International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Nazi extermination of the disabled, and the day I met a survivor of Auschwitz

Liberation

 

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz. On this day I stop to remember, and ponder, and listen. I reflect upon the atrocities committed by a group of people driven by greed and a lust for power, blinded by prejudice. I pause to hear the voices that cried out, yet were silenced too soon. I will not forget them.

Many do not realize the extensiveness of the list of groups targeted by the Nazis. It included not only Jews, but also “Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, and people with physical or mental disabilities.” During their quest for racial purity the Nazis strove to eliminate the “unfit” as well as any who would oppose their quest for domination.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum“The Nazi persecution of persons with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily “unfit” Germans from the national community. These strategies began with forced sterilization and escalated toward mass murder.”

“On July 14, 1933, the German government instituted the “Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases.” This law called for the sterilization of all persons who suffered from diseases considered hereditary, including mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism. With the law’s passage the Third Reich also stepped up its propaganda against the disabled, regularly labeling them “life unworthy of life” or “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden upon society.”

“Burden upon society.” Lives deemed as less than precious. Of no value. I grieve all the lives lost during the Nazi’s cleansing campaign, but as the mother of a child with special needs this knowledge especially brings me great sorrow. As I gaze into my son’s sweet face I wonder~ would his life had been one that was deemed as dispensable?

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