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[Pages 154-160]

Chapter 8


People lose the sense of being one species and try to make other kinds of people into a different and mortally dangerous species, one that doesn't count, one that isn't human…You can kill them without feeling that you have killed your own kind. – Erik Erikson[862]

They brought people there from Mauthausen; I don't know whether from other places too. But I have even heard tell that they were still gassing at `C' (Hartheim) when the `Amis' (Americans) were already on the Rhine. Franz Suchomel[863]

The fourth manifestation of “euthanasia” was the so-called “Aktion 14f13,” [864] usually referred to in official SS terminology as Sonderbehandlung (“special treatment” - a favourite synonym for killing) 14f13.[865] This was the code name given to the extension of T4 operations to the concentration camps of the Greater Reich. In early 1941, Himmler and Bouhler reached an agreement whereby the T4 killing centres were to be utilised for the purpose of gassing “sick”, that is non-productive camp inmates.[866] Until that time, the involvement of the SS in T4 had been limited to the provision of certain of the personnel (doctors, transport, guards), and gassing expertise.[867]

A distinction should be born in mind between the concentration camps of the Reich (Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, etc) together with their associated sub-camps, and the extermination camps such as Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, situated in occupied Poland. In addition to the Polish Vernichtungslager (death camps), there were further extermination camps operating on a somewhat smaller scale in other countries under Nazi occupation. Whilst many thousands died in concentration camps from a variety of causes, unlike the extermination camps, where the overwhelming majority of deportees were killed within hours of their arrival, usually by gassing, the prime function of the concentration camps was not necessarily the immediate liquidation of prisoners. The extermination camps existed for the sole purpose of theft and murder, almost exclusively of Jews. By contrast, as initially conceived, the concentration camps were considered to be a kind of extension to the penal system, even if in many cases no recognizable criminal offence had been committed by those interned. By 1937, in addition to “professional and habitual criminals”, camps held homosexuals, the “work shy”, beggars, “vagrants”, prostitutes, even “fault finders” and “traffic offenders”. It was not difficult to fall foul of the authorities in pre-war Nazi Germany, who even came up with a word for these adversaries – Volksschädling (pest harmful to the people). However, having started life as means of holding perceived political opponents of the regime as well as those deemed eugenically worthless, this function decreased with the advent of war and the incarceration of foreign nationals. Although camp populations increased rapidly in wartime, German prisoners came to represent no more than 5-10 per cent of inmates.[868]

A further distinction should be made between the concentration camps and the hundreds of labour camps, and even between the nominal categories of camp, for they varied both in the severity of their regime (ranging from the terrible to the indescribable), and in the composition and nationality of their prisoner inmates.[869] In essence, those incarcerated in a labour or concentration camp generally had at least a hope of survival, however remote that may have seemed and to have actually been; in an extermination camp there was no such hope. Those not killed on arrival had merely postponed their death for a few days or weeks. The Auschwitz complex, and to a lesser extent Majdanek, were untypical in that they combined elements of both extermination and labour camps, as well as being orthodox concentration camps, and for a time at least, holding camps for Soviet prisoners-of war.

In late 1940, Oswald Pohl, at that time in charge of the SS Administration and Economy Main Office( Hauptamt Verwaltung und Wirtschaft ) ordered the formation of a Labour Action Office, appointing as its head Wilhelm Burböck. The sole function of this new department was to assess the productivity of concentration and labour camp inmates. Burböck in turn created a new office within each camp's kommandantur called the “Detention Camp Führer Labour Office” (Schutzhaftlagerführer “Einsatz”), the principal function of which was to collate a card index containing relevant details of all working prisoners. In time, as the appalling conditions within the camps inevitably led to a shortage of labour within SS industries and elsewhere, these cards came to include information concerning inmates considered unfit for work, thereby providing the source material necessary for the selection of the victims of Sonderbehandlung 14f13. As originally conceived, 14f13 had been intended to eliminate the mentally and physically disabled held within the camp system, in essence a natural extension of T4, but the ability to categorize a prisoner as merely “unfit to work” significantly extended the power of the camp hierarchy to simply dispose of any prisoner considered undesirable, an opportunity that was grasped with enthusiasm.[870]

