In Nazi terms, euthanasia was merely a euphemism for 'murder.' The Nazis killed, not to relieve suffering but for racial and eugenic reasons. Euthanasia made it possible for the initial crimes against German mental patients to become the model for far more extensive mass murder when in 1941-2, T4 supplied 100 experts of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question to serve and administer the death camps in the East.
According to Raul Hilberg, Euthanasia' was conceptual as well as technological, which represented an administrative pre-figuration of the 'Final Solution' in the death camps. To speak of the 'suspension' of the euthanasia program in August 1941 is misleading as children were exempted from this pause. This was a deception devised to deflect criticism from the Catholic Church. The suspension should be more accurately called a pause for reorganization. The period of reorientation that followed resulted in an ever-increasing number of groups being included for extermination. Euthanasia was widespread and fully engaged the principal protagonists of the high-ranking T4 leadership. The extermination of the Jews 'in the East' was an extension of this nefarious policy and should be treated as such. All manner of groups within Germany proper were identified and gradually brought within the criteria of euthanasia: the elderly, tubercular patients, vagrants, and those designated as 'work shy.' In short, what had started out as the extermination of the medically 'incurable' concluded with those who, for whatever reason, were unable to contribute to the economic well being of the Reich. Two groups, however, were treated quite separately, regardless of their potential usefulness, racial, physical or mental health - the Jews and Gypsies. It was their fate to be exterminated in the shooting pits and gas chambers 'in the East.'
The authority for the implementation of this operation depended entirely on the personal authority given by Hitler to others. It was to become a dress rehearsal for the much larger-scale genocide of the Jews and others that was to emerge in late 1941.
Even in the totally controlled and manipulated Third Reich, legislation to enact the extermination policy was deliberately avoided because of the publicity it would arouse which, in turn, would have seriously inhibited the visionary concepts of the Nazi ideologists. Hitler had failed to abolish the Weimar Constitution and ignored all advice by such bureaucratically-minded Nazis as Hans-Heinrich Lammers, the head of the Reich Chancellery, and Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, to formulate a Reich Constitution. This policy by Hitler led to confusion and internecine squabbles between the political satraps surrounding him, and of course, their rival empires. It must have been chaos for good government, particularly with regard to the racial policies of the Third Reich. With Hitler at the centre, the Nazi leaders vied with one another in pushing policies to extremes, secure in the knowledge that this was what their Führer wanted and at the same time maintaining their standing in his eyes.
It was an essential feature of the progressive development of the racial state that outsiders, other than Jews or political dissidents, were excluded from the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft and were persecuted, eventually to the point of extinction. These were the physically handicapped and the 'hereditarily diseased,' the so-called 'asocials,' the 'work shy,' habitual criminals, prostitutes, and homosexuals, who incurred the particular wrath of the Nazis. Gypsies (Sinti and Roma), were also declared to be racially 'unclean' and in the concentration camps were among the most mistreated of inmates.
Euthanasia was initiated in 1939 when a German couple called Knauer petitioned Hitler for permission for their deformed infant to be administered a 'mercy death.' At the beginning of October 1939, Hitler signed a private note, symbolically backdated to 1st September 1939, authorizing officials of Hitler's Chancellery to prepare plans for the killing of incurably ill adult mental patients.
During this operation, according to meticulously kept records, 70,273 German mental patients were killed by gassing, and a further 20,000 by lethal injection and drugs. It was here that the technical means of group murder by gas was first introduced.
This was not 'medicalized killing,' first envisaged, as no medical expertise was required. Initially, the gassing apparatus was operated by the medical director at each euthanasia institution who became known as the 'Vergasungsärzte' ('gassing doctors') in accordance with orders from the Chancellery. This soon changed, however, as it was realized that turning on a gas valve did not require any medical expertise.
The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible that euthanasia was the precursor to Jewish genocide. When the time arrived and the final decision made to implement the Jewish genocide, the KdF was able to draw upon the experience and technical support of T4 to carry their plans through to completion.
Two factors were crucial for the drive towards the construction of the racial Utopia which made the Nazi regime so criminal and murderous: 1) the quest for a Volksgemeinschaft (National Unity) and identity that made so many willing souls turn their backs on democracy, and 2) a pluralist society that would welcome with enthusiasm Hitler's proclamation of a reborn National Unity. Such aims could not be achieved without some sacrifice and the price to be paid for this Utopia was the collapse of the rule of law, which made it possible to treat whole groups of fellow-citizens as outcasts and disposable. The arrival of Hitler and the Nazis, riding on bogus legality, was arguably the most far-reaching revolution ever to take place in an advanced industrial society; it unleashed a combination of anarchy and power- crazed leaders and ultimately made possible the genocide of European Jewry.
