By Richard Stockton
Published May 3, 2018Updated February 28, 2019
Inside the Aktion T4 program, the little-known Nazi euthanasia initiative that killed as many as 300,000 disabled people.
Both prior to and during the Holocaust, Nazi authorities executed a massive yet lesser-known program of targeted mass killing aimed at some of the most vulnerable people under their control: the disabled.
Starting as a euthanasia program that eliminated disabled infants and children deemed unfit to live and expanding in time to cover disabled adults and the elderly, the program ended in 1941 amid a welter of protests from many quarters of German society.
But the machinery for mass killing that this program developed would not lie idle for long. These victims — as many as 300,000 of them in total — helped the Nazis refine the methods they’d soon use to carry out the Holocaust.
This “rehearsal” for the Final Solution had no official name and was known in Germany only by the address where it was headquartered: 4 Tiergartenstraße, Berlin, which inspired the name Aktion T4.
The Roots Of The Aktion T4 Program
The ideological underpinnings of Aktion T4 were apparent in Nazi thinking from the party’s very beginnings. Nazi leaders had long preached the gospel of eugenics, calling for scientific control over Germany’s gene pool with the aim of improving it through state action.
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler himself had spelled out the Nazi notion of “racial hygiene,” writing that Germany “must see to it that only the healthy beget children” using “modern medical means.” The Nazis believed this would produce Germans fit for the workforce, military service, and so on — while weeding out all others.
And as soon as the Nazis swept into power in 1933, they implemented laws that mandated sterilization for the physically and mentally disabled. It didn’t take much to become a victim of this program. Most victims were sent to be sterilized due to a vague diagnosis of “feeblemindedness,” while blindness, deafness, epilepsy, and alcoholism accounted for some of the other sterilizations.
All in all, the Nazis forcibly sterilized some 400,000 people. But once the war began in 1939, the Nazis’ plans for the disabled grew even darker.
The Test Case
In early 1939, an odd letter arrived at the office of the Nazi Party Chancellery from a German man and Nazi loyalist named Richard Kretschmar. He was trying to contact Hitler directly in hopes of gaining clearance to legally euthanize his own son, Gerhard, who had been born just a few months earlier with severe and incurable physical and mental disabilities including missing limbs, blindness, and convulsions (the original medical records are lost and secondhand accounts vary).
Kretschmar asked Hitler to let them have this “monster” put down. Hitler then sent his own physician, Dr. Karl Brandt, to look into the case. On inspection, Brandt decided the diagnosis had been correct, that he was an “idiot,” and there was no hope for improvement. Thus Gerhard was killed by lethal injection on July 25, 1939. His death certificate stated the cause of death as “heart weakness.”
Having now broken the ice, Hitler and company immediately set into a motion a plan that would call for the killing of the physically and mentally disabled in Germany en masse.
Aktion T4 Is Born
British historians Laurence Rees and Ian Kershaw made the case that the Aktion T4 program’s rapid spread was typical of the chaotic nature of Hitler’s government. In their estimation, Hitler had only to speak about something generally before some ambitious subordinate would almost instantly cobble together a full-scale program from nothing.
The sudden expansion of the Aktion T4 program would seem to exemplify that notion. Within three weeks of the killing of Gerhard Kretschmar, a fully fleshed-out bureaucracy had sprung into existence and was issuing paperwork to doctors and midwives all over Germany.
Hitler had authorized the creation of the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses, led by Brandt and Nazi Chief of the Chancellery Philipp Bouhler, among others. These men then put a deadly system into place.
Upon the occasion of every birth, an official would have to fill out a form that included a section for describing physical or other observed defects that the child might have. Three doctors would then review the forms – without any of them actually examining the patient themselves – and mark it with a cross if they thought the child should be killed.
Two-out-of-three crosses were enough to warrant the removal of the child from their home under the guise of helping them get medical attention and then killing them. Aktion T4 was born.
As fitting as it is to imagine the Third Reich spontaneously developing a huge killing program like this overnight, it’s actually more likely that the idea had been floating around for a while prior to the first killing.
In private, Hitler and other top Nazis were prone to complaining that Britain and America (which both had eugenics laws of their own) were far ahead of Germany in their efforts to weed out undesirables via euthanasia. Back in the mid-1930s, Hitler had reportedly told subordinates that he preferred killing to sterilization but that “Such a problem could be more smoothly and easily carried out in war.”
And now, with World War II underway, the time to kill had begun.
The Methods Of Aktion T4
Whether or not the killing of Gerhard Kretschmar was part of a larger plan, what followed was a massive operation unlike anything the world had ever seen.
By the summer of 1939, hundreds of infants and young children had been removed from homes and healthcare facilities across Germany and were transported to one of six sites: Bernburg, Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim, and Sonnenstein. These were working asylums, so there was nothing unusual about new patients arriving and being housed in secure wards at first.
Once there, the children would typically be given fatal doses of luminal or morphine. Sometimes, however, the method of killing wasn’t so gentle.
One doctor, Hermann Pfannmüller, made a specialty of gradually starving the children to death. It was, according to him, a more natural and peaceful way to go than a harsh chemical injection that stopped the heart.
In 1940, when his facility in occupied Poland was visited by members of the German press, he hoisted one starving child over his head and proclaimed: “This one will last another two or three days!”
“The image of this fat, grinning man, with the whimpering skeleton in his fleshy hand, surrounded by other starving children, is still clear before my eyes,” one observer from that visit later recalled.
On the same visit, Dr. Pfannmüller complained about getting bad press from “foreign agitators and certain gentlemen from Switzerland,” by which he meant the Red Cross, which had been trying to inspect his hospital for nearly a year at that point.
After the early days of the program, the scope of Aktion T4 was expanded to include older children and adults with disabilities who couldn’t care for themselves. Gradually, the net was cast wider and wider and the methods of killing became more standardized.
Eventually, victims were sent directly to a killing center for “special treatment,” which by that point usually involved carbon monoxide chambers disguised as showers. Credit for inventing the “bath and disinfection” ruse goes to Bouhler himself, who suggested it as a means of keeping the victims quiet until it was too late.
High-ranking Nazis took note of this efficient method of killing and later put it to much wider use.
The Nazi Party had always had a difficult relationship with Germany’s religious community. It would be wrong to say they were forever at odds, but the church represented a separate, and largely independent, power system in the heart of what was fast becoming a dictatorship.
Early on, Catholic resistance to the Nazis led to the newly empowered party agreeing to hand over education of German children in Catholic states to the Church, while individual Protestant denominations gradually made their peace with Hitler. By about 1935, this culture war was dormant.
Or, it was, until news of the Aktion T4 program broke in 1940. Revelations about what was going on in the killing centers were bound to come out eventually, if only because the families of the victims all had nearly identical experiences: their child or disabled adult would be carted away by a charitable service working with the state, they’d get a few letters if the patient was able to write, and then there’d be a notification that their loved one had succumbed to measles and their body had been cremated as a health precaution.
No inquiries could be made and no visits were possible. It was inevitable that some families would eventually hear the same story from others and put two and two together, especially when the routine was the same across all six facilities.
Once people got wise, churches led the resistance to the Aktion T4 program by raising awareness, speaking out, and even distributing leaflets that brought the matter to the attention of many Germans for the first time.
The foreign press was even harsher on the Aktion T4 program.
In his 1941 book, The Berlin Diary, American Journalist William L. Shirer described Aktion T4 in a passage that began: “A word about a matter the Nazis would kill me over, if they knew I knew about it.” When the book was published and these words made it out of Germany, other American and British journalists did what they could but wartime secrecy largely kept the outside world in the dark.
The End Of The Aktion T4 Program
As a sop to the remaining pockets of resistance (and no doubt as a result of the fact that he had other things on his mind), Hitler finally agreed to halt the program in August 1941, after somewhere between 90,000 and 300,000 people had been killed. Virtually all of the victims were German or Austrian, and nearly half of them had been children.
But even after the ostensible halt of the killings in 1941, they eventually resumed and were simply folded into the larger program of the nascent Holocaust, making the true toll even harder to ever truly know.
This is only fitting considering that the ideologies, techniques, machinery, and personnel used in the Aktion T4 program would prove invaluable at the concentration camps of the Holocaust. In the words of the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum:
The “euthanasia” program represented in many ways a rehearsal for Nazi Germany’s subsequent genocidal policies. The Nazi leadership extended the ideological justification conceived by medical perpetrators for the destruction of the “unfit” to other categories of perceived biological enemies, most notably to Jews and Roma (Gypsies).
And as was the case with the Holocaust as a whole, only some of the Nazis responsible for the Aktion T4 program ultimately faced justice.
Just after the war, Philipp Bouhler committed suicide after being captured. Meanwhile, the so-called Doctors’ trial of 1946-1947 saw the International Military Tribunal sentence several Nazi doctors to death for their role in the program (among other offenses), including Dr. Brandt.
Dr. Pfannmüller was ultimately convicted for his role in 440 murders in 1951 and was sentenced to five whole years in prison. Later, he successfully appealed to reduce that to four years. He was released in 1955 and died quietly as a free man at his home in Munich in 1961.
Today, a memorial stands near the former site of the Aktion T4 program’s headquarters in Berlin where Nazi officials organized a mass killing like few the world has ever seen.
After this look at the Nazi’s horrific Aktion T4 program, discover how dangerous drugs like Pervitin fueled the Nazis’ rise and fall. Then, read the horrifying tales of infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
Giancarlo Livraghi – December 2010
Also as pdf
(better for printing)
There is no end to learning. I am fifteen years late in discovering that in September, 1995 Zbigniew Brzezinski had coined a new word: tittytainment. I also didn’t know, until today, that in 2007 a Spanish author, Gabriel Sala, had developed the concept (calling it entetanimiento) in his Panfleto contra la estupidez contemporánea.
This isn’t a new subject for the readers of this website – or my books. Here as well, it has been discussed, in different ways, for fifteen years. Anyhow, it isn’t only a matter of “contemporary” stupidity. Information and communication systems have always been used to distract, confuse and deceive. Tough now the disease is developing on a new scale, with new tools, often disguised as “fun”. There is no harm in laughing about it, as long as we understand that the problem is quite serious.
Of course this isn’t just a matter of “tits”. Or other display of parts of a human body. There is nothing wrong with people dressing or undressing as they wish. Enticement, per se, isn’t reproachable. It becomes a problem when it’s overused in entertainment, not only blurring all other content but also diverting attention.
And it’s not he only tool. The distractive devices can be pleasant or unpleasant, funny or scaring, attractive or repulsive. There are many ways to lull or fuss, delude or worry, cuddle or threat, amuse or distress, with the same purpose: to deceive us into ignorance and obedience.
There is a website called tittytainment. Actually it’s only one page, placed online in August, 1999 and never developed any further. This is how it explains the meaning.
The inventor of the word “tittytainment” is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor for four years, from 1977 to 1981. [He was also co-founder with David Rockefeller, in 1973,of the Trilateral Commission, “a private organization established to foster closer cooperation among the United States, Europe and Japan”. He is now a senior advisor in President Barack Obama’s staff.]
He first used the word at a discussion with several world leaders who gathered at the Fairmont Hotel in San Fancisco at the invitation of the Father of Glasnost and Perestroika, Mikhael Gorbachev, late September 1995.
The discussion concerned “the future of work”. They sketched out a new social order and everybody there seemed to agree that in the society of the 21st century, 20 % of the people will have work and 80 % will be kept docile, as if in a state of semi-hypnosis, by means of what Zbigniew Brzezinski called “tittytainment”: a mixture of deadeningly predictable, lowest common denominator entertainment for the soul, and nourishment for the body.
The word “tittytainment” is built up from “tits” and “entertainment”, akin to mothers nursing and conditioning children with a plug-in drug.
Fifteen years later, there is no memory of that meeting – as of other meaningless forecasting for the 21st century. We are having quite different problems with the economy and work (and also with “glasnost” and “perestroika”). But tittytainment is, indeed, with us – and getting worse.
The easiest way to enforce the will of power is violence, combined with no freedom of information. It’s still used with remorseless cruelty in many parts of the world. But, when and where such brutal control isn’t possible, “tittytainment” becomes a prevailing tool. It’s interesting to note that, when the word was coined, the implied meaning wasn’t only cleavage – but also the breast-feeding of acquiescence (and therefore stupidity). The metaphor is perversely clear. Cuddle into obedience. Lull to deceive.
Good parents, as well as good teachers, know that their role is not only to educate and protect children, but also to help them in growing up and becoming independent. This is not the intention of those who wish to keep us “childish” for all our life.
