Many Germans did not want to be reminded of individuals who did not measure up to their concept of a “master race.” The physically and mentally handicapped were viewed as “useless” to society, a threat to Aryan genetic purity, and, ultimately, unworthy of life. At the beginning of World War II, individuals with mental or physical disabilities were targeted for murder in what the Nazis called the “T-4,” or “euthanasia,” program.
The Euthanasia Program required the cooperation of many German doctors, who reviewed the medical files of patients in institutions to determine which handicapped or mentally ill individuals should be killed. The doctors also supervised the actual killings. Doomed patients were transferred to six institutions in Germany and Austria, where they were killed in specially constructed gas chambers. Handicapped infants and small children were also killed by injection with a deadly dose of drugs or by starvation. The bodies of the victims were burned in large ovens called crematoria.
Despite public protests in 1941, the Nazi leadership continued this program in secret throughout the war. About 200,000 handicapped people were murdered between 1940 and 1945.
The T-4 program became the model for the mass murder of Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and others in camps equipped with gas chambers that the Nazis would open in 1941 and 1942. The program also served as a training ground for SS members who manned these camps.