Since the nineteenth century, psychiatry in Germany had more or less taken the same path as other western European countries. Anyone who exhibited 'unnatural' psychiatric symptoms and behaved unpredictably was seen as a threat, both to society and themselves. To overcome this threat, such people were removed from public life and committed by court order to designated psychiatric institutions, preferably located out of the public eye. After careful examination of the patients, psychiatrists concluded that many of these unfortunates were suffering from incurable brain disorders and hereditary faults, and therefore could not be held responsible for their actions. Psychiatry in Germany continued to follow this well-established line throughout the nineteenth century. As more people were identified as being in need of psychiatric treatment, a radical restructuring took place with the introduction of 'care assistants' or 'attendants.' Because the behavior of the patients was unpredictable and could be violent and 'robust,' attendants were employed who within a short time became akin to jailers. At the Hartheim Institution this would seem an appropriate description of the 'attendants' as many of the patients were kept in cells and sometimes chained.
After World War I, German psychiatry became a recognized professional body, which offered specialized treatment and facilities in response to a growing humanitarian problem. Attendants and jailers had become 'carers' and by the late 1920s were identified as nurses (male or female), who had obtained professional status with union representation and a career structure. By the early 1930s, Germany was at the forefront of psychiatric research and had a reputation as a caring nation with concern for society's unfortunate misfits.
With the arrival of Nazism in 1933, the psychiatric profession at first continued in its caring role, but a subtle change was taking place within the profession due to its politicization. With the introduction of legislation ('Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service'), the Nazis thoroughly purged long-established ethical and administrative public supervisory bodies. In their place they introduced Nazi organizations that usurped trade unions and all other conciliatory avenues under an ever-watchful political agenda.
Nurses were now coerced into membership of the Nazi Party and given civil service status. Applicants for entry into the profession were assessed, not according to their professional expertise, but according to their political affiliation and were often recommended by the local SA-Sturmführer. Membership in the Nazi Party was the 'golden handshake' that opened many doors and at the same time closed them to non-members. By the late 1930s, the Nazi Party had an iron grip on every aspect of German society and was showing a distinct aversion to the reigning psychiatric philosophy.
The Landrat (Rural District Council Chairman) for the district in which the Eichberg institution was located openly stated his views at a conference on psychiatric care. He stated that if he were a doctor, he would 'do away with these patients.' A psychiatrist who was present replied, German medicine can congratulate itself that you are not a doctor. Ideologically at odds with the caring attitude to the physically and mentally handicapped, the treatment of these unfortunates by the Nazis led to tragic consequences, and the Nazi politicization of public mental health in the state sector was the downward spiral that proved to be the catalyst leading to the pits of Belzec.
By the late 1930s, the regional health departments and administrators of the psychiatric institutions had been completely taken over by Party officials who used their political affiliation to browbeat those who remained non-political. During the T4 euthanasia phase at the Eichberg Institution - which also provided victims for the Hadamar killing centre - Dr Walter Schmidt, a fanatical Nazi bureaucrat, strutted around in SS uniform with pistol at his side supervising the daily murder of patients. Schmidt, described by one male nurse as a 'hothead and psychopath,' gave orders to his nurses to shoot dead any patient who attempted to escape. Another fanatical autocrat was Walter Grabowski, the first non-medical director at the big psychiatric institution at Meseritz-Obrawalde. Grabowski patrolled his wards dressed in hunting attire, accompanied by a large dog. Similarly, Fritz Bernotat, the administrator in the Hesse-Nassau province, was described as a primitive bully spitting out Nazi slogans to intimidate and terrorise his staff. He insisted on Nazi salutes and strict obedience when he was imposing the practice of euthanasia. This new breed of political appointee with no medical background was the portent of things to come. And hovering around and above these Nazified bureaucratic killers, the 'Schreibtischmörder' ('desk murderers'), was the brutal and feared administrator of the killing centers, Christian Wirth.
The common factor in all these Nazi leaders was the effect, power and control by sheer fear, they had on their staff in T4, and later in the death camps, should they not comply with orders. A common cry from the nurses when faced with the grisly business of murder was: I could not oppose the tasks assigned to me, far- reaching consequences if I refused, fear of being sent to concentration camp, fear that family would suffer, etc. Of course, their protests -- after the fact -- arouse a certain amount of skepticism, and rightly so: it was to their advantage in subsequent criminal trials to attempt to exonerate themselves. However, to dismiss their claims completely would, I feel, be mistaken in view of the brutal characters to whom they were subordinate. The general nurses of T4 who were not engaged in Reinhardt had very little to complain about, as we shall see.
The historian Henry Friedlander has pointed out that these non-medical middle managers were motivated by personal considerations of advancement and ideological commitment; they were the arbiters of life and death. In post-war German trials, we hear evidence that their motivating instincts were guided by a fanatical duty to the Führer. Although Christian Wirth falls into this category, he was different, as he was identified and appointed by the highest authority within the Führer's Chancellery!
Running parallel with the emerging euthanasia program was the anti-Jewish legislation exemplified by the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor in 1935. By their very nature, these draconian laws removed large swathes of German society (Jews, the handicapped, 'the incurably insane' and 'the socially defective') from the protection of the State, and permitted their persecution and eventual physical extinction. In addition, and also running parallel to T4 operations, were the killing operations by shooting in the East. In the regions of Pomerania and Danzig-West-Prussia, many thousands of handicapped people - Germans, Poles and Jews - were shot in mass graves in secluded forests by SS-Einsatzgruppen units. No less targeted were the Gypsies (Sinti and Roma) because they were considered 'asocial' (socially deviant) and racially inferior.
