|Alfred Hoche (1865–1943)|
|Karl Binding (1841–1920)|
|Irmfried Eberl (1910–1948)|
‘Life Unworthy of Life’
‘Euthanasia’ in the Third Reich
This is the first of two seminars on psychiatry and psychotherapy in the Third Reich. Today we focus on psychiatry. During the second world war, German doctors exterminated 250,000 ‘mentally ill’ and disabled adults and children whom they categorised as ‘life unworthy of life’. The book Allowing the Extermination of Life Unworthy of Life (1920), by lawyer Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, had called for such medical mass murder to be legalised. The Nazi government never did legalise it, but in 1939 Hitler wrote a secret memorandum that the law against it would not be enforced. Officially, in 1941, the programme was stopped. Doctors (such as the psychiatrist Irmfried Eberl), now expert in medical killing, were transferred from this so-called ‘euthanasia’ programme to apply their skills in death camps where Jews, Gypsies and others were exterminated (Eberl became the first commandant of Treblinka death camp). But the ‘euthanasia’ murders continued until the end of the war, and even beyond it, as a ‘eugenic’ measure and to provide body parts for research.