Following the “stop order” of August 1941 and the availability of both facilities and personnel by now thoroughly well versed in the practice of murder, T4 assigned at least twelve physicians to visit the camps.[871] Sonderbehandlung 14f13 introduced the concept of the extermination camp (in the early days of 14f13 probably then not even in the planning stage) to the concentration camps. It can thus be seen as the bridge between T4 – “euthanasia” – and Aktion Reinhard – genocide. Doctors visited the concentration camps, but did not conduct medical examinations. Prisoners were supposedly assessed utilising similar criteria to those applied to the handicapped. In practice inmates who had artificial limbs, wore spectacles or had “unsatisfactory” personal histories, were routinely selected for extermination. Again, simply being Jewish was enough to incur a death sentence. As was made clear in post-war trial testimony, when reaching the decision to kill an individual, it was largely immaterial to doctors whether this was on medical, racial or political grounds.[872] Requests by the camp SS to dispose of “undesirables” were fulfilled without question. Prisoners were deliberately deceived into volunteering for transfer to a “rest camp” – which in reality meant transfer to a killing centre. Those prisoners selected were transported to either Hartheim, Sonnenstein, or Bernburg for gassing. [873]

With his colleague Theodor Steinmeyer, director of the mental institutions in Warstein and Mühlhausen, Friedrich Mennecke, head of the Eichberg hospital and its children's ward, visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp in early April 1941[874], where together they selected 400 prisoners. This visit marked the actual start of 14f13 killings, although preparatory work had commenced earlier. Mennecke was an obsessive letter writer, particularly so far as his wife was concerned[875], in this case informing her that the prisoners had not been chosen on the grounds of their sickness, but because they were “`anti-socials' of the highest degree.”[876] In fact, although the inspection of prisoners was conducted by doctors, they could have been carried out by anybody, since the medical diagnosis of the victims was perfunctory at best.

In August 1941, the Dachau commandant, Alex Piorkowski, together with his camp doctors, had registered 7,000 inmates as potential victims of 14f13. Julius Muthig, the camp doctor of the Dachau concentration camp, testified that in the autumn of 1941, Werner Heyde, accompanied by Paul Nitsche and three or four other representatives of T4 (including Mennecke)[877], arrived at the camp and began to select the unemployable among the inmates for gassing.[878] The records of certain prisoners were removed from the political department of the camp to Block 29, where four men in civilian clothing sat. The prisoners to whom these records referred were then produced and asked a few desultory questions, following which a number of them were separated on the left side of the room. The leader of the group (Heyde) informed the chosen prisoners that they would be sent to a camp where conditions were better. These inmates were subsequently transferred, and shortly afterwards their personal possessions were returned to Dachau.[879]

The ubiquitous Mennecke wrote to his wife from Dachau on 3 September 1941: “There are only two thousand men, who will be quickly done, as they can be examined only in assembly-line fashion.”[880] Another inmate recalled Mennecke and his colleagues sitting behind some tables following the evening roll-call. Sick prisoners, or those considered unfit for work were instructed to register for transfer to a sanatorium. When only two to three hundred did so, other physically broken prisoners were added to their number. Subsequently 700 of these inmates were loaded onto lorries, to be followed a few days later by a further 650 victims.[881] Following this initial visit and several subsequent similar assessments by putative “experts”, transfers to Hartheim for gassing commenced in January 1942; over the next 12 months, 2,593 prisoners in 32 transports were murdered as part of this programme, at least some of whom were quite healthy.[882] Among the victims were 324 members of the clergy, including many Polish priests. In a later letter, Mennecke would write from Ravensbrück, “In Berlin (Jennerwein! [Viktor Brack]) they simply state: 2,000 are to be dealt with. Whether or not so many qualify in view of the fundamental guiding principles, nobody cares!”[883]

