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Lives, worthy of life – My thoughts on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, 27th January, is Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. I am Alicia Wood, Head of Public Affairs at Dimensions, and I want to help remember the impact of the Holocaust.

We have the day written in our diaries at Dimensions and this year I volunteered to write something in memory of the people with learning disabilities who were murdered under the Nazi regime.

The Holocaust saw a deliberate extinguishing of the lives of around 250,000 disabled people under a ‘euthanasia’ programme, murdered by lethal injection or gassed.

Economic savings “justified” the killing of disabled people who were thought of as ‘useless lives’ and ‘idiots’.

The terms ‘Life Unworthy of Life’ and ‘Useless Eaters’ still bring tears to my eyes and turn my stomach in revulsion as I write this today – the same as when I first read them in high school 35 years ago.

Preparing to write this blog, I have been thinking a lot about eugenics and the (thankfully short-lived) appointment of Toby Young by the Department for Education to the Office for Students. This appointment brought to light his involvement in a ‘progressive eugenics’ movement.

The Mazar’s report found that more than 1,000 deaths of people with learning disabilities in one NHS Trust had not been properly investigated. And what’s worse, this staggering report appears to have been brushed under the carpet.

The value of the lives and deaths of people with learning disabilities in our country feels at an all-time low. There is no comparison to be made to this experience but what I do want to ask is how far from that kind of thinking are we?

We would never utter those abhorrent terms in modern Britain, certainly not in public discourse.  But does society believe that people with learning disabilities are an economic burden?

The murder of people with learning disabilities is clearly unacceptable in modern British life but does it matter if people with learning disabilities die preventable deaths?

Are the lives of people with learning disabilities less valuable than those of us who don’t have learning disabilities?

I’ll leave you with those questions as, today, we remember the lives lost during the Holocaust.

Deaths of disabled people during the Holocaust

  • Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities were killed during the holocaust
  • The Nazis were influenced by the eugenics movement – beliefs and practices that aimed to improve the genetic quality of a human population – which was popular in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s
  • The Nazis claimed the burden of people with disabilities placed on non-disabled people was causing social and economic problems in Germany
  • The Nazis argued that people with disabilities had lives that weren’t worth living and used such propaganda to support their “mercy killings”
  • Under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, the Nazi’s compulsory programme of sterilisation of people with disabilities began in 1933
  • Doctors and nurses were legally obliged to report new births of children with disabilities
  • In 1939 their programme of active killing began in secret, this was known as T4
  • T4 targeted children under 3 who had cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, Downs syndrome, and learning disabilities
  • 6 secret death camps were established (also called ‘euthanasia centres’)
  • When people opposed the killings, T4 became more secretive and people were left to die in institutions from starvation and neglect.

It is estimated that from 1933-1939, 360,000 people were subject to forced sterilisation.

It is estimated that 275,000 people with disabilities were killed while the Nazi’s were in power in Germany.

To learn more about the Holocaust click here.