Eugenics and the German Medical Establishment
The Eugenics movement, which aimed to improve the genetic quality of the human race through selective breeding, was the forerunner of the Holocaust. This scientific movement first began in England during the 1880's, but it was in the United States that it first gained widespread scientific and political support.
By 1925, twenty-five states had passed laws providing for the compulsory sterilization of the criminally insane and others considered genetically inferior. Most states prohibited the marriages of persons suffering from certain conditions, such as epilepsy or mental retardation, and almost all states prohibited the marriage of people of different races.
In a 1932 study of the eugenics movement in the United States, its author wrote that American eugenicists regarded "socially inadequate persons, i.e., the feeble-minded, the epileptics, the mentally diseased, the blind, the deformed, and the criminals as inimical to the human race. It should be our aim to exterminate the undesirables, they contend, since a nation must defend itself against national degeneration as much as against the external foreign enemy."
Many German scientists were greatly intrigued by what was happening in the United States and began their own study of eugenics. The movement quickly gained the support of Germany most eminent and distinguished doctors and university professors, who openly called for a national euthanasia program.
The definitive German examination of euthanasia, The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, was jointly written in 1920 by a professor of law and a professor of psychiatry. The authors reasoned that a society has an accepted right to protect itself against a foreign invader, which results in the deaths of young soldiers, the healthiest members of society -- therefore, a society should have an even greater right to protect itself against human parasites who weaken it from within.
With the rise of National Socialism, the advocates of sterilization and euthanasia found ever-increasing support. More than half of Germany's doctors joined the Nazi party. In 1935, Adolf Hitler gave his approval for the elimination of the "incurably ill." In October 1939, Germany began its euthanasia program. This program involved virtually the entire psychiatric community and a large part of the general medical community.
In August 1941, when Hitler officially stopped the euthanasia program because of outspoken criticism by church leaders and increasing public concern, German doctors and nurses had already killed at least 70,000 mentally or physically disabled people. Other than their disabilities, most of the victims were ordinary Germans citizens and non-Jews. It was not until after April 1940 that doctors began specifically targeting institutionalized German Jews .
Though the euthanasia program had been officially halted, it was secretly continued by a number of doctors committed to the cause of what was called "racial hygiene," which would soon become the rationalization for genocide against the Jews, the Slavs and the Gypsies. The "Final Solution," put in motion in 1942, was but a small step away.
It was largely because of the technology and methodology developed during the course of Germany's euthanasia program that the Nazis were able to murder nearly six million Jews in such a relatively short period of time. The same doctors who had developed and carried out the euthanasia program were in most cases the same "experts" who developed and supervised the killing operations at each of the six "extermination" centers later built in Poland.
See "Doctors Trial" Documents