Hans-Bodo Gorgass arrived at the Buchenwald concentration camp together with Horst Schumann for the specific purpose of familiarising themselves with the 14f13 process. The visit was made on the instructions of Brandt, and conveyed by Brack. Among those assembled for examination were Jews in protective custody, other Jews who were categorized as “shirkers,” Poles, Czechs, and also half-Jewish children and Gypsies. Waldemar Hoven, later chief physician at Buchenwald, testified:

Camp commandant Koch called all important SS officials together and informed them… the higher authorities from Berlin had ordered that all the Jewish inmates of the Buchenwald concentration camp be included in the euthanasia programme. This special operation was carried out under the code name 14f13.

Subsequently some 384 Jews were sent to Bernburg, with a further 187 transported to Sonnenstein.[884] As well as Jews, Koch informed his staff, Himmler had ordered that all feeble-minded and crippled inmates in German concentration camps were to be killed.[885] Hoven also recorded the assistance rendered by his colleagues at Bernburg in disposing of the bodies of victims of the Buchenwald sub-camp Schönebeck:

Contractual obligations of physicians and negotiations with cemetery authorities have often led to insurmountable difficulties…for this reason I immediately communicated with Dr Eberl, Medical Director of the mental institution at Bernburg…He is the physician who carried out 14f13. Dr Eberl showed unusual understanding and courtesy. All current bodies of prisoners from Schönebeck-Wernigerode were shipped to Dr Eberl at Bernburg, where they were cremated even without a death certificate.[886]

In summer 1941, Horst Schumann, who would become notorious even among this company, chaired a committee that visited Auschwitz and selected 573 prisoners, who were transferred to his establishment at Sonnenstein for liquidation, thereby confirming that there were no suitable gassing facilities available at Auschwitz at that time.

Questionnaires were transmitted to the camps prior to the physicians' arrival with the SS filling in obligatory information in advance: name, date and place of birth, last residence, family status, citizenship, religion, race, and date of arrest. Initial selections were undertaken by camp commanders. At roll-calls, prisoners were informed that those among them who were sick or unable to work could request a transfer to an Erholungslager (“recovery camp”), where they would receive medical care and perform less arduous labour. A post-war court recorded the process that occurred at Gusen, a sub-camp of Mauthausen concentration camp:

…It was announced in the spring of 1941 that the “Dachau recovery camp” had 2,000 vacancies, and that prisoners feeling ill or incapable to work could report for transfer to this camp, which was also referred to as a “sanatorium”. In order to make the operation credible, a few prisoners were indeed taken to Dachau, where they were ordered to write to their fellow prisoners on their arrival. As, nevertheless, many prisoners suspected a trap, only about 1,200 of them reported…After the camp doctors had selected more prisoners, so that the stipulated total number of 2,000 persons for Sonderbehandlung was reached, the doctors' committee from T4 arrived in the camp in the summer of 1941.

After inspection by the T4 doctors, the selected prisoners were moved to a special block. In most cases no medical examination was undertaken. Between August 1941 and February 1942, the isolated prisoners were transported to Hartheim and gassed on arrival. But not before they had been commercially evaluated: “On the eve of every transport the camp doctors entered the `Invalids Block' and inspected the mouths of those prisoners who were to leave the camp the following morning. Afterwards they marked those with gold fillings with a cross on their chest or back.”[887]

The Inspector of Concentration Camps issued a secret directive on 10 December 1941 which further simplified the 14f13 procedure. Apart from a prisoner's specific biographical details, only four questions were of consequence: “Since when in institution?; Incurable illness?; Crime?; Former punishable offences?”[888] The T4 physicians therefore only needed to check the completed information, enter the diagnosis, and make the final decision. Thereafter, the questionnaires were delivered to T4 headquarters in Berlin. Mennecke admitted: “This did not involve medical evaluations, because in the concentration camps I only had the assignment to fill out questionnaires.” For Jews, the physicians did not even bother to any longer enact the pretence of a physical examination. In yet another of his letters to his wife, Mennecke described the procedure:

As a second allotment there then followed altogether 1,200 Jews, who did not first have to be “examined”, but where it is sufficient to extract from the files the reasons for their arrest (often very extensive!) and to record them on the questionnaires.

