On 26 November 2010, Dr. Frank Schneider, president of the German Association for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy addressed a convention of psychiatrists about psychiatry’s role in The Third Reich.

  • “Under National Socialism, psychiatrists showed contempt towards the patients in their care; they lied to them, and deceived them and their families.

  • “They forced them to be sterilized, arranged their deaths and even performed killings themselves.

  • “Patients were used as test subjects for unjustifiable research – research that left them traumatized or even dead.

  • For “too long” the DGPPN “have been hiding, denying a crucial part of our past. For that, we are truly ashamed.”

  • “It is also a disgrace that we, the DGPPN, did not even stand up for the victims in the period after 1945. Worse still, we were partially responsible for the renewed discrimination that they faced in the post-war period.”

  • “I stand before you today as President of an association that has taken nearly 70 years to end this silence.”

  • “I must offer our sincerest apologies – albeit shamefully late – to all the victims and their families who suffered such injustice and pain at the hands of the German associations and their psychiatrists.”

  • “Psychiatry under National Socialism is one of the darkest chapters in the history of our discipline. Throughout this period, psychiatrists and representatives of psychiatric associations repeatedly disregarded and heinously reinterpreted their professional duty to treat and care for their patients.

  • “Psychiatry was corruptible and it corrupted…and it killed.” Further, “psychiatrists abused and killed vast numbers of people. They also saw to it that any undesirable colleagues were forced out of their jobs.”

  • On 14 July 1933, not long after Hitler seized power, a Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed. The psychiatrist “Ernst Rüdin, who was President of the psychiatric association from 1935 to 1945, was involved in writing the official commentary to the law when he was director of the German Research Institute for Psychiatry. The law described sterilization – forced sterilization – as ‘protecting future generations.’ This is a truly perverse view that offsets one person’s pain and suffering against another’s wellbeing.”

  • “Under the law, doctors forcibly sterilized more than 360,000 people. Over 6,000 died as a consequence of the operations.”

  • “Since the concepts of eugenics and racial hygiene were so popular at the time, many psychiatrists held the sterilization law in high regard. As President of our predecessor organization, the Society of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists (GDNP), Ernst Rüdin spoke in its favor several times at the openings of annual congresses. Other countries around the world also supported eugenics-based sterilization. However, what set Germany apart was the fact that its law allowed people to be sterilized against their will. For its victims, the legislation was an appalling attack on the very core of their identity – an attack they were powerless to stop and that permanently robbed them of their right to physical integrity and to parenthood.”

  • “Psychiatrist Alfred Erich Hoche published Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living in 1920 in collaboration with the lawyer Karl Binding. In it, he coined the term ‘human ballast’ and drew up a list of allegedly incurable mental illnesses that rendered sufferers ‘mentally dead.’ This provided the basis for the call for ‘death to life unworthy of life!’ published in 1930 in the National Socialist monthly bulletin. Later, Hitler issued a decree to start a ‘euthanasia’ program. It was backdated to 1 September 1939, the date that Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.”

  • Professor Werner Heyde, chair of psychiatry and neurology of Würzburg University, was appointed Medical Director of the program that would later become known as “Aktion T4.” It is thought that, by the end of the war – and even several weeks afterwards – Aktion T4 and the killings that took place once the program had officially ended claimed the lives of at least 250,000 to 300,000 mentally and physically disabled people.”

  • “Heyde was the medical director of the ‘T4 program,’ and an arrest warrant was issued for him after the war. And yet from 1950 to 1959 he enjoyed a second career as a court-appointed medical expert in Schleswig-Holstein. Although he went by the name of Dr. Fritz Sawade, there were those in the medical and legal professions who were aware of his real identity, yet did not expose him. And many others, both within our field and beyond, knew about it.”

  • “From October 1939, all psychiatric hospitals and associated areas in the Reich received registration forms from Columbushaus on Potsdamer Platz, and as of April 1940 from Tiergartenstrasse 4, where the Berlin Philharmonic stands today. The forms were used to systematically record all patients and select who should die. Decisions were mainly based on ‘usefulness’ criteria, that is, on how much work a person was capable of.”

  • “Today, at the site of the former central administration-office for the killings all that commemorates the ‘euthanasia’ victims is an indistinct plaque in the ground and a sculpture that was only dedicated to them upon completion. There is still no central, national memorial to the victims. This is a clear expression of the continuing denial surrounding the events, and of the humiliation that the survivors and their families still endure. It also represents a blind spot in the collective memory of our country and of German psychiatry. We at the DGPPN will be supporting current efforts to establish an appropriate national T4 commemorative and information center.”

  • “Approximately fifty selected assessors, some of them renowned psychiatrists, evaluated the registration forms they received from the hospitals and decided who would live and who would die. Among the assessors were Werner Villinger, Friedrich Mauz and Friedrich Panse, all of whom held the office of President in our association during the post-war period. Friedrich Mauz and Friedrich Panse also later became honorary members. Although membership ends with the death of the individual, we condemn both these cases and will formally revoke the honors.”

