How Hitler Builds His "Super Race"
Undesirables die, the unfit are sterilized, and the aged "prefer" death to starvation
Editor’s Note: Gregor Ziemer was founder of the American Embassy School inBerlin and its Dean unt il driven from Germany by the coming of war. He was a journalist in Germany for eleven years, and with his daughter, Patsy, wrote the book, “Two Thousand and Ten Days of Hitler” recently published by Harpers.
NAZI GERMANY is sterilizing its undesirables and killing its insane and feeble-minded. Recent news despatches have reported the existence of this phase of Nazi activity, and now my personal experiences verifying these despatches can be revealed. Georg Abels of the Nazi Health Office was killed on one of Hitler’s numerous fronts; his only relative, an old mother, has died. Quoting him now can hurt nobody.
As long ago as the winter of 1932—before Hitler came to power—Abels told me in the Party Gesundheitsamt, near the Koenigliche Platz, Munich, that euthanasia—“mercy death”—and sterilization were definite planks in the Nazi platform.
Young Abels was tall, intense, and driven by an inner fire that made him pace the floor constantly. His educational background was medicine; his chief interest, eugenics.
Abels justified euthanasia by the explanation that Hitler and Nature favored it. Hitler, he said, hated the weak, and wanted a super race. Nature, also, abhorred the weak, and killed them.
His dingy, dark office was stocked with books staggering under titles like: “Purity of Race,”
“Why Tolerate the Incurables?” “Germany’s Might Lies in a Healthy Race.”
Quoting from them, young Abels accused the German Republic of having squandered the nation’s money on mental cases. He had specific figures: five hundred marks ($200) wasted annually on each sub-normal child; twice that on each feebleminded child, and three times that amount on each blind or deaf-and-dumb child.
“And what will these crippled minds and bodies ever contribute to the State?” he asked, pacing the floor. “Nothing! Less than nothing ! For some of them will have offspring that will increase expenditures and make our race even weaker.”
When the Nazi party got into power, he informed me, all this would stop. Money now wasted on undesirables would be spent to produce a super race.
We met again seven months later, on July 16, 1933, two days after the Erbgesundheitsgesetz, the law of hereditary health, went into effect. Abels had been transferred from his tiny office in Munich to a grand “Bureau” in the municipal city hall of Berlin. He beamed all over when he saw me, and immediately referred to the new law.
“We are working fast, are we not?” he asked. “From now on nobody can get married without the party certificate of health. But that is only the beginning. There is more to come. You see this?” On his shiny desk he had a stack of envelopes with the swastikas prominent in the lower left-hand corners.
“These,” he said, in a tone I shall never forget, “are orders to the district doctors and officials in charge of asylums.”
“Secret orders?”! asked.
“Not secret to members of the party,” he admitted. “But there will be fewer feeble-minded children in Germany from now on. And fewer insane. You can put any interpretation on that you please.”
I thought of one word, and used it. “Euthanasia?”
“Call it what you wish,” he replied. “I can’t tell you more. You’re a foreigner, you know.”
And there the matter rested. Abels was transferred to Thuringia. For several years I had troubles of my own, keeping open the doors of a democracy-teaching American School in a totalitarian state. We were investigated by the Gestapo to ascertain if any of our faculty or students were Jewish. We had retroactive taxes slapped on us. We wrangled constantly with the district supervisor of schools, who inspected us regularly. But before returning to the United States I did get a look, a deep look into the workings of Nazi schools and institutions.
Birth By Permission
I WROTE a formal note to the Minister of Education, Dr. Bernhard Rust, and had a friend from the Foreign Office get an interview for me. I came out of it with a letter from Rust which gave me access to institutions which no foreigner could possibly visit without credentials from on high.
How thoroughly the Nazis put into practice their desire to build a super race was evident everywhere I went. At the office of Baldur von Schirach, National Youth Leader, in a vast palace on the Kronprinzen Ufer, Berlin, a young official inspected my letter and then became an eager teacher. He assured me that the interest of the Nazi party in the Nazi child begins before it is conceived.
