Victims still waiting

2nd February 2004, Comments 0 comments

The horrors of the Third Reich still continue to haunt Germany with the country this year marking the 70th anniversary one of the most terrible chapters of the Nazi regime - the forced sterilisation of those failing to meet the requirements of Hitler's plans for a master race. Katrin Zeiss reports how victims of Nazi forced sterilisations are still waiting for compensation.

Germans are solemnly marking the 70th anniversary this year of the start of one of the most macabre chapters of Nazi atrocities — the forced sterilisation of disabled people and other "parasitic scum" who the Nazis believed hampered their goal of attaining a "master race" through genetic breeding.

Starting in 1934, some 400,000 persons were sterilised by the time the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945.

Long forgotten, or not articulate enough to argue their own cases, many of these people still waiting for compensation.

In a sadly typical case, Dr Werner Villinger, head physician at the Bethel mental institution near Bielefeld, sent patients off to clinics to be sterilised.

Then, after the war, he testified as an expert witness against granting financial compensation to these same patients.

They are still waiting for compensation.

"The Nazi law that started all this suffering has yet to be nullified by the Bundestag parliament," according to a lobby group, the Federal Association of Euthanasia and Forced Sterilisation Victims.

The Nazi "Law for Prevention of Hereditary Infirmities" went into effect on 1 January 1934. It formed the basis for persecution of mentally retarded people as well as hearing-impaired and blind people as well as people with chronic alcoholism, aside from thousands of persons with emotional problems.

They were all lumped together as "lunatics, cripples and morons" who were "parasites of society" and were "useless mouths to feed" in the jargon of twisted Nazi racial ideology.

"Basically, anyone who wasn't a 100 percent prime physical specimen or who displayed erratic or eccentric behaviour was a target for Nazi henchmen who were eager to castrate them or give them hysterectomies - generally botched ones at that," says historian Susanne Zimmermann of Jena University.

Bizarre "Genetic Health Tribunals" were set up by the Nazis to decide just who was to be put under the knife. Oftentimes, once-esteemed medical institutions and well-regarded staffers found themselves forced into performing these unnecessary and unethical operations.

If they refused, they risked professional ostracism or even being sent to concentration camps.

"At Jena University alone at least 1,200 women were given hysterectomies on dubious 'genetic' grounds," Zimmermann says. "In the Jena region alone, some 16,000 people were sterilised."

The infamous Dr. Villinger, for example, signed over some 2,854 people between 1934 and 1936 for forced sterilisations by the Nazis before joining one of those Genetic Health Tribunals himself.

Buoyed by his skyrocketing career, Villinger in no time was recommending disabled people for dispatch to their deaths in gas chambers — strictly on the basis of their physical or mental disability.

Like many other physicians who worked for the Nazis, Villinger was never brought to trial. Immediately after the war he was classified as "de-Nazified" and was permitted to continue his medical carrier, becoming a rector at Marburg University and receiving the Federal Service Cross — West Germany's highest civilian honour.

It was only when he was on his deathbed in 1961 that his crimes were made known to the public.

But even then, a Bundestag committee in 1961 refused to authorise compensation for Villinger's victims. Essentially, they were still considered "lunatics and morons" unworthy or unfit for consideration.

It took until 1998 for Germany to get around to lifting the 1934 disability sterilisation laws.

"Even now, people who underwent forced sterilisations are not considered victims of the Nazis," says Margret Hamm of the lobby group.

West Germany in 1980 authorized a one-time payment of DM 5,000 marks (about EUR 2,500) for victims.

"But only 14,000 have actually received any payment," Hamm says.

East Germany, meanwhile, simply absolved itself of any responsibility by striking the sterilisation law from the books in 1952 and taking the stance that it was all the fault of the Nazis and therefore East Berlin owed nobody anything.

In post-unification Germany, the victims since 1990 have been guaranteed a modest monthly check amounting to less than EUR 75 a month.

"Most of those who are still alive are in bad health and in bad financial straits," says Hamm.
"The Nazis not only sterilised them but also prevented them from receiving any sort of schooling or vocational training. They have been stuck in menial jobs or on welfare all their lives."

Between 5,000 and 10,000 of these people are receiving welfare payments in Germany.

"Worst of all," Hamm adds, "many of these people are ashamed of what was done to them. The bear physical scars and, much worse, deep emotional scars from what was done to them when they were children. Many are ashamed to come forward now."

January 2004 


Subject: Life in Germany

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