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Copy of an original letter signed by Adolf Hitler authorizing the T4 (Euthanasia) program.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 67072

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    Copy of an original letter signed by Adolf Hitler authorizing the T4 (Euthanasia) program.
    Copy of an original letter signed by Adolf Hitler authorizing the T4 (Euthanasia) program.

The text of the letter states that "Reichsleiter [Philipp] Bouhler and Dr. med. [Karl] Brandt are charged with responsibility to broaden the authority of certain doctors to the extent that [persons] suffering from illnesses judged to be incurable may, after a humane, most careful assessment of their condition, be granted a mercy death. [signed] Adolf Hitler."


    Copy of an original letter signed by Adolf Hitler authorizing the T4 (Euthanasia) program.

    The text of the letter states that "Reichsleiter [Philipp] Bouhler and Dr. med. [Karl] Brandt are charged with responsibility to broaden the authority of certain doctors to the extent that [persons] suffering from illnesses judged to be incurable may, after a humane, most careful assessment of their condition, be granted a mercy death. [signed] Adolf Hitler."
    1939 September 01
    Berlin, [Berlin] Germany
    Variant Locale
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
    Event History
    The so-called T4 (Euthanasia) authorization, written on Hitler's private stationery and backdated to September 1, 1939, is actually a copy of the original signed by Hitler sometime between mid-October 1939 and early 1940. In the early summer of 1940, Reich Justice Minister Franz Guertner, concerned about the difficulties raised by the secret euthanasia program for local and regional justice officials, questioned euthanasia plenipotentiary Philipp Bouhler about the advisability of continuing the program given public knowledge of the operation. To demonstrate that the euthanasia program was the "wish of the Fuehrer," and not simply the whim of the SS, which Guertner had long opposed, Bouhler gave the Justice Minister a facsimile of the original Hitler document. Near the end of the war, the original document and all copies of it in official hands were destroyed, but because Guertner had died in January 1941, no one thought to look through his papers. His copy of the T4 authorization thus became the only surviving copy. This copy was seized by Allied officials after the war and presented as evidence at both the International Military Tribunal and the Medical Case Trial in Nuremberg. The document was assigned evidence number 630PS (Paris/Story) and was published in the International Military Tribunal "Blue Series," the proceedings and evidence of the Nuremberg IMT.

    [Source: USHMM Historian Dr. Patricia Heberer. "T4 (euthanasia) authorization." 25 November 2002. Personal e-mail.]

    The euthanasia program was the Nazi regime's first campaign of industrialized mass murder against specific populations whom it deemed inferior and threatening to the health of the Aryan race. Code-named "Operation T4" for the Berlin street address (Tiergarten 4) of its headquarters, the euthanasia program targeted mentally and physically disabled patients, a population that the Nazis considered "life unworthy of living" (lebensunwertes Leben). The euthanasia killings began in August 1939 with the murder of disabled infants and toddlers. Headed by Philipp Bouhler, the chief of the Fuehrer's chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, the children's euthanasia program involved the selection and transfer of children identified as disabled by physicians, nurses and midwives, to special children's wards established at more than 20 hospitals. In these medical wards health care workers killed at least 5,000 children by administering lethal doses of medication or through starvation. This program was later expanded to include older children. The next phase of the euthanasia program involved the killing of disabled adults residing in institutional settings in the Reich. To accommodate this much larger population, T4 technicians created killing centers where the disabled were murdered in gas chambers and their bodies burned in crematoria. Six killing facilites were established in 1940 at Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar. Public protests from the church and the judiciary ultimately forced Hitler to halt the gassing in August 1941. However, this did not end the euthanasia program. The killing of disabled children continued unabated, and the murder of disabled adults was restarted in August 1942, utilizing the methods of lethal overdose and starvation. Known as "wild" euthanasia, this phase of the program continued until the final days of the war. In all, "Operation T4" claimed at least 200,000 lives.

    [Sources: Freidlander, Henry. "Euthanasia," in Laqueur, Walter, ed, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001, pp. 167-172; Heberer, Patricia. "T4 and Hadamar. The Systematic Murder of German patients as a Training School for the 'Final Solution'." (unpublished article, April 5, 2002).]

    The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg opened in the fall of 1945, but by the winter of 1942, the governments of the Allied powers had already announced their determination to punish Nazi war criminals. On December 17, 1942, the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union issued the first joint declaration officially noting the mass murder of European Jewry and resolving to prosecute those responsible for violence against civilian populations. Though some political leaders advocated for summary executions instead of trials, eventually the Allies decided to hold an International Military Tribunal so that, in the words of Cordell Hull, "a condemnation after such a proceeding will meet the judgment of history, so that the Germans will not be able to claim that an admission of war guilt was extracted from them under duress." The October 1943 Moscow Declaration, signed by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, stated that at the time of an armistice persons deemed responsible for war crimes would be sent back to those countries in which the crimes had been committed and adjudged according to the laws of the nation concerned. Major war criminals, whose crimes could be assigned no particular geographic location, would be punished by joint decisions of the Allied governments.