In the western part of the Reich, gassing was the preferred 'killing agent' as it was a more sophisticated and discreet method. In the East, without the need for absolute secrecy, it became a free and open policy to murder whomever and by whatever means was available. It is clear that euthanasia and associated experimental killing operations elsewhere are inextricably linked to the Final Solution. Further indications of this direct link can be seen in the deceptive maneuvers that were later transferred to the death camps in Poland. For example, at Hadamar, the victims were given a stamped postcard on which to report to relatives a safe arrival at their destination followed by a cursory medical examination at reception only minutes before they were taken to the gas chamber. Even the general medical staff at intermediate institutions had their suspicions confirmed when identifiable clothing belonging to their patients was returned shortly after the patients had been taken away to an unknown destination.
This practice was also the main give-away for Jews in the ghettos waiting their turn for deportation to a death camp. Moreover, just like many Jews, the German nursing staff - ignorant at first of direct euthanasia - did not believe such a thing possible. As with the Jews in the East, rumors very soon became proven fact.
The establishment and implementation of euthanasia did not follow a direct path. Although Hitler wanted to implement the operation, he was uncertain of the possible reaction from the Church and public, and in 1938 his political satraps at the Chancellery sought assistance and advice from the SD. This referral to the HHE clearly indicates that as early as 1938 the architects of genocide had their fingers in the 'euthanasia pie' and the officials at the Chancellery and HHE thereafter, concentrated their efforts on wrapping up an acceptable package to present to the Führer.
What has become generally known as 'the Opinion' was set in motion and the conduit was a disillusioned priest, Albert Hartl, who had left the church to join the SD in 1935. The interesting point about Hartl is that by 1938 he was at the center of the HHE's political élite as the head of the Church Information Department. It was expected that Hartl would write a suitable thesis and no doubt slant his findings accordingly. However, Hartl declined to research this brief, stating that he considered himself unqualified for such an important task. Then the brief was passed over to Joseph Mayer, Professor of Philosophical Theology at the Catholic University of Paderborn. After six months deliberating and writing his thesis, Professor Mayer presented his conclusions to the Chancellery, suggesting that, in his opinion, there would be no hostile opposition from the Church. In short, euthanasia and all that emanated from it became part of Nazi policy - until public opinion and religious opposition led to its suspension in August 1941.
The ultimate authority for the euthanasia operation was Hauptamt II (Main Office II) of the Führer's Chancellery, headed by SS-Oberführer Viktor Brack, at Voss Strasse 4 in Berlin, and the organization set up specifically to administer the operation was given the innocuous name of the Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Anstaltspflege (Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care). This was simply the cover name for Hitler's Chancellery (KdF) to conceal its direct involvement in the killing operation and all personnel employed were members of the Foundation. At the beginning of December, the Foundation moved into offices on the top floor of the 'Columbus Haus,' an eight-story high office block on Potsdamer Platz, not far from Voss Strasse. It could only be contacted through a Post Office Box Number at the Post Office nearby: PO Box 261, Berlin W9.
In the spring of 1940, the Foundation moved into a secluded villa at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin Charlottenburg, the administrative headquarters of the euthanasia operation. Hauptamt II at the KdF was the decision-making agency for all aspects of the euthanasia and subsequent Reinhardt policies. Although Bouhler was titular head of the whole operation, in fact he had little to with it unless his authority was needed in dealing with other government agencies. He spent most of the war on his estate in Bavaria, where he had his office. Karl Brandt Hitler's Physician-in-Ordinary - dealt only with the medical aspect of the operation, but continued to run his medical practice at the Berlin Poliklinik and regularly performed surgeries as usual. The Plenipotentiary for health was Leonardo Conti. Heinrich Lammers was head of the Reich Chancellery and constantly carped about the lack of a legally proclaimed decree for euthanasia, something Hitler absolutely refused to do. Martin Bormann, head of the Party Chancellery, was kept well away from euthanasia matters because it was well-known at the KdF that in his hands euthanasia would not stop at mental patients. He was displeased at being excluded because his brother Albert worked for the KdF and was also one of Hitler's adjutants. Brack's deputy was SA-Oberführer Werner Blankenburg; Hefelmann was the leading light at the Kdf for children's euthanasia. All the KdF staff involved in euthanasia took this on as an extra job in addition to their normal functions.
SS-Obersturmführer/Kriminalkommissar Christian Wirth, assisted by a motley selection of civilians employees, psychiatric nurses, police officers and a few concentration camp guards were molded into a unique secret cadre whose sole purpose was to initiate and supervise state murder.
