While knowledge of the Holocaust is fading as fewer and fewer survivors are left, there is still more knowledge of the concentration camps like Auschwitz than there is of how such treacherous machinery was built to begin with: it started with those who were disabled and mentally ill. From 1937 to 1941 the Nazis instituted a euthanasia program called Aktion T4 which specifically targeted who they referred to as ‘useless eaters/feeders’. These helpless individuals would always require care and never be able to productively give back to the German state so they were deemed as unworthy of life and instead used to perfect the killing techniques that were used in the camps, namely the use of poisoning by gas.
There were 6 killing centers that served the aims of the T4 program: Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Schloss Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg, and Hadamar, and an estimated 300,000 individuals were killed between these sites while the program was officially operating from 1939 until 1941. When locals who lived near these centers began to understand what was happening, as well as parents and relatives of those being killed, there was enough uproar for the government to issue a formal cessation of it, but unfortunately this was only on paper. The killings continued in a manner that came to be known as ‘wild euthansia’–physicians, and even nurses, took it upon themselves to decide who should live or die amongst the patients. Patients were killed by poisonous injections, and/or often starved. Some documentation shows that nurses held the patients as they killed them.
Up until a year and a half ago I never knew that my grandmother had two brothers; I only ever knew my Uncle Klaus. Klaus was a tall, kind man with sparkling eyes who let me bounce a small rubber ball off the kitchen walls as he smoked his cigarettes, laughing along with me as it richocheted from one side to the next and off the floor and ceiling. He carried me in his arms down to the basement to fetch bottles of Coca-Cola whenever the fridge ran out. I was 5 or 6 the last time I visited him in Germany. He is firmly in my memory.
But now there is/was Werner who was the youngest. Werner who was killed. Lost and forgotten. I don’t what he looked liked. There are no pictures.
Werner was born in Worms, Germany in 1940, and he was born with a disability of some sort. One day in 1943, as he and my grandmother were playing, some people knocked on the door to take him away saying that they would make sure he got the expert care he needed. That’s all my grandmother remembers; she was 6 at the time. Not long after the family received word that he had died. They never received his remains and the letter that announced his death is lost to time as well. It’s as if he never existed.
My mother recently filled out an information request to see if there are any records pertaining to Werner. His place of death is listed as Idstein which was the location of a clinic called Kalmenhof, a waystation for those en route to the killing center of Hadamar. All we can do is hope that there is some bit of paper about him that is found, some ink that paints a bit of his story so we can imagine who and how he was.