No "Stunde Null" : German attitudes toward the mentally handicapped and their impact on the postwar trials of T4 perpetrators / by Shane Brian Stufflet.
This dissertation puts forth two major arguments. The first argument is one of continuity. In short, in the first four decades following the end of the Second World War, there existed in Germany a distinct continuation of prewar, including Nazi, attitudes toward the mentally handicapped. In order to establish this argument of continuity, the first portion of the dissertation traces attitudes toward the mentally handicapped over time. It shows that, far from being solely a Nazi idea, the concept of killing the mentally handicapped is an ancient one that dates back thousands of years. Yet while showing that negative attitudes toward the mentally handicapped have dominated European thought for centuries, the dissertation does acknowledge the fact that periods of reform did take place. Some of the most notable reform movements, in fact, took place in Germany, the same place that would attempt to murder every mentally handicapped person during the Nazi regime.The second part of the dissertation argues that, because of the continuation in attitudes toward the mentally handicapped across the "Stunde Null," or "zero hour," of 1945, the vast majority of those tried for the murder of the mentally handicapped---the T4 perpetrators---were either acquitted or were sentenced to extremely light punishments. Statements made not by the defendants but by the judges in these trials clearly show that the murderous campaign carried out by the Nazis had little impact on postwar German society. Popular protests against the acquittals of defendants who were obviously guilty---most of whom admitted to their participation in murder---were nonexistent. In fact, in some cases, the generally population actually staged campaigns to free T4 perpetrators from punishment and at times openly applauded their acquittals.The dissertation concludes with a brief discussion of how these negative attitudes toward the mentally handicapped in Germany have changed during the past three decades. German laws, as well as laws in other western countries, have sought to protect the rights of the mentally handicapped by providing them with educational opportunities as well as certain civil rights. Popular protests, mostly led by those born in postwar Germany and Austria, have expressed anger over how the mentally handicapped were treated during the previous centuries. Yet despite this general trend toward tolerance, ideas such as those of the Princeton ethicist Peter Singer still circulate.
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