Tuesday, September 16, 2014

T4 Monument

Andreas J├╝rgens, Deutsche Welle - September 2, 2014

Melissa Eddy, New York Times - September 2, 2014

Remembering the Nazi T4 program is important, and not just in the "don't forget about us" sense. The reasons why disabled people were targeted were in many respects similar to why other groups were targeted, but in other ways different.

On the one hand, Nazis argued that life with disabilities was intolerable for the disabled themselves, and that killing them was an act of compassion.

I have seen footage from Nazi propaganda films that push the supposed wretchedness of life with a disability by showing disabled people living in neglect and squalor. It's a more distilled version of how people today conflate the stigma and bureaucratic nightmares imposed on disabled people with the experience of disabilities themselves. We treat disabled people horribly, then look at them and note how horrible it is to have a disability. Treating disabled people better doesn't seem to be taken seriously as an alternative solution. Instead we get increased support for "assisted suicide", and in the Nazi's case, forced euthanasia, (i.e. medically murdering disabled people).

Nevertheless it’s an interesting difference. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the Nazis ever tried to justify killing Jews, Homosexuals, and Communists by saying that it was a kindness to them.

At the same time, Nazi theorists argued that disabled people were an unproductive drain on the state's resources, a negative drag on the ongoing biological improvement, strengthening, and purification of the German race. So really, it didn't matter whether killing disabled people was compassionate or not. It was good for the state, and good for the race, and for the Nazis, that was reason enough.

Both arguments ... compassion and the good of the state ... were full of shit, but you can still hear echoes of those arguments today. It is striking how often discussions of, say, assisted suicide start out citing individual choice and the compassionate end to someone’s suffering, and then morph into musings about the high cost of sick peoples’ final months and the “wastefulness” of “extending" peoples’ lives with “machines”.

We need this specific memorial to this part of the Holocaust because we need the reminder that horrible policies aren’t only enacted for explicitly horrible reasons. Sometimes, they develop out of ideas that seem to some to be eminently reasonable, even progressive.

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