September 1, 1939 
Aktion T4 goes into effect in Nazi Germany allowing authorized physicians to deem patients “incurably sick,” the mentally ill, or those suffering from severe disabilities, resulting in an official death count of 70,273 when it ended in August of 1941

The churches in Germany strongly opposed the order, but their protests were futile. While some sent private protest letters, others were more public about their disdain. August von Galen held sermons claiming bombings by Allied Forces were an act of God, angered by the mass murders. The sermon was not printed in mainstream media but was printed illegally on pamphlets which angered the Nazi leaders. 
The exact reasoning behind the Aktion varies, including eugenics, to reduce the suffering of the afflicted and their families, and cost effectiveness. 
In adults, those targeted were:

  • those who had been confined to nursing homes or sanatoriums for more than 5 years
  • those designated as “criminally insane”
  • any “non-Aryan” who suffered from syphilis, dementia, paralysis, Huntington’s chorea, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other generic catch-all disorders

Doctors and midwives were instructed to report any child under 3 they suspected of various conditions including: 

  • idiocy (an IQ below 70, characterized by speech delays, learning disabilities, and inability for age-appropriate self-care such as feeding or dressing oneself)
  • Down syndrome; microcephaly (a condition in which the brain does not fully develop, resulting in a smaller head)
  • hydrocephaly (“water on the brain,” abnormal amounts of cerebrospinal fluid putting pressure on the brain, causing vomiting, seizures, double vision, and more)
  • paralysis, including cerebral palsy and other seizure-related disorders
  • any malformations especially of limbs, spinal column, or head

Originally, the Aktion was carried out with the approval of the parents of the children selected. Some communities, however, like Catholic families, refused the “mercy killings.” Instead, officials would take the children to “Special Sections” designated for the alleged care of these children. They were assessed and, if deemed “unfit,” were given lethal injections. Their official cause of death would be listed as pneumonia. By 1941, 5,000 children had been killed. Though Hitler suspended the program on August 24, 1941, the last child victim of Aktion T4 died on May 29, 1945, more than 3 weeks after US troops occupied the city. 

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