Protest against “Euthanasia”

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A secret order issued by Hitler in October of 1939 and backdated to September 1 – the day the war began – ordered the killing of people with mental illnesses as well as physical and mental disabilities. In preparation for the “euthanasia” program, Reichsärzteführer Leonardo Conti sent relevant institutions registration forms that were to be completed for every patient.

The killing began in Southern Germany: “Krüppelheim Grafeneck” (Grafeneck Home for Cripples) in Württemberg had to be evacuated and – just as five other euthanasia centers – thenceforth served the killing of people with illnesses transferred there. Relatives were informed by notifications of death, which, in addition to a fictitious cause of death, regularly included information that the body had had to be cremated immediately because of the danger of an epidemic.

The secrecy striven for in the program could not be maintained for long, however. In addition to Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop von Münster, and Pastor Gerhard Braune, director of the Hoffnungstal Institutions in Lobetal, above all Theophil Wurm sought to halt the killing machinery through numerous petitions.

Wurm already protested against the actions to exterminate life for the first time in a letter to Minister of Church Affairs Kerrl on July 6, 1940 (Schäfer, Landesbischof D. Wurm, p. 118). He thoroughly compiled arguments against the “euthanasia” program in a letter of protest to Reich Minister of the Interior Frick on July 19, 1940. This letter was also sent to Hans Heinrich Lammers, Chief of the Reich Chancellery, and Wilhelm Murr, Reich Governor of Württemberg. It additionally became known to Pope Pius XII as well.

Wurm turned in other petitions to Frick again on September 5 of the same year, to Lammers on the following day and to Conti on September 29 (ibid. p. 125, 126f., 127f.). In talks with functionaries of the Nazi regime, Wurm or his staff also insisted on an end to the killing program. Since he also saw allies in the Wehrmacht, Wurm addressed a letter to the commander of Military District V in Stuttgart.

Whereas Wurm normally relied on direct protest with officials, on July 27, 1940, he called upon the offices of deans to request pastors to whom parishioners had expressed their outrage over the killing of ill relatives to lodge protests with the Reich Ministry of the Interior.

Over 70,000 patients had been killed by the time the “program” was stopped – at least officially – on September 24, 1941. Since the killing continued nonetheless and also extended to homes in the occupied territories and people interned in camps, an estimated 200,000 died in the “euthanasia” program, at the least.

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  • © Landeskirchliches Archiv Stuttgart, D1/103

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