When I showed disbelief, he informed me that the Nazi party does not permit mating until both men and women have their certificates of health. “Why,” he asked, “should we drive out the impure Jews if we did not make a concerted effort to keep undesirables from being born?”
His desk was littered with graphs showing the rising birth rate since the Nazis came to power. He explained that if they wished young couples could produce offspring without the cumbersome bother of a wedding ceremony. The Nazi health certificate
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would make their status legal. And these physical unions would produce the type of husky Germanic children the Fuehrer wanted.
On his invitation I went with him to Ziegelstrasse, in the heart of old Berlin, where his uniform and authority opened the doors of the Frauenklinik, the City’s Women’s Hospital. Here I put on a white operating gown and stood on an observation gallery which was glassed off from the brightly-lighted operating room.
For more than an hour I watched six surgeons sterilize women.
These women, my host explained, were the undesirables who would never again reproduce undesirables. They were mentally sick, or had proved through other births that their offspring was weak.
“We are even eradicating color blindness,” he added. “We cannot have soldiers who are color-blind. It is transmitted by women.”
“Who,” I asked, “decides what women are to be sterilized?”
“We have courts, my dear Herr Direktor Ziemer. We have courts. It is all done very legally, rest assured. We have law and order.”
Women who cannot produce healthy offspring in Nazi Germany are thus disciplined; but for those who can, things are made pleasant. Once a woman has a health certificate showing that she, her parents and grandparents are healthy, she can have children at any time, with or without marriage. All that is expected of the unmarried girl is to report to her local Gesundheitsamt, announce her pregnancy, and register the health number of the father. Not that the father will be required to support the child; the state will do that.
My inspection tour took me to institutes for prospective mothers and young matrons established by the NSV, the Nazi Welfare Organization.
One of these was Bad Sachsa in the green Harz Hills. Here I saw scores of unmarried prospective mothers enjoying a carefree vacation, with good food, including butter and white bread. They ranked with soldiers.
“Killing” Just a Word
QUITE by chance I heard, on the Thuringia visit, that Georg Abels was in near-by Eisenach, the historic city at the foot of the Wartburg, where Luther translated the Bible. I looked Abels up. His office was even more spacious and busy than in Berlin. It faced Moenchstrasse, not far from the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach.
When Georg saw my ministry
letter, he was delighted. “But that makes it easy for me to tell you everything, and show you everything!” he shouted. “But that is wonderful !”
When he heard that I was returning to the United States, he urged me to warn America: “We are not the weak Germans we were in 1918. We are stronger and harder. We have got rid of our weaklings.”
He smiled and reminded me of the envelopes on the table of his Berlin office. “Then I could not tell you about them. Euthanasia, you called it? Well, it’s working.”
“Killing off the undesirables, are you?”
He looked pained. “You Americans are sentimental fools. You are so practical in money matters, but sentiment throws you off the track. ‘Killing’ is just a word. We’re not interested in terminology. We’re not thinking of individuals, but of the race. The race is bigger than the individual.”
He reminded me that all individuals should he willing to sacrifice for the race. The soldiers did that by dying for the Fuehrer who was creating a new race; the Hitler youth had taken oaths to die for him, and so had the Hitler girls. Why, then, should the race hesitate to rid itself of sick, abnormal individuals?
He reverted to his argument that nature killed the weak. “But in nature the process is often painful,” he said, “while in our state we have found better ways. I assure you, mein Lieber Freund, the death of these people is a fine death—painless, almost beautiful. Why, I know of cases where feeble-minded children who have received the proper instruction have asked to die for Hitler. They know they can’t die for him as soldiers, so they have asked to die for him in the Hitler Kammer.”
“The Hitler Chamber?”