In pursuit of their euthanasia policy, the KdF executive immediately followed up the practice invoked in May 1939. Under another masquerade office known as the 'Reichscommittee' (The Reich's Committee for Scientific Research of Hereditary and Severe Congenital Diseases), questionnaires were sent out requesting that midwives, hospitals and doctors list all patients who were senile, criminally insane or handicapped, ostensibly for statistical purposes. From the replies, T4 appointed assessors who were to be the arbiters of life or death. Leading the team of medical experts was 37 year-old Werner Heyde, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Würzburg, who surrounded himself with medical experts with wide powers to implement the operation. On the basis of a simple plus (+) or minus (-) sign on the questionnaires, the patients were selected for life or death. The final choice was made by a panel of senior psychiatrists who double-checked the questionnaires, which were then handed over to the only legally registered section of the entire euthanasia operation, the 'Gemeinnütziger Krankentransport GmbH' (Charitable Patient Transport Co. Ltd.), usually referred to simply as 'Gekrat,' headed by Reinhold Vorberg, the head of Hauptamt IIc (Affairs concerning the SD, police and Churches) at the KdF. Gekrat's job was the transportation of the patients from their individual institutions to the T4 killing centers in a fleet of buses (usually three at each killing center) hired from the Reich Post Office. Vorberg's involvement was necessary because the 'Gekrat' bus drivers were all SS-NCOs recruited from the concentration camps.
It was at this stage that Christian Wirth's management team became more assertive in the day-to-day duties in the euthanasia centers. Although medical matters at the killing centers remained in the hands of the senior medical personnel, Wirth could and often did over-ride their authority. Once the victims had been certified for euthanasia, transport lists were compiled and shortly afterwards a team of T4 nurses (male and female) from a killing center would arrive at the designated psychiatric institution to remove the selected patients in the 'Gekrat' buses.
By the late summer of 1941, when possible solutions to the Jewish Question were emerging, the Reichsarzt-SS und Polizei (Reich Doctor for the SS and Police), SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Grawitz, advised the HHE/KdF that gassing was the most appropriate means for carrying out 'special treatment' of large numbers of people. The means Dr Grawitz favored were static chambers supplemented by mobile chambers (gas vans), as used at Che³mno and the former collective farm at Maly Trostenets (Minsk). Only the 'gassing agent' had to be determined.
There appear to have been four distinct levels of recruitment into T4: top management, middle (functional) managers, doctors, and practical support personnel. In practice, the daily administration was left to Dieter Allers to coordinate, select and appoint personnel to T4. Dieter Allers remained prominent within Nazi euthanasia and genocidal policies from 1941 until the end of the war. All the T4 staff were interviewed first by Viktor Brack or Werner Blankenburg, even down to the tea-ladies.
The recruitment of personnel for middle and lower management appears to have been quite informal, often just by word of mouth, between friends or relatives already in the service, or by senior officials nominating a particularly favored individual. For an illustration of the recruiting procedures adopted and the development of a typical career path, we can examine the appointment of Dieter Allers who, by chance, found himself at the center of T4 operations.
In 1939, Allers, a young lawyer, was sent to Poland as an army training sergeant. In November 1940, his mother met Werner Blankenburg in the street and when she told him that her son was in the army, Blankenburg offered to give him a job at the KdF and arranged his discharge from the military. In January 1941, Allers was appointed managing director of T4 by Brack.)
Just below the executive and medical directors was a tier of young physicians who were evenly spread throughout the euthanasia institutions. These young doctors, all in their middle to late thirties, were the principal medical overseers at each euthanasia center. Standing out among them was Dr Irmfried Eberl (pseudonym: Schneider or Meyer), who was placed in charge of the Brandenburg and later the Bernburg euthanasia center. As we shall see later, Eberl served as the first commandant of Treblinka.
The questions we have to ask are :
For these medical men there was a choice, as the evidence suggests that not one of them was forced to enter the euthanasia program. The doctors' concerns were that if they declined the offer to commit themselves to Nazi ideology and scientific theories about eugenics, they or their families would in some way suffer. This was a notional fear as none of them could produce any tangible evidence that this was in fact the case, simply because they did not put it to the test. However, the political environment at the time was conducive to this view. Career prospects were also a major consideration. One doctor expressed the view that by 'joining' he would never get a better opportunity to meet and work with such highly respected medical experts leading the profession in his field of interest.
All the psychiatric personnel involved had long advocated euthanasia and believed it should have been started much earlier. Quite simply, they believed in euthanasia and as convinced Nazis, the operation fitted in with their ideology of 'racial hygiene' and 'racial purity.' Any other considerations for joining T4 were secondary.
Avoiding war duties was also a frequent reason for joining T4 together with a much higher salary. Some of the T4 doctors later joined the army or navy and were killed in action. They were exempt from call-up only while with T4. As for the higher and middle level T4 officials, the mystique and prestige of working secretly for the KdF as their ultimate authority was too tempting to resist.
By mid-1939, there was an upsurge in the construction and designation of buildings intended for the euthanasia program. Medical institutions selected to be the center of euthanasia activity were reorganized and adapted. Secondary institutions (Zwischenanstalten or feeder stations) were also upgraded. Additional buildings, gas chambers, photographic laboratories, enlarged cremation facilities, general reception and registration areas, and staff accommodation were all detailed in the new plans. (Hartheim was selected in February 1939, Grafeneck in October, and Brandenburg in December. The other three were selected throughout 1940 by Adolf Gustav Kaufmann, employed as the T4 'establishments officer' from early 1940). Selected specialists had to be recruited to man these institutions. Find men with courage to implement, and nerves to endure was mentioned in a speech by Viktor Brack recorded by the State Court President (Alexander Bergmann) on April 23, 1941. Within the euthanasia program over 400 persons were eventually recruited, about 100 of whom would eventually be transferred to Reinhardt and the extermination camps of eastern Poland.
