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Report: Nazis used hospitals for killings
( 2003-10-01 10:52) (Agencies)

Nazi Germany used hundreds of hospitals and clinics to kill at least 200,000 handicapped, mentally ill and other institutional patients who were deemed physically inferior, researchers said Tuesday.

The conclusion is based on what researchers said was the most comprehensive analysis of Nazi records on the sites that helped carry out Adolf Hitler's program to purify, as he saw it, the German race.

In a report compiled by Germany's Federal Archive, researchers found new evidence on the program under which doctors and hospital staff used gas, drugs or starvation to kill disabled men, women and children at medical facilities in Germany and in present-day Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Even in internal documents, the Nazis cynically referred to the deaths as mercy killings, said Harald Jenner, a researcher at the federal archive.

The program originated at the Nazi regime's highest levels, Jenner said in a recent essay.

"The Fuehrer's chancellery and the Reich Interior Ministry were the starting point for the murders," Jenner wrote.

The three-year effort to catalog the deaths was intended to "restore some dignity to the victims" while encouraging further research into a dark chapter of history, German Culture Minister Christina Weiss said at a news conference Tuesday.

"We know that these crimes were meant to be kept secret," Weiss said. "The relatives of the victims received fake letters of condolence. The doctors in charge worked under false names."

The Nazis launched the drive to root out what they called "worthless lives" in the summer of 1939, predating their full-scale organization of the Holocaust in which they killed 6 million European Jews.

Between January 1940 and August 1941, the Nazis turned six hospitals in Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar into the main killing grounds for what they referred to as "euthanasia." Other clinics and hospitals were added as the program expanded.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said the program was a kind of training ground for the Nazi regime to "fine tune" its "technology of death" before the Holocaust.

"I think it's an extraordinarily important body of information," Cooper said.

The program was "a warning to society and to the scientific community that it's a very slippery slope when you start putting different values on human life," he added.

"Of course, with the Nazi regime it was a combination of racism but also with the enthusiastic backing of the scientific community who saw mentally ill and physically disabled people as cannon fodder for their pseudoscientific research in the name of the great Aryan race."

The federal archive is not publishing names of victims, but is posting a list of the facilities used on its Web site. Relatives tracking down suspected victims may benefit from the new research, Weiss said.

Cooper also said the German government should compensate victims' families.

In the new study, researchers drew in part on records from Hitler's Reich chancellery found in the archives of the East German secret police, the Stasi, after German reunification in 1990, said Klaus Oldenhage, the national archive's deputy head.

At the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II, authorities determined the number of handicapped and mentally ill victims of the Holocaust totaled 275,000 people, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In the first phase, from 1939 to 1941, the Nazis killed about 70,000 people, the museum reported.

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