Life unworthy of life
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The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German: "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of populace which had no right to live and thus were to be "euthanized". The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of the Third Reich. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. The euthanasia program was known as Action T4. It was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope until 1942 when public protests stopped the programme. However, euthanasia continued and the methods used (lethal injection and gassing, mainly) were expanded into the Nazi concentration camps where they were used on such a large scale as to form the basis of the Holocaust.
The expression first occurs in the title of a 1920 book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) by jurist Karl Binding, retired from the University of Leipzig, and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche from the University of Freiburg, both professors. According to Hoche, some living people who were brain damaged, mentally retarded, psychiatrically ill were "mentally dead", "human ballast" and "empty shells of human beings". Hoche felt killing such people was useful. Some people were simply considered disposable. Later the killing was extended to people considered 'racially impure' or 'racially inferior' according to Nazi thinking.
Those considered to be "deviant" or a "source of social turmoil" in Nazi Germany and the occupied Europe fell under this designation. The "deviant" category included the mentally ill, people with disabilities, political dissidents, homosexuals, interracial couples, and criminals. The "social turmoil" category included Communists, Jews, Romani people, Jehovah's Witnesses, "non-white" or non-Caucasian peoples, and some clergy. More than any other of these groups, the Jews soon became the primary focus of this genocidal policy.
The concept culminated in Nazi extermination camps, instituted to systematically kill those who were unworthy to live according to Nazi ideologists. It also justified various human experimentation and eugenics programs, as well as Nazi racial policies.
Development of the concept
Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the principle of "life unworthy of life," coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of "impaired" children in hospitals; and then the killing of "impaired" adults, mostly collected from mental hospitals, in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide gas. This project was extended (in the same killing centers) to "impaired" inmates of concentration and extermination camps and, finally, to mass killings in the extermination camps themselves.
- Glossary of Nazi Germany
- Nazi eugenics
- Action T4
- Action 14f13
- Department of Film (Nazi Germany)
- Nazism and race
- Futile medical care
- The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton (holocaust-history.org)
- "Life Unworthy of Life" and other Medical Killing Programmes
- Robert Jay Lifton (September 21, 1986). "German Doctors and the Final Solution". The New York Times.
- "Life Unworthy of Life" and other Medical Killing Programmes by Dr. Stuart D. Stein, University of the West of England
- Contemporary English translation of "Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of life" by Dr. Cristina Modak
- German text online of Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens