Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Berlin's Memorial to "Euthanasia" Victims

A new monument in Berlin was inaugurated on Tuesday to commemorate the victims of the Nazi's so-called 'euthanasia,' program, the Action T4 program. The purpose of the T4 program was to eliminate those people deemed "mentally, physically and socially inferior," which included the weakest and most defenseless members of society: the mentally ill, physically or mentally disabled, and the 'antisocial or non-conformist' (homosexuals).

For decades, victims of the T4 program were excluded from official commemoration; in part, because the relatives of the victims didn't want the shameful stigma associated with the program. Things began to change after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; and for the last 20 years, there was increasing pressure to have some official recognition.  

Under the T4 program, all nursing homes and hospitals in the Reich had to fill out a special registration form for each patient admitted, in which a diagnosis and prognosis was recorded. Based on that information, a doctor would review the information and write a plus or minus on the form. A person given a minus was deemed 'unworthy' of life. Those designated with the minus symbol were later transported to specially equipped locations around Berlin to be gassed.

The families of the victims were sent a 'comfort letter' stating that their relative had died suddenly of some fictitious cause. Fake death certificates were issued, and most families only discovered the circumstances of the death following the war. By the war's end in 1945, an estimated 300,000 people had died under the T4 program. The program was particularly egregious since it involved the active support and participation of the medical community.

Located on the northern edge of the Kulturforum and behind the Philharmonie, the monument is situated at the former Tiergarten Straße 4 Villa (hence the name T4) where the program was formally administered. The 24-meter-long memorial wall is made of clear light blue glass and set into a dark grey concrete surface that gently slopes towards the center. The outdoor exhibition provides information about the history of the 'euthanasia' killings and their legacy up to the present day. The memorial is similar to a temporary exhibition that I saw last year. The memorial is accessible 24 hours a day and seven days a week. 

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