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Home arrow History arrow A Global History of Child Death: Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

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Euthanasia by the Nazis

The first systematic attempt to eliminate a specific population by the Nazi Regime was the selection and subsequent euthanization of between 5,000 and 8,000 disabled children. As part of the “racial hygiene” program, the Nazi’s sought to cleanse genetic lines by removing children with both physical and intellectual disabilities. The infrastructure of the euthanasia program, while conceived of by Hitler and built by the Nazis, was supported and carried out by German physicians (Nearly forty-five percent of non-Jewish German doctors joined the Nazi party). Many of these physicians exploited the victims for the purposes of their own research, which included studies of twins and examinations of the brain before and after death. “Defective” newborns and children under the age of three were identified as potential “participants” in the program based on questionnaires filled out by midwives and doctors attending births. The state public health authorities then sent information about these children to the Reich Committee in Berlin, where staff with no medical training would select cases to be reviewed by experts. These experts would then select, unanimously, those children eligible for euthanasia. The children were then sent to one of twenty-two facilities. It was cruelly ironic that the stated purpose of these institutions was to save children from being permanently debilitated. Parental permission was required in order to transfer children to the euthanasia wards. Often permission was granted under false pretenses or threat. For example, parents might have been told that their children were to be treated for their disabilities. Children were killed via different methods including starvation, injection with medication (e.g., morphine, phenobarbital), and gassing. After the child died, a letter stating a fictitious cause of death would be sent to the parents. Children were cremated (after their bodies were used for research) and then parents would be billed for the cost of the “treatment”.20

 
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