Forced Sterilisations

Margret Hamm for the Working Group Association Victims of Euthanasia and Enforced Sterilization

In 1920, two years after World War I, the jurist Karl Binding and the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche published the work The Disposal and Extermination of Life Unworthy to Live. Its Measure and Its Form. In this text the authors described men as „deficient Men“, „empty human husks“, „ballast existences“ and so forth. They believed that society should throw away useless ballast“, since handicapped and psychically sick people would hamper the further development of society. Its care would be a “luxury” which society could no longer afford.

Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, in January 1932, the Prussian State demanded to reduce the nursing and maintenance costs in nursing homes and sanatoria for men with hereditary and physical and mental disabilities. Simultaneously the Prussian State Council aimed at voluntary sterilization. The bill was worked out by racial hygienists, psychiatrists, and jurists. It planned sterilization in case of various inherited disabilities and for carriers of special hereditary factors.
The „Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Disabled Offspring“ („Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses“ – GzVeN), which was passed soon after the handing over of power to Hitler, was a law taken from the drawers of the Weimar Republic. The National Socialists supplemented it by codifying the enforcement of the execution (§ 12 in the Reichsgesetzblatt I G.529 and in the enactment of the GzVeN in Reichsgesetzblatt I G.1021). The GzVeN, which became law on 1 January 1934, laid down in the case of which disabilites sterilization should be enforced and set down the procedure.

A little later those responsible extended the genetic reasons which were laid down in the law. The mentioned diagnoses were frequently arbitrary and pseudoscientific. People who deviated from the National Socialist norm or did not fit in the NS system became potential victims of the now legally enforced sterilization.

Brief von Karl Loke an den Regierungspräsidenten gegen seine Unfruchtbarmachung
Letter by Karl Loke directed to the President of government protesting against his sterilisation

On the basis of the GzVeN, the first racial law of the National Socialists, doctors sterilized about 400 000 persons – and thus deprived the victims of their perspective of living.

The enactment concerning the execution of the law of 5 December says:

„[…] In addition, for feebleminded persons, backward school children, insane persons, antisocial elements millions are spent every year, of which the healthy families that are blessed by children are deprived. The burdens of care have reached a level, which no longer stands in any relation to the miserable situation of those who have to raise these means by work

The eugenicists Arthur Gütt, Ernst Rüdin and Falk Ruttke list “race-hygienic” arguments in the enactment concerning the implementation of the GzVeN .

„It is the aim of the species-appropriate genetic and racial care of the German people to have a sufficient number of genetically healthy persons, for the German nation racially valuable families with many children for all times. The idea of genetic breeding („Zucht”) is the core of the race theory. The future protectors of the law must be aware of the genetic aim of the German nation.“[1]

NS propaganda showed repugnant photos and posters, with which utilitarian motives were spread. Teachers passed on such vilifications in schools and swore children already to the National Socialist ideology of the „pure Aryan race“ and the „healthy body of the people“ with the aid of charts and text

An arithmetical school work of that time asks:

„[…] The construction of a lunatic asylum requires 6 million Reichsmark. How many dwelling houses for 15 000 Reichsmark could one have built instead?“

NS health politics classified disabled persons, chronically sick people and persons deviating from the norm as not worth to live. Hundreds of thousands were then sterilized, many of them only a few years later in the context of the “Euthanasia Action”, the organized mass murder of sick and disabled people: for the “benefit” – equivalen to “utility”– of the society und preservation of the “purity of the race”. The moneys saved by the killing of people were, according to the ruling ideology, to accrue to house-building projects and family insurances. In school books of that time such exercises can be found.

Propaga placard lamenting the stronger growth of polulation of "inferior" than those of higher" value

„Genetic Heredity“ and social deviation were criteria of selection. Socially deprived persons and those disagreeable to the state were excluded from sexual reproduction with the aim of a healthy and efficient „body of the people („Volkskörper“). German origin alone did not suffice to belong to the NS community of people. „Efficiency“ and „Usefulness“ were equivalent criteria.
This categorization was after the beginning of the „euthanasia“ in September 1939 a decisive criterion for chances of survival in the curing and nursing institutions.
Before the outbreak of war patients got there just so much catering that they stayed alive. A distinction was made between still efficient, acutely sick persons, who were available for the employment market after enforced sterilization, chronically ill persons still fit for work, who were kept in the curing and nursing institutions in order to guarantee the self-subsistence of the institutions with the help of their working power -– and those patients who were unable to work and chronically disabled persons, who were, additionally, care-dependent. According to the NS ideology the latter were regarded as “ballast existences” and were cared for with minimal effort.
Since September 1939 they were murdered in the „Euthanasia“-institutions. After the so-called euthanasia stop of 1941, they were killed with drugs or starved.

Already in 1933 a network of advice centers for heredity and race care had been established, which were commissioned from Berlin with a genetic-biological stocktaking. The “Law the for Standardization of the Health System“ of 1934 was the basis for its implementation. The necessary data for this were raised in the curing and nursing institutions and care homes, in prisons, in employment, health and registry offices, in the churches, by analysis of the entries in parish registers and in the schools for backward children. In the registry offices the genealogical assessment was carried out by the certificate of being fit for marriage and by credits for married people and in the health offices the so-called assessment of genetically conditioned health. Thus a registry of the population was established which made it possible for the NS state to have quick and complete access to those who did not fit into this grid or did not comply with the system.

The victims were in most of the cases reported to the police or denounced. Employees of the afore-mentioned institutions were involved in this.
The application for sterilization was made to the local medical health offices by nurses, medical officers, the guardians of the concerned persons or the directors of the mentioned institutions. The next step was the proceedings at hereditary-health law-courts (“Erbgesundheitsgerichte”), which were affiliated to the district courts. If opposition was lodged, proceedings were moved to a superior court (“Erbgesundheitsobergericht“). After the court decision and the execution of the enforced sterilization the report went back to the medical officer. Today these documents, which the victims needed later for compensation proceedings in the Federal Republic, are to be found in the files of the hereditary-health courts („Erbgesundheitsgerichte”).

About 5000 women and about 600 men died of the consequences of the operations. The first victims of enforced sterilizations were persons in the curing and nursing institutions. Those who were torn out of the contexts of their lives by state-operated despotism had to find their place in the social sphere and to endure public repression: The were excluded from higher education, free choice of a profession was no longer possible, they had to be silent on the operation and victims of enforced sterilization were only allowed to marry victims of enforced sterilization. All these encroachments on their personal freedom wounded the victims deeply and destroyed their paths through life.

Those who survived the National Socialist system had to cope with their disgrace to have been considered not worth living. This holds true, too, for the victims who were released from the institutions after the end of the NS state. Many of them still kept staying there, however, till the 1950es and 1960es, some even longer. Others in turn were fortunate and could get rid of their guardianship after 1945 and now live independently in their own flats. What being locked up for a long time meant and means for the psychic and physical state of these victims in childhood or older age we can hardly imagine nowadays. The mental and physical injuries accompany the traumatized persons till old age.

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