The fact that the majority of functioning candidates were members of the Nazi Party should not be taken as a token of their ideological commitment. Not to be a member of the Nazi Party was a disadvantage and a bar to employment, especially for psychiatric nurses, who were civil servants and thus had no choice but to join or risk dismissal. The artisans and general maintenance workers were, in the main, politically indifferent, even though many were members of the Party. Some were the long established as self-employed who left flourishing small businesses when called to join; Erwin Lambert who served in T4 and later Reinhardt was, at first, reluctant to join and had to be persuaded as he had an established and profit-making construction firm in Berlin; also he didn't want to move away from his sick mother. Many of the men who joined T4 yearned to return to their previous occupations when their duties at T4 became apparent. Those at the lowest level in T4 did not know that they would be employed in a killing institution until after they had signed the secrecy oath. They had to decide whether to join or not before they signed. They certainly did not think that they would be involved in the killing process. Most of them didn't even know what 'eugenics' was! They were mostly employed at jobs such as doormen, telephone operators, and general handymen and were gradually inveigled into the actual killing process as 'burners,' etc.
Judging from their backgrounds, the majority were of average intelligence with a basic standard of education. They lacked the attributes or inclination to become members of the SS or the police. The overall impression obtained from their personnel backgrounds was that they were initially surprised at being selected as none had applied to join T4; they were summoned and had no idea why, or what they would be doing. In the end, most considered that working for the government had its advantages: enhancement of their personal standing, an increase in salary with bonuses, family security, and duty away from the war. It is interesting to note the number of personnel recruited to T4 and who later served in the Reinhardt program came from outside the Altreich: Austrians; Sudentendeutsche, et al who had aligned themselves with Nazi Germany. Whether this was just coincidence is difficult to say, but some have argued that Austrians in general was the most anti-Semitic group: a Jew was safer living in Berlin than in Vienna! It was the Austrian contingent that held the senior posts in the concentration camps and in particular in the Reinhardt administration. In the final analysis, there is little doubt that these men were carefully chosen for duties in T4 and Reinhardt.
After a short period in a killing center and knowing its purpose, the men became concerned that their own families and relatives might fall within the criteria of euthanasia. Their fears were quickly allayed by the exemption from euthanasia of four groups: 1) those who had served in the armed forces, 2) those who had been decorated with the 'Mutterkreuz' (to women who had nine or more children in order to glorify motherhood), and 3) relatives of euthanasia action staff. Finally, 4) anyone with any possible connection to people around Hitler, as well as the leadership of the armed services.
How the 'carers' the male and female psychiatric nurses - from ordinary backgrounds became killers will become clearer as the story progresses, but as Michael Burleigh has stated, there is no great psychological mystery about why these 'carers' became killers. Many psychiatric nurses, he argues, were tired, frustrated, and already desensitized to the suffering of others. It is sufficient to say at this stage that the Kdf used a certain form of psychology towards carers during the process. It is noteworthy that the euthanasia troops engaged in antisocial and immoral behavior in the institutions and local bars. By a gradual introduction to the killing methods, they dampened their concerns until they acquiesced, helpless with nowhere else to turn. By this method, the KdF, through their representative Christian Wirth, bred a team of specialist murderers who could kill without any qualms of conscience or, if they were troubled, they continued to kill anyway. The later hands-on, practical killers of European Jewry came predominantly from this euthanasia cadre of ordinary men: chefs, carpenters, drivers, plumbers, photographers, and nurses.
SS-Scharführer Hubert Gomerski was a typical T4 operative and was another T4 functionary whom post-war prosecutors linked almost immediately to the euthanasia murders without extending the focus of their investigations to his activities in Poland. Gomerski was born on 11th November 1911 in Schweinheim, near Aschaffenburg. His family soon moved to Frankfurt-am-Main where he attended the Volksschule, after which he became an apprentice lathe-hand. After the death of his father in 1931, the 20-year-old Gomerski was the family breadwinner, taking up a technical post with the Messer firm in Frankfurt. The same year he joined the SS, having been a member of the the Nazi Party since 1929. In October 1939, he was drafted into the Waffen-SS, and served briefly with the 8th 'Totenkopf' Standarte (Death's Head Regiment) in Kraków. In January 1940, he was ordered back to Germany and attached to a Reserve Police Battalion in Berlin. Shortly thereafter he was summoned to the 'Columbus Haus,' at that time the HQ of the 'Foundation,' where he was recruited for the euthanasia program.
