon” appeared to be a setup from the beginning.
PHOTO: Aktion T4 members preparing the busses transport and kill the “useless eaters” of Germany.
PHOTO: Some of Aktion T4 first victims from the various children's clinics.
TRUST THE SCIENCE The doctors and medical boards looked at schizophrenia, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness, “idiot children,” epilepsy, dementia, encephalitis, “criminally insane,” and patients in mental or state hospitals that were there over 5 years. Medical boards were established and would review the cases and determine who was to be killed. Hitler provided legal immunity for the doctors, staff, nurses, etc., from the medical clinics. Other than that, he let the doctors “follow the science.”
PHOTO: Hitler’s granting of legal immunity to physicians and medical staff. The order was a Fuhrerbefehl, which was held to have the force of law outside of any legislation.
Many discussions and debates on the mechanisms of the industrial mass killing event eventually known as the Holocaust center on a belief that the mechanisms were unique to Germany or even to the German Socialists. However, other mass killing events, some later to utilize industrial and information mobilization, have occurred in areas well outside Germany. A particular hubris exists in America that seems to, in some cases, exhibit a hubris that can not acknowledge that the ability to plan, engage, enable, or passively accept state violence on an industrialized (now "digitized") mass killing event program is inherent in ALL cultures and nations. All human beings have the capacity for great evil as well as great good.
Understanding this fact is key to future avoidance and mitigation.
NOTES and SOURCES: 1. To the authors' knowledge, the maxim "Organizational structure dictates outcome" was from his father. The author added, "...and therefore should dictate the label." when teaching investigatory skill sets and analysis for both historical and contemporary investigations. 2. The process of Gleichshaltung and other techniques are covered extensively in Dr. Joost Merloo's book, Rape of the Mind, a first-hand study of Nazi and Communist mass influence, and will be covered in future articles. 3. Rotzoll, Maike, Paul Richter, Petra Fuchs, Annette Hinz-wessels, Sascha Topp, and Gerrit Hohendorf. “The First National Socialist Extermination Crime: The T4 Program and Its Victims.” International Journal of Mental Health 35, no. 3 (2006): 17–29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41345169.
4. Schneider, William. “Toward the Improvement of the Human Race: The History of Eugenics in France.” The Journal of Modern History 54, no. 2 (1982): 268–91. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1906158.
5. Another view on the evolution and contributions of the Aktion T4 contribution to industrialized mass killing is Garrett Hohendorf's article "The Extermination of Mentally Ill and Handicapped People under National Socialist Rule." Hohendorf goes into a longer timeline to show the various pre-Nazi rule influences upon the medical and popular community that facilitated the eventual acceptance of the Nazi policy. https://www.sciencespo.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/en/document/extermination-mentally-ill-and-handicapped-people-under-national-socialist-rule.html
5. The Holocaust Encyclopedia has another excellent article on the Aktion T4 program and the antecedents that allowed it to happen. The emphasis of the article is on the racial focus of the program. It shows how this racial component included purifying the state-supported ethnic group/race of genetic defects as well as targeting other "enemy" ethnic groups/races. The economic aspect was also a critical factor. Other programs aside from Aktion T4 targeted German WWI veterans that were unable to recover and required long-term and expensive state assistance. The Socialist state does not have loyalty to its own citizens, only to the ruling party. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/euthanasia-program