“The ‘Lazaret.’ The little white hospital chamber where some of our underprivileged weaklings go to sleep. You would like to see one?”
I assured him I would.
He pressed a button, and asked an attendant to get him some information.
After the tall storm trooper had left, he admitted that there were still peasants and many so-called intellectuals in the Third Reich who did not understand mercy deaths; hut he was confident the party would soon enlighten them also.
“Some day soon,” he explained, “nobody will raise an eyebrow when they hear that a feeble-minded child suffering from hallucinations has quietly gone to sleep; or that an old man who leads only a life of boredom
has found his rest. Why, even now most of our feeble-minded children are over seven years old.”
The meaning of this did not strike me till he remarked that it had been seven years since the Erbgesundheitsgesetz went into effect.
“But what about the children over seven years?” I asked.
‘‘We give them a chance,” he said, pacing up and down. ‘‘We give them a chance. We keep them until they are ten. By that time we know they can ever become useful. The borderline cases, those who show enough intelligence to become street cleaners or perform simple tasks, are sterilized to prevent offspring, and are put to work. Of course, they can never enter the army. We need super men for that.”
‘‘And the rest?”
‘‘Well, I think we had better see for ourselves,” he said, pressing the button again. The attendant laid piece of paper on his desk. Abels glanced at it. ‘‘Tomorrow,” he said, ‘‘we’ll drive down to a village near Wittenberg. We’ll start about nine.”
The Hitler Chamber
THE NEXT day, in an official Mercedes-Benz, we drove through the pine-clad Harz, and past the industrial Leipzig section. We hurried through small villages, cluttered and busy, and came to a level stretch, the Duebener Heath. In the distance we saw the bulbous dome the famous castle church where Martin Luther began the Reformation by his thesis on the church door.
We stopped in front of an old hereditary estate, an Erbhof, surrounded with a grey stone wall. At the gate stood a storm trooper. Abels saluted, and explained that was his guest. It was noon, and all the noise seemed to be concentrated in one building, obviously the former home of the owner. Abels took me inside through a tortuous corridor.
At long tables, clean but without linen, sat about a hundred boys, ranging in age from seven to ten. They wore plain blue uniforms, slacks and loose jackets. They were eating stew out of coarse-metal dishes, each boy having only one implement, a spoon. The waiters were dressed much as the children.
The moment we entered, one of the supervisors gave a sharp command, as if to prisoners. Most of the boys labored to their feet. A few remained seated, gawking, their mouths drooling. They were soon helped to their feet by supervisors who reached for their ears.
‘‘Heil Hitler,” shouted the assembly of feeble-minded boys. It was the most unmusical hail I ever heard.
Abels told the overseers to proceed. The boys scrambled back on their wooden benches and continued gobbling up their food, throwing furtive glances our way. Occasionally there was an unnaturally loud guffaw, or a cry of fear from somebody.
“Here they are, a school for feebleminded—how do you like them?” Abels asked. “Aren’t they a horrible collection? What a vile contrast to a group of healthy German children. Just a waste of human effort, that’s what they represent. They are silent witnesses to the laxity of the German
Republic, which produced what you see here.”
Everywhere as we went through the “school,” we saw swastikas and pictures of Hitler.
“You give these boys instruction in Hitler ideology?” I asked.
“Of course, my dear fellow. Feebleminded or not, they all have to learn as much about Hitler as their warped minds permit. You heard them shout ‘Heil Hitler.’ Most of them have learned at least that much.”
We left the main buildings and came to a small detached hut, formerly a tool shed. It was painted white, inside and out, and was spotlessly clean. Wide windows let in plenty of air. The room had a single white hospital bed, a medicine chest, some charts; it looked like an emergency hospital ward.
“Here?” I asked. “This is where it happens?”
“Yes, here,” Abels said. “This is the Hitler Kammer.”
“How is it done?”
“That is none of our business.”
“That varies. Sometimes several a month. You see, out there?”