Unlike T4, the deaths were recorded by the registry office responsible for each concentration camp. The camp was noted as the place of death and a fictitious cause of death created, although from early 1942 death notices were no longer sent to the next-of-kin of the deceased.[889]

Due to the shortage of manpower, in April 1943 the 14f13 programme was modified. The WVHA (Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt - the SS Economics and Administrative Department) issued a decree authorised by Himmler, to the effect that in future only mentally ill prisoners should be murdered, evidence, if such were needed, that 14f13 had never applied solely to prisoners suffering from mental disabilities.[890] All other inmates who were unfit for work should nevertheless be given tasks commensurate with their physical capabilities. Bedridden prisoners should be allocated tasks that they could perform in bed. The decree notwithstanding, camp physicians continued to select and kill prisoners unfit for work, either in the concentration camp itself, or in another camp equipped with a gas chamber. In any event, within a year the decree was rescinded. By April 1944, 14f13 was fully functional again, except that now the façade of a medical commission was dispensed with; the camp doctors simply chose the victims, then dispatched them to Hartheim, which was now the only one of the original “euthanasia” killing centres with an operational gas chamber.[891] Mauthausen and Gusen again provide a typical example:

One day before each transport one of the camp doctors accompanied by several SS officers appeared in the sick-bay or in the “Jewish Block”. Often, he merely pointed at some prisoners, whose numbers were taken down by SS-men. Most of the time he only declared: “Tomorrow there will be another transport to the recovery camp. For this we need 80 men.” The number of 80 was a minimum number; the maximum number lay somewhere around 150. It was the duty of the prisoners' doctor and the Block eldest to select as many prisoners as the camp doctor had requested. As both knew, or at least suspected, that the invalids were to be killed, they regularly chose newcomers or prisoners whom they disliked, in order to protect their friends against transportation.[892]

Although unable to provide precise details of dates or the number of victims, the camp physician of the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück, Dr Percival Treite, testified that two transports had been sent from that camp to “a sanatorium in Thüringen” (probably Sonnenstein, if before August 1943), and to Linz (probably Hartheim). A third convoy, made up of female Jehovah's Witnesses, had been sent to “a sanatorium near Linz.” None of this latter party was sick. The good doctor later learned that all of the women in this transport had been gassed, presumably because of their religious beliefs. It is known that it was common for convoys of prisoners to leave from a number of different concentration camps for unknown destinations. It is also known that none of the prisoners included in these transports survived.[893]

At their Nuremberg trial, both Brandt and Brack denied any knowledge of Sonderbehandlung 14f13, a claimed ignorance that was innately improbable, to say the least.[894] When asked if he thought Hitler was aware of the Aktion, Brandt replied that he did not believe that Himmler could have authorized the killings without Hitler's approval, however discrete and indirect that approval may have been: “It is my opinion that he (Hitler) knew about it in some form. The question is whether he gave orders or whether he gave hints so that Himmler carried them out in this form.”[895] The same might be said, of course, of any of the Nazis' murderous policies.

As is so often the case, it is impossible to provide precise data concerning fatalities. By the war's end the victims of Sonderbehandlung 14f13 have been estimated to number about 20,000, although it is quite conceivable that the actual figure was considerably greater.[896] The 14f13 programme was relatively small in scope in comparison to the killings in the death camps, but it provided an important link between the “euthanasia” of mental patients in the T4 programme and the subsequent mass murder of Aktion Reinhard, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and elsewhere. 14f13 transferred the practices of the “euthanasia” programme to the concentration camps, thereby helping to create the dual purpose labour and extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Majdanek. Moreover, to some extent, 14f13 provided the model for future modus operandi, particularly insofar as the “selection” of victims was concerned.


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