Gomerski began his service at Hartheim, where he worked briefly as an office clerk, but as T4 administrators often chose politically reliable SS men to act as 'stokers,' he was quickly reassigned to the cremation detail as a so-called 'Brenner' (lit. 'burner'), a term invented by Wirth. When he complained to Wirth, then Hartheim's chief administrator, that an injured arm - the result of a car accident in 1938 - kept him from performing his tasks as a 'Brenner,' Wirth screamed at him in front of the entire personnel and threatened to send him to a concentration camp. Gomerski recalls about this onerous duty in T4:
The bodies lay already in another room. They were not in the gas chamber any longer . There were approximately 40 to 60 units (i.e., corpses). We carried them to the furnace on an iron litter . At first, we always took one body at a time. After the second or third day, we put two or three in at once. It took about 30 to 40 minutes before each body was burned. We worked day and night until the bodies were gone. Four men worked at this.Again, presumably because of his long-time SS membership and political reliability, Gomerski was chosen to participate in Reinhardt. On his own admission, he arrived at Sobibór in April 1942 as an original member of the camp staff and remained there until the camp's dissolution in the autumn of 1943. In Sobibor, Gomerski assisted with the supervision of the mainly Ukrainian guard unit from Trawniki, and eventually replaced fellow Hartheim 'Brenner' Kurt Bolender as the supervisor of Camp III, the extermination compound containing the gassing installations, burial and cremation sites. Accounts by Jewish survivors accuse Gomerski of being one of the most vicious SS-men in Camp III who shot those Jews who were infirm or too ill to move through the extermination process unaided. He was also accused, together with other guards, of participating in drunken orgies with two Jewesses in the so-called 'Forester's House,' one of the two SS villas in the camp. Gomerski, of course, vigorously denied such accusations. When 'work Jews' rose in revolt at Sobibór on 14th October 1943, Gomerski was on leave, and after the camp's liquidation he was transferred to Einsatz R ('Operation R') in northern Italy, based in Trieste, where he remained until the end of the war.
Immediately after the war, Gomerski lived briefly in Austria, but in June 1945 he was arrested by American occupation authorities and held in an internment camp in Regensburg until early 1947. In February and March 1947, Gomerski figured as a subordinate and unremarkable figure at the Hadamar Trial in Frankfurt-am-Main; he was acquitted and the prosecution seemed unaware of his duty at Sobibór. In October 1948, however, Gomerski was arrested and tried in Frankfurt-am-Main by the West German authorities and on 25 August 1950 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes committed at the Sobibór death camp. In July 1977, he underwent a retrial which resulted in the sentence being reduced to 15 years imprisonment. Gomerski was released upon completion of the full sentence.
In other war crime trials, 27 T4 personnel appeared before West German courts and from these proceedings the following trades and political affiliations emerged:
male psychiatric nurses - 13In a random selection of a further 22 people who entered T4 and were Party members and later transferred to Reinhardt with rank of SS-Scharführer, the following emerge:
concentration camp guards 2
cooks - 1
farm worker - 1
male psychiatric nurses - 12All 22 were either members of the Nazi Party, SS or SA.
driver/mechanics - 3
concentration camp guards 3
photographers - 3
metal worker - 1
farm workers - 2
builder - 1
cook - 1
One such civilian who was to make an extraordinary advance in his career in T4 was Kurt Franz--restaurant cook and concentration camp guard who became within a few months a purveyor of death and one of the most feared and brutal overseers at Belzec and Treblinka! Franz was an SS-NCO from 1937. He had been a master butcher and a chef before that. He was appointed chef in the restaurant on Wilhelmstrasse frequented by personnel from the KdF and T4 simply because he was a pre-war chef who was available and also a member of the SS. It would not have been possible to employ a civilian chef in such a restaurant where 'secret matters of State' were discussed over sauerkraut and schnapps. An SS-Scharführer at Belzec, he later became deputy commandant at Treblinka.
Another chef, Gustav Münzberger (SS-Scharführer), also began his career in T4 and was then deployed to Treblinka with the rank of SS-Scharführer, where he became a brutal and cruel overseer. Like many others, Münzberger was in a perpetual state of drunkenness, driving the victims into the gas chambers with a whip.
The former psychiatric nurse Heinrich Gley was another chance appointee to T4. Gley was a drifter before 1929, wandering along the Baltic coast from town to town picking up different jobs. He, and the others became psychiatric nurses only because the job offered security and regular pay in difficult times of very high unemployment. There was absolutely nothing in their backgrounds to suggest that any of them had the slightest interest in being 'carers' or in psychiatric nursing. It was simply a secure job. Most of them were soon brutalized because of the conditions in the asylums, which deteriorated drastically in the 1930s as a part of deliberate Nazi policy. Gley appeared to have no qualms in Belzec about participating in shooting infirm and ill Jews and young children in the execution pit, much like Gomerski in Sobibor.
At the Hartheim killing center, the Gauleiter in Linz organized applications from those interested and then recommended the applicants for service. They were then either accepted or rejected by T4. When it came to appointing staff for more gruesome tasks, such as removing the bodies from the gas chambers and cremating them, T4 looked to police officers and camp guards in the first instance because such men were already hardened through their previous employment. These duties were soon taken over by other members of staff at the killing centers by a process of gradual inclusion. Wirth knew the type of person he was looking for and occasionally visited psychiatric institutions personally to select volunteers for transfer to T4. Should all else fail in securing volunteers, they were issued with emergency war service orders; Wirth also used blackmail on occasion to secure staff.
