THE DEAF HOLOCAUST
DEAF PEOPLE IN NAZI GERMANY
This article appeared on the BBC SeeHear website, but was removed in 2010.
I have therefore reproduced it here, although it remains, of course, © BBC.
The Aryan race: eradicating the inferior
When the Nazi party came to power in Germany in 1933, they promised stability, prosperity and national renewal to a country which, since its defeat in the First World War, had suffered constant social and economic upheaval. Yet as with all totalitarian regimes, there was a darker side. Hitler was obsessed with racial purity - with the idea that nature had created a superior Aryan race, an elite with the quickest minds and most able bodies. Therefore, by the laws of nature, anyone judged ‘inferior’ or 'weak' should be eradicated to protect the 'purity' of the gene pool. Into this category came Jews, gypsies, black people, gay people - plus deaf and disabled people.
In July 1933, the Nazi regime introduced a controversial new law to prevent the 'unfit' from having children. They enforced the sterilisation of certain defined groups including: blind, manically depressed, physically malformed, promiscuous women and deaf people. Those thought to have hereditory deafness had to attend a medical examination to decide whether they should be sterilised. Though there was an appeals procedure, the vast majority were turned down.
It’s estimated that some 17,000 deaf people were sterilised between 1933 and 1945 - the youngest was only 9 years old. Given that there was no national register of deaf or disabled people in Germany, many were given over to the authorities by teachers of the deaf - the very people trusted with their care and support. Some Nazi educationalists even began to question the right of deaf children to be educated at all, believing the education of the 'inferior' to be wasteful.
From sterilisation, it was just a short step to preventing the birth of deaf and disabled children. In 1935, doctors were given the legal right to terminate pregnancies by force if an inherited genetic condition, such as deafness, was suspected. Abortions were carried out as late as six months into the pregnancy.
Deaths of 'Useless Eaters'
In 1939, the Nazi policy towards deaf and disabled people took an even more sinister and horrific turn. Hitler decided that Germany should be rid of 'useless eaters' and that deaf and disabled children should be killed. Newborn babies with physical 'defects' were removed from their mothers and killed. Children who were judged to have mental or physical disabilities were taken to special children's wards and killed by lethal injection or starvation. The parents were often informed that their children had died of natural causes. It is estimated that nearly 2000 deaf children were killed in this way.
The T4 Program
Also in 1939, Hitler agreed to the creation of the T4 Program, which targeted disabled and deaf adults living in institutional care homes. A questionnaire was filled out for each resident to indicate who should be removed to the hospital killing centres in Germany and Austria. The residents were never examined by a qualified doctor – the questionnaire was, in effect, the person's death warrant.
The Killing Centres
Smoke from the chimney at Hadamar, one of the Nazi euthanasia centres, c.1941.
People were transported to killing centres such as Hadamar, which features in this programme. They were told to undress, given a superficial medical examination and taken to the 'shower' room. Sixty people at a time were packed in. Once the doors were closed, deadly carbon monoxide gas was pumped into the room. When everyone was dead their bodies were placed on dissection tables, where gold teeth would be removed and organs taken for medical research. The corpses were burnt in a crematorium. From the outside Hadamar, with its tall chimney billowing smoke, looked like a factory. But the truth was that it had become a killing factory.
Even in wartime, the disappearance of so many people could not go unnoticed. Unrest among the German public grew, along with the outcry from church leaders. This led to the closure of the six killing centres. The crematorium equipment was dismantled and shipped eastwards, where staff continued to work in Polish death camps. The killing of disabled people was to be a grim rehearsal for the murder of millions of Jews throughout the war. The official closure of the killing centres did not mean that disabled people were safe. The murders continued in general hospitals, in an ad hoc way, until the end of the war - with doctors making the selections.
Fact 1: The Nazi party created an organisation called REGEDE - the Reich Union of the Deaf in Germany. Many German deaf newspapers and social groups were abolished.
Fact 2: REGEDE was led by the Deaf Nazi Fritz Albreghs, the 'Fuhrer of the Deaf'. He used both sign and speech to get across the Nazi message.
Fact 3: A deaf storm-trooper motorcycle unit patrolled deaf neighbourhoods, violently harassing political opponents and terrorising deaf Jews.
Fact 4: In July 1933, the Nazi regime introduced a controversial new law to prevent the ‘unfit’ from having children by enforced sterilisation of certain defined groups, including the deaf and disabled.
Fact 5: Many Protestant church leaders with deaf congregations promoted the sterilisation legislation.
Fact 6: The leader of the women’s section of REGEDE - although not hereditarily deaf - was voluntarily sterilised. She then toured Germany persuading others to follow her example.
Fact 7: It’s estimated that some 17,000 deaf people were sterilised between 1933 and 1945 – the youngest was 9 years old.
Fact 8: Doctors terminated pregnancies by force if an inherited genetic condition, such as deafness, was suspected. Children with mental and physical disabilities were killed by lethal injection or starvation.
Fact 9: The T4 Program targeted disabled and deaf adults living in institutional care homes. They were taken to hospital killing centres, such as Hadamar.
Fact 10: After the war, Deaf and disabled victims of sterilisation struggled to get compensation. They never received an offer of support, counselling or pension rights.