International Holocaust Remembrance Day: finally a memorial for the disabled


Berlin memorial to disabled victims of Holocaust

In 2014, a memorial was finally erected for those first victims of the Nazi euthanasia program: the disabled.

In September 2014, a memorial to the victims of the Nazi euthanasia program against the disabled was unveiled. It is the fourth and expected to be the final such memorial, preceding memorials having been erected for Jews, gays, and Roma who were victims of the Holocaust.

The Nazi program against the disabled was called “T4.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum called the program a “rehearsal” for the mass operation of the Holocaust. As I’ve written about previously, some of these victims included those with Down syndrome, even babies.

Between 1940 and 1941, the Nazi’s killed 70,000 individuals with disabilities. Over two full years, that works out to almost 100 individuals a day, or four people every hour, being killed. By the end of the war, 300,000 individuals with disabilities would be murdered by the program. The memorial was installed directly next to the destroyed mansion that housed many of the SS officers and doctors who carried out the killing program.

The memorial is a 79-foot long blue-tinted glass wall, with a low wall running parallel sharing information about the T4 program and its victims.

img_1935At the unveiling ceremony, Berlin’s then Mayor Klaus Wowerei offered the following remarks:

“We often forget that even today, around 10 percent of the people in our country live with mental or physical disabilities,” he said. “Our society has a social responsibility to these people… No life is unworthy. You have our solidarity, our encouragement and our empathy. You have the right to an equal life in our society. Because only by caring is our society worth living in.”

“No life is unworthy.” A message that sadly we constantly must be reminded of.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Monika Grütters, the German minister for culture. She reiterated this truth:

“Every human life is worth living: That is the message sent out from this site. … The ‘T4’ memorial confronts us today with the harrowing Nazi ideology of presuming life can be measured by ‘usefulness.’ ”

This, too, is a pervasive bent to our human nature: to judge others as worthy only based on our self-styled standards for what we deem “useful.”

Reporting on the unveiling, Melissa Eddy with the New York Times noted the dual purpose of the memorial:

But for those families whose relatives were singled out for death because doctors said they could not contribute to the Nazi war machine, the newest monument rights two wrongs: the crimes committed against the ill and defenseless, and the long postwar silence about their slaughter. Few of the doctors involved in the operation were convicted, and families have never been eligible for any form of postwar compensation.

The purpose of memorials, by their very name, is to remind the living of the actions of the past. The memorial in Berlin is a physical reminder of what went on in secret by the hands of those who should have been trusted to care, not kill.

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us again commit to “Never Again.” Let us remember, so that never again will the disabled be viewed as targets for killing because of being judged as unworthy or useless.

No life is unworthy, and by caring for others, we create a society worth living in.


  1. leticiacvelasquez says:

    The New York Times failed to see the glaring irony between the high rate of abortion following prenatal testing for babies with Down syndrome and their murder in the T4 Program.

  2. Thanks for this, Mark!

  3. I just wanted to tell you that I have enjoyed and learned so much from all of your articles. I have opted out of having an amniocentesis after a positive NIPS, because no matter the results I will love and cherish the child I am carrying and to me that is not worth risking a miscarriage, when my decision will be the same. However regardless if my child is born with down syndrome, I will continue to follow this issue and societal trends and be an advocate for those with disabilities. So thank you for all your hard work, knowledge, and dedication. Sincerely, Sundae

    • Sundae–I’m glad my work here has been helpful and I hope you are being supported in your decision from your medical team. Having decided to continue, the resource “Diagnosis to Delivery” is one specifically written by moms for moms who decide to continue after a prenatal test result. I was a reviewer of the book and found it insightful into the pregnancy experience when the mom has a prenatal indication of Down syndrome. You can download a .pdf version for free or order a hard copy from Woodbine house. Here’s the link to the site for more information. On-line support is available through babycenter’s Down syndrome pregnancy board which you can find a link to at the Downsyndromepregnancy site. Also, additional online support is available through the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network. I hope these resources are helpful to you during your pregnancy.


  1. […] pesquisador em bioética Mark Leach escreveu – ver aqui – sobre o assunto (em inglês). As notícias e reportagens publicadas no Brasil sobre a data […]

  2. […] to Europe.  Taking eugenics theory to its logical end, the Third Reich instituted Action T4, the precursor to the Final Solution. The U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has a traveling exhibit called Deadly […]

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