Every eighth german or austrian at the age of at least 25 is directly related to someone who has been murdered between 1939 and 1945 because of a mental disease or disability. The responsible euphemized these murders by describing them as ‘Gnadentod’ (mercy killing), ‘euthanasia’ or ‘medicide’. The relatives maintained silent about their mysteriously missing family members. Partly because a false death certificate and a so-called ‘Trostbrief’ (consolation letter) concealed the true nature of the death. On the other hand some even might have felt relieved by the quiet disappearance of a needy relative that lifted a burden off their shoulders and were thus, in the following, ashamed to name the victims.
Although the historical and political examination of the subject was already initiated in the 1980s, the ‘Krankenmorde’ (murder of the sick) have not found their place in the collective memory yet. But the silence of the affected family members is finally being broken. Slowly the names and stories of long-forgotten family members that were labeled as ‘hereditary defective’ and hence gased, starved or killed by a lethal injection, are being recollected. (Sigrid Falkenstein tells the story of her aunt Anna, who died in a gas chamber in Grafeneck in 1940, in “Annas Spuren. Ein Opfer der NS-Euthanasie”, published in June 2012.)
The recently published monograph Die Belasteten, by Götz Aly, a renowned german historian and journalist, actively takes part in this recollection process by including the perspective of victims and their families in his research.
The book not only traces how the killings found its way into the therapeutical daily routine and how they even became a part in the reformist agenda of the responsible physicians, but it also shows how the families behaved in the face of an open german secret, the ‘euthanasia’ murders.
For further reading (in german):
The table of contents as well as a short extract of the book can be found here.