Regardless of past expertise, the personnel fit into the daily procedures of killing operations, acquiring specialist functions within the system. To isolate this team of 'killers' and to be self-supporting within the centers, farm-workers tended crops or milkied cows at Grafeneck, but even these obscure workers were drawn into the killing program.
The camp guards became known as the 'burners and disinfectors' and carried out the more gruesome tasks in the crematoria. Some of the former camp guards also drove the 'Gekrat' buses, collecting the victims and taking them to the killing center. The police were placed in privileged positions as heads of the Sonderstandesamt (Special Registery Office) and were in charge of security. They engineered the cover-up of this major crime by forgery, fraud , and deception. T hese police officers would not have been selected for T4 if they had not been in agreement with euthanasia from the start. They were in charge of all the faked documentation, in particular the death certificates, and the distribution of urns of ashes to relatives of the victims.
All the appointees to euthanasia, possibly unknowingly, were being groomed for a much more deadly purpose. Even though there is no conclusive evidence that total Jewish destruction was at this stage decided, it was fortuitous indeed to have such a highly trained murder cadre waiting in the wings, although it would seem that there was no definite articulated plan for the Final Solution in 1940 when these SS/police officers were recruited.
The majority of handicapped victims murdered in the opening phase of euthanasia were German nationals classified as 'Aryan' but handicapped Jews were also included. SS-Untersturmführer Dr Irmfried Eberl confirms that Jews were subjected to euthanasia. As suggested above, Dr Eberl is central to the link between the 'family' of T4 and Reinhardt and was a prominent figure and willing participant in both establishments engaged in wholesale murder.
From evidence seized on Eberl's arrest, in particular his diary, we can verify his personal involvement in the killing and corroborate the evidence of T4 electrician Herbert Kalisch that Jews were gassed on German soil in 1940 within the euthanasia program. As physician in charge at Brandenburg, Dr Eberl noted the arrival of transports for gassing, often listing the number of victims himself and usually indicating the composition by using the capital letter 'M' for Männer (men), 'F' for Frauen (women), and 'J' for Juden (Jews). The diary contains a relatively large number of 'J' entries, some matching exactly the schedule of transfers known to us and giving a clear indication that Jews were singled out en masse for treatment (Behandlung). The linking of T4 to genocide in the East is thus made clearer, but there were further developments and experiments in preparation for the ultimate objective. 
With the cessation of euthanasia gassings, Eberl took part in the 1942 'Osteinsatz' (East Operation). This operation on the Russian Front was 'sponsored' by KdF/T4 with Brack in charge and the members wearing 'Operation Todt' uniforms. The operation entailed collecting wounded troops from the frontline and ferrying them to back Reserve Military Hospitals in the rear. The main base was in Minsk.
In April 1942, with the mission at an end, Brack returned briefly to Germany. Eberl was transferred to Reinhardt in the early summer of 1942 and appointed commandant of the Treblinka death camp, where he initially engaged builders from Warsaw and Jewish labor from the ghetto to construct the camp. According to August Hengst, a fellow T4 employee and the camp cook, Dr. Eberl had the ambition to reach the highest numbers (of killings) and to exceed all the other camps. During the first five weeks of the operation alone, 245,000 Jews were deported there from the Warsaw ghetto and surrounding district, together with 51,000 Jews from Radom, and 16,500 from Lublin. The tempo of the killings was breathtaking, Eberl wrote his wife Ruth: If there were four of me, and each day I had 100 hours, this would probably still not be enough. If he had been fastidious at Bernburg, this trait did not surface at Treblinka. With the mounting transports, Eberl quickly lost control of the camp. Corpses piled up with no organized method of disposal. Victims' belongings overflowed the storehouses and temporary holding facilities, and total confusion reigned at the reception area where delays meant agonizing deaths in the freight cars for those Jews awaiting arrival at the camp.
When stories of deteriorating conditions at Treblinka reached Lublin, a furious Odilo Globocnik dispatched Christian Wirth to remove Eberl and to maintain the camp until the arrival of his replacement, the former Hartheim administrator Franz Stangl, who then commanded Sobibór. Wirth had discovered the chaotic situation at Treblinka when he traveled there from Belzec with Kurt Gerstein on 19 August. He reported to Globocnik and returned to Treblinka with Globocnik and Oberhauser and between them decided that Dr. Eberl had to go. Wirth was left in charge and summoned 'his experts' from Belzec, among them Hackenholt and Franz. Dr. Eberl himself returned to Bernburg. Globocnik fumed about Eberl that, Had he not been his fellow countryman [both were Austrians], he would arrest him and bring him before an SS and police court for his incompetence.
