NURSES' PARTICIPATION IN THE "EUTHANASIA" PROGRAMS OF NAZI GERMANY
The "T-4" Adult Euthanasia Program
In 1939, Hitler issued an order to expand the euthanasia program to "the worthless lives of seriously ill mental patients" which would "result in certain savings in terms of hospitals, doctors and nursing staff" (Friedlander, 1995, p. 63). In order to do this, the Reich Committee was expanded from the original three members to include a number of academics and asylum directors. The organization went by the name "Aktion T-4", named after the location of the offices, Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Charlottenburg [a district of Berlin].
In July 1939, these men were told that a number of psychiatric patients had to be killed to make hospital space for war casuals and to free up nursing staff (Burleigh, 1994, p. 119). Six killing centers were set up in existing psychiatric hospitals - Grafeneck, Brandenburg, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg, and Hadamar (Office of US Chief of Council for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Document Number 630-PS, 17 September 1945).
In 1941, Hadamar "celebrated the cremation of its ten-thousandth patient in a special ceremony, where everyone in attendance - secretaries, nurses, and psychiatrists - received a bottle of beer for the occasion" (Proctor, 1992, p. 25).
Although the children were killed with injections or starvation, these methods were not efficient for the large number of adults at the killing centers. In these locations, gas was used. Patients were transported by bus from local and regional hospitals to the killing centers. "At the killing center, the arriving patients were met by the staff and led to the reception room by a male or female nurse, who might have accompanied them on their trip" (Friedlander, 1995, p. 94). Patients were examined individually by a physician, photographed, and measured. They were then taken to gas chambers which were disguised as shower rooms. "The patients were already prepared for the showers because, while they were undressing, the nurses had told them that they would be bathed" (Friedlander, 1995, p. 95). "Most patients accepted the nurses' explanation that they were going to the showers..." (Friedlander, 1995, p. 96). "On rare occasions, nurses might even have to remove bodies from the gas chamber, a job usually reserved for unskilled laborers" (Friedlander, 1995, p. 101).
By 1941, more than 70,000 patients from German mental hospitals had been killed (US National Archives and Records, Record Group 338, Microfilm Publication T-1021, Roll 18, Frame 98). Later the killing centers were used for the killing of selected concentration camp prisoners in the "Special Treatment 14f13" euthanasia program (Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Document Number 3354).