Dasein ohne Leben

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Dasein ohne Leben – Psychiatrie und Menschlichkeit (Existence Without LifePsychiatry and Humanity) is a 1942 Nazi propaganda film[1] about the physically and mentally disabled. The film labeled inherited mental illness as a threat to public health and society, and called for extermination of those affected.

The film was not released to the public,[2][A 1] but was shown to perpetrators of the euthanasia program and to other leading figures.[A 2] All known copies of the film were thought to be lost, but after the politico-economic turnaround in the former GDR following reunification, eight reels of the film were found in a GDR film archive.


Walter, 53, with Down syndrome was hidden by his parents and managed to survive the Nazi period

The theme of the film is the call for the killing of mentally ill patients: "Inherited mental illness" is the "greatest public health hazard." Whoever is "afflicted" bears "the heavy burden of fate: an existence without life".

Embedded in the plot is a brief history of psychiatry. A professor[A 3] named "Kämpfer" (English: "fighter") tells two students about the successes achieved in the treatment of mentally ill patients via electro-shock and insulin shock therapy. Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, many new institutions were established in order to accommodate an ever-increasing number of patients. In the setting of the film, there are 1,000 institutions with about 500,000 patients, which have to be cared for by 2,000 physicians and 40,000 nurses. The patients are accommodated in historic buildings in beautiful landscape, none of which is appreciated by the patients.

The second line of argumentation is the suggestive presentation of sick individuals via voice-over. A group of "idiots" in Hartheim Euthanasia Centre is described as follows: "We see here their future destiny, as if reflected in a funhouse mirror". A group of "idiots" in Kindberg, also a euthanasia centre, are "crippled in body and soul, miserable wretches, a burden to both themselves and to others, like ghosts without a will, imagination, or feeling." Further examples from other institutions follow, including Grafeneck Euthanasia Centre. The director of a "large lunatic asylum" appears as an expert: 73% of the parents of his "incurable inmates" were allegedly in favor of "redeeming" them.


The director was Hermann Schwenninger,[3] one of the three managing directors of Gemeinnützige Krankentransport ("Charitable Ambulance"), a front company of Aktion T4, the central institution for the mass murder of patients in the Third Reich. Schwenninger also wrote parts of the screenplay of Ich klage an. The contract for the film came from Hitler's Chancellery, and was produced by Tobis Film.[4]

Gas chamber in Hadamar

For the filmmaking, Schwenninger shot the complete course of the NS euthanasia program,[3][1] including the transport of the frightened patients to the killing institutions, and through an observation window the murder in a gas chamber of the center Pirna-Sonnenstein.[5] During the one and a half year of production, the film team visited 20 to 30 institutions throughout Nazi Germany.[6][A 4]

Film screening[edit]

The film only screened in closed circles.

In March 1942, the film was premiered in front of 28 physicians. The largest group were the reviewers[A 5] of Aktion T4 and members of the “Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft”[A 6] (Max de Crinis, Hans Heinze, Werner Heyde, Paul Nitsche and Carl Schneider). They were joined by Herbert Linden (Reichsinnenministerium), Otto Wuth (psychiatrist of the army health system), three top politicians of the health care administration of Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg and Hellmuth Unger, a writer.

On December 22, 1942, the film was shown at the Military Medical Academy.[A 7][7] The invited audience consisted of the top officials of the Sicherheitspolizei, the Gestapo, the RKPA, Reichsamt, the Reichsleitung der HJ, the doctors of the military service, the head of the medical services of the Luftwaffe, eight doctors of the military academy, and the director of the Berlin Health Office.

In January 1943, Arthur Nebe[A 8] screened Existence Without Life to hundreds of SS officers, who received it enthusiastically.[8]


Copies of the film are lost today, although there were at least six copies circulating among Nazi organizations, the SS, and the Wehrmacht staffs. It was assumed that the copies were destroyed before the Allies invaded but eight reels of the film were found in a GDR film archive.[9] Some pre-production parts can be found in the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, Washington (DC)[1]

A reconstruction of the film was made in the Channel Four documentary, Selling Murder: The Secret Propaganda Films of the Third Reich (1991) using the original script contained within the Federal German Archives and original footage of the mentally disabled but with actors for the roles of students and the professor.