  • “Patients selected for death would be collected from their hospitals in gray buses that have now come to symbolize the killings, and taken to one of six mental institutions equipped with gas chambers. Medical facilities thus became extermination centers.

  • “Healing became destruction. Psychiatrists watched as the patients entrusted to their care were taken away to be murdered. In the order they were established, the six institutions were: Grafeneck, Brandenburg, Hartheim, Pirna-Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar.

  • “At the same time as they were implementing Aktion T4, the Nazis were also murdering physically and mentally disabled children in over 30 psychiatric and pediatric hospitals as part of what is usually called ‘child euthanasia.’ Previously it was thought that approximately 5,000 children had died. This figure was given by the perpetrators during post-war trials and then generally accepted as true. We now know that the actual number was far greater.”

  • “’Aktion T4’ lasted nearly two years, from January 1940 to August 1941. Within that time, over 70,000 patients were killed. The public protests that eventually spelled the demise of the program did not come from the ranks of the psychiatric profession, but predominantly from the Church. The crucial sermon against the killing-program was delivered on 24 August 1941 by Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Munster and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. ‘Aktion T4’ was officially stopped immediately afterwards.”

  • “And yet the killing continued, even after the centrally organized “Aktion T4” was officially stopped. During this decentralized phase of ‘euthanasia,’ doctors in psychiatric facilities seeking to free up beds and save money killed patients – possibly many 10,000 – by administering overdoses or providing them with so little food that they starved to death.18 In a report on new admissions in 1943, Gerhard Wischer, director of the Waldheim psychiatric hospital, put it very succinctly: ‘Of course I could never accommodate the new patients without undertaking certain measures to free up space. The process itself is very straightforward, but there is a distinct shortage of the necessary medication.’”

  • “Before they were murdered, many patients were used for ‘research.’ This involved ethically unjustifiable experiments that are far removed from scientific and research values. One example is the ‘euthanasia’-related experiments on mentally ill children and teenagers by Carl Schneider, Chair and Professor of Psychiatry at Heidelberg University, in collaboration with Julius Deussen, an employee at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry in Munich. The research involved elaborate experiments on patients, followed by their killing and autopsies. Patients at psychiatric hospitals were also used as test subjects in TB vaccination trials in Kaufbeuren22, in work on the viral aetiology of multiple sclerosis in Werneck23, and in neuropathological examinations on “euthanasia” victims who had probably been selected especially for this purpose. This was the project Julius Hallervorden carried out at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin-Buch in collaboration with the Brandenburg-Görden asylum, which was run by psychiatrist Hans Heinze.”

  • “The murdered patients’ bodies and individual histopathological specimens were in high demand among scientists, and the research findings gained were being published even after the war ended. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research used the brains of at least 295 ‘euthanasia’ victims in its work, and even until recently there have been almost no qualms about using specimens taken from patients murdered during the Third Reich.”

  • “The research was not confined to mental institutions. Tübingen-based psychiatrist Robert Ritter, for example, did research on Sinti and Roma people. He mainly focused on genealogical and epidemiological studies, which contributed to developing identification and selection criteria for ‘Gypsies,’ who would then be deported to the ‘Gypsy camp’ at Auschwitz.”

  • “Even once the war had ended, shame and silence continued to shroud what the victims and their families had endured. To this day the Federal Republic of Germany has still not formally recognized these individuals as victims of Nazi persecution, despite the fact that the sterilization law was an unequivocal expression of National Socialist, German racial ideology.”

  • In 2010, the DGPPN Executive Committee established an international independent scientific commission to oversee a research project addressing the history of the association, or rather its predecessors, in the period between 1933 and 1945, during the “Third Reich.” The commission is made up of four renowned historians of medicine and science, including Professor Schmuhl and Professor Zalashik. “They aim to shed light on the extent to which the DGPPN’s predecessor organizations and their representatives involved in the ‘euthanasia’ program, in forced sterilizations of mentally ill patients and in other crimes between 1933 and 1945.”

  • “It will explore the consequences of the terrible crimes perpetrated under the Nazis, uncover who was involved, and reveal what lessons were learned and when. This will replace the speculation surrounding this period with solid facts.

  • “’Mentally dead,’ ‘human ballast,’ ‘life unworthy of living’ – these are not easy words to say. They are deeply upsetting and disturbing – and, in light of the fact that psychiatrists were actively involved in Gleichschaltung, forced sterilization and murder, they fill us with shame, anger and the greatest sorrow.

  • “Our shame and regret are also rooted in the fact that it has taken this association, of which I am President today, 70 years to make a systematic effort to come to terms with its past and the history of its predecessors under National Socialism, and – irrespective of the historical facts that may come to light – to ask for forgiveness from the victims of forced migration, forced sterilization, human experiments and murder.”
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