Werner Catel

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Werner Catel
Born (1894-06-27)June 27, 1894
Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg
Died April 30, 1981(1981-04-30) (aged 86)
Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein
Nationality German
Employer University of Leipzig, University of Kiel, Action T4
Known for Child euthanasia programme during World War II, Action T4
Title Doctor

Werner Catel (27 June 1894 – 30 April 1981), Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Leipzig, was one of three doctors considered an expert on the programme of euthanasia for children and participated in the Action T4 "euthanasia" programme for the Nazis, the other two being Hans Heinze and Ernst Wentzler.

Action T4[edit]

In early 1939 a farm labourer called Richard Kretschmar requested Catel's permission to euthanise one of his children, now identified as Gerhard Kretschmar, who had been born blind and deformed. Catel deferred the matter and suggested the father write directly to Hitler for permission. Hitler subsequently sent Dr. Karl Brandt to confer with Catel and decide on a course of action. On July 25, 1939 the child was killed.

The T4 program was influenced by a popular book(name of book?) written in 1920 by Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding. Catel as part of this programme was probably influenced by it too. In his 1962 publication, "Grenzsituation des Lebens" (Border situations of life), Catel argued for the reintroduction of euthanasia. As had Binding and Hoche, Catel identified three possible types of euthanasia.

  • Reine Euthanasie:

"Real" euthanasia was seen as the killing of a person who was suffering from so much pain, that an ever increasing amount of pain reducing drugs had to be administered. This consequently lead to the person's death.

  • Euthanasie im engeren Sinne:

The killing of a patient whose illness "according to medical experience" is so bad "that there is no hope of recovery", but whose death is also not to be expected in the near future. (See terminal sedation)

  • Euthanasie im weiteren Sinne:

The "extermination of the life of an "idiot child" or an adult in a similar condition. Catel defined "idiot children" as being "such monsters ... which are nothing but a massa carnis"(Martin Luther), have no personality or spiritual soul (Guardini), are unable to make decisions (Thomas More) or are unable to communicate with their surroundings.(Alfred Hoche)

Post war career[edit]

After the war Catel took charge of the Mammolshöhe Children's Mental Home near Kronberg, where he continued to rally for the euthanasia of children deemed beyond hope. In 1949 he was found to have committed no grave crimes by a denazification board in Hamburg, and became attached to the University of Kiel in 1954. There was talk after his death in 1981, of establishing a Werner Catel Foundation with $200,000 of unclaimed money left after his death, but the idea was finally dismissed in 1984.

See also[edit]


  • Catel was the first physician to describe what is now known as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome
  • His obituary controversially stated that he acted "in many ways, to the welfare and well-being of sick children."


  • Hans-Christian Petersen und Sönke Zankel. Werner Catel - ein Protagonist der NS-"Kindereuthanasie" und seine Nachkriegskarriere. In: Medizinhistorisches Journal. Medicine and the Life Sciences in History 38 (2003), S. 139-173.
  • Hans-Christian Petersen und Sönke Zankel: "Ein exzellenter Kinderarzt, wenn man von den Euthanasie-Dingen einmal absieht." - Werner Catel und die Vergangenheitspolitik der Universität Kiel. In: Hans-Werner Prahl u. a. (Hrsg.): Uni-Formierung des Geistes. Universität Kiel und der Nationalsozialismus. Kiel 2007, Bd. 2, S. 133-179.
  • Ernst Klee: Deutsche Medizin im Dritten Reich, S. Fischer Verlag Frankfurt/M., Oktober 2001 (Besprechung auf graswurzel.net)
  • Manfred Müller-Küppers: Die Geschichte der Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus kinderpsychiater.org
  • Ortrun Riha: Das schwerbehinderte Kind als ethische Verantwortung. Die Bürde der Vergangenheit als Verantwortung für die Zukunft. In: 110 Jahre Universitätsklinik und Poliklinik für Kinder und Jugendliche in Leipzig. Basel 2003, S. 17 ff.
  • Joachim Karl Dittrich: Rechtfertigungen? Betrachtungen zu drei Buchveröffentlichungen Werner Catels. In: 110 Jahre Universitätsklinik und Poliklinik für Kinder und Jugendliche in Leipzig. Basel 2003, S. 27 ff.
  • Berit Lahm, Thomas Seyde, Eberhard Ulm: Kindereuthanasieverbrechen in Leipzig. Verantwortung und Rezeption. Plöttner Verlag, Leipzig 2008, ISBN 978-3-938442-48-7.

External links[edit]

*srticle on Catel in Der Spiegel 8/24/1960