Is there something basically wrong with entertainment, fun, play, relaxing, amusement? Of course not. But they become a disease when they are used to disguise information and to replace knowledge, thought, freedom, culture – and responsibility. Before we try to reach a conclusion, let’s see how Gabriel Sala defines entetanimiento in his “pamphlet”.
«“Entetanimiento” is a mixture of mediocre and trivial entertainment, intellectual garbage, propaganda, psychological and physically nourishing elements, with the purpose of satisfying human beings and keeping them conveniently tranquillized, perennially anxious, submitted and servile to the will of the oligarchy that decides their destiny without allowing them any opinion on the subject.»
«“Entetanimiento” is the best alibi provider that has ever existed, the prism through which we can observe the world without feeling guilty or obliged to take responsibility for our actions.»
I that comfortable? So the tittytainers would like us to believe. But if we allow them to lock us into a mental prison, we can’t choose the environment. And our nourishment is whatever muck someone decides to feed us.
Is it done deliberately? Obviously. But not only. The pushers are intoxicated by their own poison. By spreading foolishness, they become foolish. I had explained this syndrome in 2002 as The Vicious Circle of Stupidity – that later became chapter 18 of The Power of Stupidity (with more diagnoses of the contagion in other parts of the book).
There are relevant reasons why some observations on this subject are also in The contradictions of “meritocracy” (April 2011) – and, fifty years ago, something quite similar to “tittytainment” was suggested by Michael Young, as the repressive tool of a new oligarchy, in The Rise of the Meritocracy (the book in which the word “meritocracy” was used for the first time.)
This isn’t a new problem. We can trace it back to the origin of humanity. But now it has reached a different size and perspective, with the “abundance paradox”. The quantity of information is enormous – and growing. If we aren’t prevented by prohibition or censorship, we can all find access to “almost everything”. But seeking and finding isn’t easy. And, in addition to the limitations and warping of our environment, there is more misinformation being constantly generated around the world. Nonsense and silliness, deceit and manipulation, can reach us by means of someone who isn’t trying to confuse us, but didn’t have the time, or the ability, to check the source or understand the meaning.
Should we fall into a state of anxiety and fear, mistrust everything and everybody, suspect mischief and trickery even where they aren’t? No. The remedy could be worse than the illness.
There is a simpler, and less uncomfortable, solution. Insatiable curiosity. An unceasing desire to learn and understand, seizing every opportunity to think with our own mind. Is it challenging? Yes – but pleasantly. With a bit of practice it becomes instinctive, spontaneous, intuitive. When we succeed, it’s always stimulating. Often interesting – and also quite amusing.
Gates told CBS News we might need a third shot of a currently available vaccine, or a “modified” vaccine as the virus mutates, but CHD’s RFK, Jr. asks why we haven’t focused instead on non-vaccine strategies, including therapeutic drugs.
With more than 40 million Americans having received at least the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, a third dose may be needed to prevent the spread of new variants of the disease, Bill Gates told CBS News Tuesday.
Pfizer and Moderna have stated that their vaccines are 95% and 99% effective, respectively, against the initial strain of COVID. However, some scientists have questioned those statements. Additionally, the World Health Organization and vaccine companies have conceded that the vaccines do not prevent people from being infected with COVID or from transmitting it, but are only effective at reducing symptoms.
Gates told CBS Evening News:
“The discussion now is do we just need to get a super high coverage of the current vaccine, or do we need a third dose that’s just the same, or do we need a modified vaccine?”
U.S. vaccine companies are looking at making modifications, which Gates refers to as “tuning.”
People who have had two shots may need to get a third shot and people who have not yet been vaccinated would need the modified vaccine, explained Gates. When asked whether the coronavirus vaccine would be similar to the flu vaccine, which requires yearly boosters, Gates couldn’t rule that out. Until the virus is eradicated from all humans, Gates said, additional shots may be needed in the future.
“AstraZeneca in particular has a challenge with the variant,” Gates explained. “And the other two, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, are slightly less effective, but still effective enough that we absolutely should get them out as fast as we can while we study this idea of tuning the vaccine.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the studies being conducted in Brazil and South Africa, CBS News said. The foundation has also invested in the AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and the Novavax vaccines, which are being tested against new variants. Once the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved, the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative or GAVI, founded by Gates, will distribute it globally.
“Gates continues to move the goalposts,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman and chief legal counsel of Children’s Health Defense. “Meanwhile the strategies he and others have promoted are obliterating the global economy, demolishing the middle class, making the rich richer and censoring vaccine safety advocates, like me.”