See also[edit]


  • Karl Heinz Roth (1985). "Filmpropaganda für die Vernichtung der Geisteskranken und Behinderten im Dritten Reich". Reform und Gewissen. Euthanasie im Dienst des Fortschritts (in German). Berlin: Rotbuch-Verlag. pp. 125–196, 172–179. ISBN 978-3-940529-72-5.
  • Karl Heinz Roth (1986). Filmpropaganda für die Vernichtung der Geisteskranken und Behinderten im Dritten Reich (in German). Hamburg: Hamburg Univ., Diss.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ The action was officially ended in 1941 (Hitler order on 1941-08-24) due to strong protests by clergymen (e.g. Joannes Baptista Sproll, Conrad Gröber and Clemens August von Galen and segments of the population, especially in the surroundings of the murder locations, but continued unofficially until at least 1944).
  2. ^ psychiatrists, expert witnesses, Max de Crinis (University of Cologne, Charité), Werner Heyde (University Würzburg), Hans Heinze (University of Berlin), Paul Nitsche (director psychiatric hospital Pirna-Sonnenstein, Carl Schneider (psychiatrist, Bethel Institution), Otto Wuth (Head of military psychiatry), Herbert Linden (Permanent Secretary, Interior ministry), Hellmuth Unger (writer)
  3. ^ In Germany this title means exclusively[original research?] Full professor, which is important, as at that time, much more than today, the professor was an authority for most people.
  4. ^ The murders were performed in Grafeneck, Brandenburg an der Havel (Altes Zuchthaus), Bernburg, Hadamar, Hartheim, Pirna-Sonnenstein in Germany an in Chelmno in Poland. "Die sechs Mordstätten der "T4"-Aktion" (in German)."Akcja T4 w Chełmie" (in Polish).
  5. ^ The decision «death or life» was based only on written diagnostic reports
  6. ^ on behalf of the Aktion T4
  7. ^ Successor of the Kaiser-Wilhelms-Akademie, founded 1934, located in Invalidenstraße, Berlin
  8. ^ Head of german criminal police, also SS general


  1. ^ a b c "DASEIN OHNE LEBEN EXISTENCE WITHOUT LIFE". Washington (DC): Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive USHMM.
  2. ^ Jay LaMonica. "Compulsory Sterilazatio, Euthanasia, and Propaganda the Nazi Experience". University Faculty for Life (PDF). Washington (DC): University Faculty for Life. p. 195. ISSN 1097-0878.
  3. ^ a b "NAZI PROPAGANDA FILM ." Washington (DC): Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive USHMM.
  4. ^ Dasein ohne Leben on IMDb
  5. ^ Klee, Ernst (1990). Was sie taten, was sie wurden (in German). Frankfurt. p. 83. ISBN 978-3-596-24364-8.
  6. ^ Zimmermann, Peter (2005). "Propagandafilme der NSDAP" (PDF). Verlag (in German). Universität Frankfurt: 554–567.
  7. ^ K. Ph. Behrend (2003). Die Kriegschirurgie von 1939–1945 aus der Sicht der Beratenden Chirurgen des Deutschen Heeres im Zweiten Weltkrieg (in German). Freiburg: Universität Freiburg. pp. 10–11.
  8. ^ Karl Heinz Roth; et al. (1989). "Filmpropaganda für die Vernichtung der Geisteskranken und Behinderten im 'Dritten Reich'". Reform und Gewissen. 'Euthanasie im Dienst des Fortschritts (in German) (2 ed.). Berlin. pp. 125–196, 178. ISBN 978-3-940529-72-5.
  9. ^ Ernst Klee (1995-09-15). "Ansichten" (in German). Die Zeit.