The Murder of the Handicapped

By: Ashley Jones

The Murder of the Handicapped during WWII

In October of 1939, Hitler gave physicians the right to give a “mercy death” to a patient that was considered mentally or incurably ill. The program used to kill the handicapped was called the “T4” program, or the “euthanasia” program, which means good death. However, the point of the euthanasia program was not to relieve the suffering of the incurably ill, but to “purify” the Aryan race by killing off those seen as unfit. The idea of killing the handicapped was presented well before 1939. In 1935, Hitler stated that “in the event of war, he would be willing to initiate the euthanasia program because such a problem would be more easily solved” during wartime. So, at the beginning of WWII, one of the first groups of people to be exterminated were the mentally and terminally ill. The handicapped were mass murdered and the process of their extermination was a model for the murder of Jews and other groups of people later on. The murder of the handicapped was the beginning of what seemed to be the end.

The Master Race

Hitler believed in an Aryan or Germanic master race and used it as a motive for many of his mass murders. In the opinion of Hitler, the master race was tall with blue eyes and blonde hair. When Hitler was elected the Chancellor of Germany, the master race became an government ideology, and he began spreading the idea publicly through newspapers and posters. The idea began to take form in 1933 when German scientists began performing sterilizations, or operations making it impossible for the victim to reproduce. Doctors believed that this would improve the master race by limiting the reproduction abilities of those seen as unfit. Some that were targeted were Gypsies, handicapped persons, deaf and blind individuals as well as those that were mentally ill, and African-Germans.This affected about 400,000 people in the next eighteen months (from July 14, 1933). “Since the National Revolution public opinion has become increasingly preoccupied with questions of demographic policy and the continuing decline in the birthrate. However, it is not only the decline in population which is a cause for serious concern but equally the increasingly evident genetic composition of our people. Whereas the hereditarily healthy families have for the most part adopted a policy of having only one or two children, countless numbers of inferiors and those suffering from hereditary conditions are reproducing unrestrainedly while their sick and asocial offspring burden the community.” -The Sterilization Law, Nazi Germany.

Gas Chambers

The Nazis began experimenting with gas for the purpose of mass murder around late 1939. There were gas chambers set up for the euthanasia program at six locations, Bernburg, Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim, and Sonnenstein. They used pure, chemically made carbon monoxide gas and gas vans to gas victims. In 1942, gas chambers with carbon monoxide gas created by diesel engines began at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka in Poland. The victims were unloaded from cattle cars and filed into gas chambers with their arms raised, as to allow as many people into the chambers as possible. The more people in the chambers, the quicker they suffocated. The victims were told they were entering the chambers to be disinfected. Because the Nazis were always searching for a better more effective way to kill, they started experiments with Zyklon B pellets at Auschwitz in 1941. When exposed to air, the pellets turned to lethal gas. This proved to be the quickest method and was chosen as the main method of murder at Auschwitz. Thousands upon thousands of people were murdered through way of gas chamber, and that wasn’t the only method used to kill.

The Results

The euthanasia program started off as something they did in secret with the help of German doctors. It began at the beginning of WWII and required the help of German doctors who looked through the files of patients and determined who would be killed. Patients were shipped to the six locations in Germany and Australia, where they were gassed in specially constructed chambers, while infants and small children were injected with a lethal amount of drugs or killed by starvation. The bodies were burned in crematoria, or large ovens. Before the program was an open secret, the bodies were burned together and the ashes were taken out of a common pile to be put in urns and sent to the family of the victim. The urns were labeled with false causes and dates of death. People began to get suspicious with the large and sudden amount of death in the handicapped people, all the deaths strangely similar. Approximately 275,000 handicapped persons were killed between 1940 and 1945. In 1941, there was public protest about the program. Hitler formally ordered a halt in late August of that year, but the program continued in secret throughout the rest of the war.


Germans didn’t want the mentally retarded, physically handicapped, or mentally ill to affect the genetic purity of the master race, so they deemed them unworthy of life and killed them. Although they were not the last, they were the first to be exterminated under Hitler’s control and the first to mark the start of a horrific time in history. Hitler left his mark on history, and society is still being affected by it today.