Kennedy said that the exclusive focus on vaccines has prevented the kind of progress required to actually address and recover from the pandemic:
“From the pandemic’s outset, clear-headed people familiar with the challenges inherent in the vaccine model have understood that the path out of crisis would require multiple steps. Those steps would need to include the development and/or identification of therapeutic drugs, the sharing of information among doctors to hone improved treatment models that reduce infection mortality rates below those for flu, and the kind of broad-spectrum long-term herd immunity that protects against mutant strains and that only derives from natural infection.”
Instead, Gates and vaccine makers are proposing a lifetime of boosters, supporting insufficient testing to determine safety and failing to address the inadequate monitoring of vaccine injuries, Kennedy said.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Children’s Health Defense.
The Misconception: If you are in a bad situation, you will do whatever you can do to escape it.
The Truth: If you feel like you aren’t in control of your destiny, you will give up and accept whatever situation you are in.
In 1965, a scientist named Martin Seligman started shocking dogs.
He was trying to expand on the research of Pavlov – the guy who could make dogs salivate when they heard a bell ring. Seligman wanted to head in the other direction, and when he rang his bell instead of providing food he zapped them with electricity. To keep them still, he restrained them in a harness during the experiment.
After they were conditioned, he put these dogs in a big box with a little fence dividing it into two halves. They figured if they rang the bell, the dog would hop over the fence to escape, but it didn’t. It just sat there and braced itself. They decided to try shocking them after the bell. The dog still just sat there and took it. When they put a dog in the box which had never been shocked before and tried to zap it – it jumped the fence.
You are just like these dogs.
If, over the course of your life, you have experienced crushing defeat or pummeling abuse or loss of control, you learn over time there is no escape, and if escape is offered, you will not act – you become a nihilist who trusts futility above optimism.
Studies of the clinically depressed show that when they fail they often just give in to defeat and stop trying. The average person will look for external forces to blame when they fail the mid-term. They will say the professor is an asshole, or they didn’t get enough sleep. Depressed people will blame themselves and assume they are stupid.
Do you vote? If not, is it because you think it doesn’t matter because things never change, or politicians are evil on both sides, or one vote in several million doesn’t count? Yeah, that’s learned helplessness.
When battered women, or hostages, or abused children, or long-time prisoners refuse to escape, they do so because they have accepted the futility of the attempt. What does it matter? If those people do get out of their situation, they often have a hard time committing to anything which may lead to failure.
Any extended period of negative emotions can lead to you giving in to despair and accepting your fate. If you remain alone for a long time, you will decide loneliness is a fact of life and pass up opportunities to hang out with people. The loss of control in any situation will lead to this state. A study in 1976 by Langer and Rodin showed in nursing homes where conformity and passivity is encouraged and every whim is attended to, the health and well-being of the patients declines rapidly. If, instead, the people in these homes are given responsibilities and choices, they remain healthy and active. This research was repeated in prisons. Sure enough, just letting prisoners move furniture and control the television kept them from developing health problems and staging revolts. In homeless shelters where people can’t pick out their own beds or choose what to eat, the residents are less likely to try and get a job or find an apartment.
When you are able to succeed at easy tasks, hard tasks feel possible to accomplish. When you are unable to succeed at small tasks, everything seems harder.
Rats given the opportunity to escape electric shocks are half as likely to develop tumors than those who are forced to bear them. Rats already suffering from cancer will die faster if placed into the inescapable shock experiment.
Every day – your job, the government, your addiction, your depression, your money – you feel like you can’t control the forces affecting your fate. So, you stage microrevolts. You customize your ringtone, you paint your room, you collect stamps. You choose.
Choices, even small ones, can hold back the crushing weight of helplessness, but you can’t stop there. You must fight back your behavior and learn to fail with pride. Failing often is the only way to ever get the things you want out of life. Besides death, your destiny is not inescapable.
You are not so smart, but you are smarter than dogs and rats. Don’t give in yet.
David McRaney wrote a whole book full of articles like this one: You Are Now Less Dumb – Get it now!
Go deeper into understanding just how deluded you really are and learn how you can use that knowledge to be more humble, better connected, and less dumb in the sequel to the internationally bestselling You Are Not So Smart. Watch the beautiful new trailer here.