I looked. I saw a cemetery with rows of graves, each decorated with a simple marker. “What about the parents?” I asked.
“The parents are requested by a court of health to sign a paper that they give up their children to the state.”
“And if they refuse?”
“They don't refuse,” he said.
“I suppose this system is used in other institutions?”
“Why not? We are using much the same method with incurable-cancer patients, and advanced tuberculosis cases.”
“What about the old and feeble?” “Well,” I remember Abels saying carefully, “we haven’t gone that far yet. But the doctors of institutions for the old have their orders. In case of emergency, if food should get short, the old will quietly pass on. Most of them will rather die than go hungry indefinitely. These institutions do not rank with the army. They get food only if there is any left.”
“And insane asylums?”
“We are emptying them slowly but surely.”
“They Will Kill Him”
THE INSANE asylum idea preyed on my mind. It would be difficult to inspect these, I knew, for Abels had no jurisdiction there. I knew of only one asylum—we usually passed it on Route 109 when we drove north from Berlin to the Baltic Sea. Between the villages of Gross Schoenebeck and Prenzlau we had often seen a big brick building with a high wall around it, and an iron gate.
After my return to Berlin I took a trip there. At Prenzlau I found Dr. L. He had been in the United States where he had visited hospitals, even the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and he could speak English.
“I can’t promise you we’ll see the asylum,” he said. “But we can go and call on one of the doctors whom I know.”
It was evening when we drove to the ugly building. We did not enter by the front gate, but found a lane,
and at the end of it a small doorway. The guard let us in after an explanation by Dr. L.
The usual eerie asylum noises assailed us as we walked through a court and came to the private office of the doctor in charge, who became ¡ friendly when he read my letter.
It took little prompting to make | him tell what the Nazi regime I thought of insane asylums. They I were a disgrace to Nordic civilization, j he said. An eyesore. They had to go, | the sooner the better. In one genera! tion, if possible.
“Soon Germany won’t need institutions like these,” he thundered. “All of us Nazis hate them. We will empty them, and make them unnecessary.”
“How?” I asked bluntly.
“How, there are ways,” he said. “Doctors have ways . . .’’he caught I himself as if he had said too much. I “Many of our inmates just get weak and die.”
“Are their bodies sent back to their relatives?”
He smiled, I remember, following my trend of thought. “No, no, they are not sent back. They do not leave these walls.”
I asked him what cities his cases came from.
“Mostly from Berlin,” he said, and took down a heavy ledger with redleather back. “Here are a few cases. You see their names, their histories, their symptoms, and their former addresses. But that is not very interesting, I am sure.”
It was interesting. I managed to make a mental note of a few addresses in a familiar section of Berlin.
A few weeks later I called at one of the addresses I had seen in the book. It was in Neukoelln, a poorer section of Berlin. An old woman, haggard and worn, opened the door.
She was very suspicious, wrapping and unwrapping nervous old hands in her blue apron. I brought the conversation around to her family, and to a certain Ernst.
She stopped her hands then, and stared at me. “Ernst?” she breathed. “What about Ernst?”
“I was going to ask you that,” I asked. “He had to be taken away, didn’t he?”
She became very quiet. “Yes. I will never see him again. I received a notice several days ago that he is incurable and that the state will take care of him.”
“Why are you worried then? Won’t they give him good care?”
“It’s not that,” she said. “They will put him to death.”
According to my notes, she said more. “Ernst was afraid when he left. He was not always dangerous. He only got his fits now and then and did not know what he was doing. But when his head was clear again, he was afraid. He had talked to people who knew what they do to incurables in asylums. They put them to death. They tell me it is a good thing for the state. All my Nazi friends tell me it is the right thing. Perhaps it is. I tell myself it is right, it must be right if the Party says so. But it is not easy to believe. And there is nothing I can do. Is : there?”
I had to admit there was nothing j she could do; there was nothing any j of us could do.