Little is known about Eberl's activities after the closure of Bernburg in 1943. In January 1944, he was drafted to the army, although he still drew a paycheck from T4 in Berlin. After the war, Eberl remarried and settled in Blaubeuren, near Ulm in Württemberg, where he ran a private practice until arrested in August 1947 on suspicion of participation in euthanasia crimes at Bernburg. On 15th February 1948, Eberl learned from a fellow inmate that his name figured in newly- published book, Der SS-Staat, by Eugen Kogon, a former concentration camp prisoner. Eberl was subsequently arrested and interrogated concerning his personal engagement in both T4 and Reinhardt, but before he could be indicted, he hanged himself while in custody in February 1948.
Of the five existing T4 killing centers, four Bernburg, Hadamar, Hartheim, and Sonnenstein - had been engaged since April 1941 in 'Sonderbehandlung 14f13', an extension of the euthanasia operation to include ill and exhausted concentration camp prisoners and foreign slave workers. Hadamar continued to kill victims, primarily foreign slave workers, by lethal injections and overdoses of drugs ,as mentioned earlier. At least 90 persons still worked at this facility in September 1941.
The overall euthanasia policy of killing 'Life Unworthy of Life' met strong opposition from many quarters and eventually led to its suspension in August 1941. Brandt communicated the news by telephone to Philipp Buhler in the Führer's Chancellery, who passed the message on to the institutions. Henry Friedlander has argued very persuasively that the public disquiet was the main reason for disbandment. However, euthanasia continued in different forms throughout the war wrapped in various guises and generally known as 'Wild Euthanasia' it engulfed many more victims than in the first period.
After the suspension order of August 1941, the redeployment of T4 killing techniques was used within the concentration camp regimes when dispensing 'special treatment' to selected prisoners under the 14f13 protocols. The selection of victims in the concentration camps did not differentiate among race, religion, or political convictions. However, there was one difference: Aryans were physically examined, Jews were not.
One fact that was to affect doctors, in the same way as the lower strata of technician, was the progression and changeover from T4 to what some considered the more onerous duties practiced within the 14f13 operation. There were, of course, those doctors who relished the work: Dr. Friedrich Mennecke, writing home to his wife remarks, Hurray! We are going out on the merry hunt. In another letter he mentioned that the work was streng geheim(top secret). The selection of concentration camp prisoners destined for 'special treatment' was carried out by roving teams of doctors, with the assistance of the individual camp commandants.
In the spring of 1941 at concentration camp Sachsenhausen, a committee of T4 doctors selected prisoners considered asocial and expendable. Hartheim. for instance, which operated over a period of three years, was the killing center for Mauthausen and Dachau concentration camps, where over 3,000 political prisoners, psychopaths, and the unemployable were murdered by gassing. In Hadamar, over 3,000 adult patients were killed after the August closure, including 300 Jews from concentration camp Buchenwald. On 28th August 1941, Dr. Horst Schumann (Grafeneck) visited Auschwitz where he selected 575 Soviet prisoners for experimental purposes at Sonnenstein. None of them survived. The important point here, which supports the earlier view, was that by the time the death camps came into being the technology was well-established and the staff trained. These doctors, unlike the killing center personnel engaged immediately below them, were shielded from the more gruesome tasks. Most of the T4 doctors controlled the gassings and looked through the peep-holes to know when to turn off the gas; therefore, they too shared in the 'unpleasant tasks.' There were a very few exceptions among the younger doctors, some of whom had only recently qualified or were still unqualified to practice medicine, unlike Wirth's men, who were initiated into Reinhardt by staring into the pits of Belzec.
Not long after the start of the euthanasia operation the procedure for delivering the patients to the killing centers was changed. Instead of being taken directly to the nearest killing center, the victims were first sent from their original mental homes to a network of local intermediate institutions and thence then to euthanasia killing centers. The procedure was changed for two reasons: to regulate the supply of victims to the gas chambers and to confuse the trail of the victims from their original institutions to the killing centers, thereby concealing their final destination and fate from enquiring relatives.
The art of verbal and bureaucratic deception and 'camouflage' to mask the real purpose in both T4, and later in Reinhardt was the cardinal rule in maintaining order and calm among the victims in the reception areas. In both T4 and Reinhardt it was Wirth who perfected the appearance of normality to ensure the docility and compliance of the victims. After the war, many of the perpetrators stated that in Reinhardt the 'reception area' was potentially the most dangerous part of the extermination process. It was only here that there was the possibility of resistance or revolt by the several thousand victims who arrived at a time.
Deception therefore permeated the working day. During the T4 operation, Wirth had prepared for every eventuality, from the arrival of the victims to well-rehearsed procedures for their admission and registration until the moment they entered the gas chamber. No victim stayed overnight at a killing center. Equally important was the procedure after each gassing: the cremation of the corpses, return of the ashes to relatives (with a fake date of death inscribed on the lid); sorting, storing and distribution of victims' clothing and personal belongings, either to relatives or the institute of origin and the compilation of fake medical records and fake death certificates: one with the actual facts and the other with the faked data.
In the killing centers, Wirth and the other police officers who ran the Special Registry Offices, were responsible for the supervision of four groups of personnel:
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Belzec, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 13 Feb 2008 by LA