    The trials of leading German officials before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), the best known of the postwar war crimes trials, formally opened in Nuremberg on November 20, 1945, only six and a half months after Germany surrendered. Each of the four Allied nations -- the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and France -- supplied a judge and a prosecution team. Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain served as the court's presiding judge. The trial's rules were the result of delicate reconciliations of the Continental and Anglo-American judicial systems. A team of translators provided simultaneous translations of all proceedings in four languages: English, French, German, and Russian. After much debate, 24 defendants were selected to represent a cross-section of Nazi diplomatic, economic, political, and military leadership. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels never stood trial,having committed suicide before the end of the war. The IMT decided not to try them posthumously so as not to create an impression that they might still be alive. In fact, only 21 defendants appeared in court. German industrialist Gustav Krupp was included in the original indictment, but he was elderly and in failing health, and it was decided in preliminary hearings to exclude him from the proceedings. Nazi Party secretary Martin Bormann was tried and convicted in absentia, and Robert Ley committed suicide on the eve of the trial.

    The IMT indicted the defendants on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The IMT defined crimes against humanity as "murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation...or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds." A fourth charge of conspiracy was added both to cover crimes committed under domestic Nazi law before the start of World War II and so that subsequent tribunals would have jurisdiction to prosecute any individual belonging to a proven criminal organization. Therefore the IMT also indicted several Nazi organizations deemed to be criminal, namely the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Elite Guard (SS), the Security Service (SD), the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Stormtroopers (SA), and the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces.

    The defendants were entitled to a legal counsel of their choosing. Over 400 visitors attended the proceedings each day, as well as 325 correspondents representing 23 different countries. American chief prosecutor Robert Jackson decided to argue his case primarily on the basis of mounds of documents written by the Nazis themselves rather than eyewitness testimony so that the trial could not be accused of relying on biased or tainted testimony. Testimony presented at Nuremberg revealed much of what we know about the Holocaust including the details of the Auschwitz death machinery, the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and the estimate of six million Jewish victims.

    The judges delivered their verdict on October 1, 1946. Agreement among three out of four judges was needed for conviction. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, among them Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg, and Julius Streicher. They were hanged, cremated in Dachau, and their ashes were dropped in the Isar River. Hermann Goering escaped the hangman's noose by committing suicide the night before. The IMT sentenced three defendants to life imprisonment and four to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. It acquitted three of the defendants.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
    Copyright: Public Domain
    Source Record ID: 238.5.3-Brandt Case, Pros. Ex. ?
    Copyright: Exclusively with source
    Stadtarchiv Nuernberg
    Copyright: Exclusively with source

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Philipp Bouhler (1899-1945), SS-Obergruppenfuehrer who served as chief of Hitler's chancellery and head of the T-4 Euthanasia program. Born in Munich, Bouhler was one of the earliest members of the NSDAP (Nazi party). In 1922 he left the department of philosophy at the University of Munich to help edit the Voelkische Beobachter, the NSDAP newspaper. The following year he took part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. After a brief period of incarceration, Bouhler became business manager of the NSDAP, a position he held from 1925 to 1934. In 1933 he became a Reich leader of the Nazi party and was elected to the Reichstag from the district of Westphalia. On September 17, 1934, Bouhler became Hitler's Chief of the Chancellery. In addition he was appointed chief of the NSDAP Censorship Committee for the Protection of National Socialist Literature and of the Study Group for German History Books and Educational Material. In September 1939 Bouhler, along with Karl Brandt, was tasked by Hitler to develop the T-4 Euthanasia program. When a public outcry put a halt to the program in August 1941, he helped secure the reassignment of T-4 personnel to the concentration camps. At the end of the war Bouhler sought protection from Hermann Goering, and was at the Reichsmarschall's headquarters in Zell-am-See in May 1945 when Bouhler and his wife committed suicide shortly before the arrival of the Americans. Bouhler wrote two books: "Struggle for Germany," a chronicle of the NSDAP, and "Napoleon: the Comet Path of a Genius," a biography of the French leader that was one of Hitler's favorite books.

    [Sources: Wistrich, Robert. "Who's Who in Nazi Germany." MacMillan, 1982; Zentner, Christian. "Encyclopedia of the Third Reich." MacMillan, 1991.]

    Karl Brandt (1904-1948), SS-Gruppenfuehrer, personal physician of Adolf Hitler, co-director of the T-4 Euthanasia program and Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation. Born in Muehlausen, Alsace, Brandt became a physician in 1928. He joined the NSDAP in 1932, the SA in 1933 and the SS in 1934. On the recommendation of his adjutant Wilhelm Brueckner, Hitler named Brandt his personal physician in 1934. In the fall of 1939 Brandt was made co-director, with Philipp Bouhler of the T-4 Euthanasia program. After the program was shut down, Hitler appointed Brandt Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation, giving him control over all civilian and military medical facilities. Brandt remained in Hitler's good graces until the final month of the war, when Hitler learned that Brandt was preparing to give himself up to the advancing Americans. On April 16, 1945 he was arrested by the Gestapo and condemned to death by a court in Berlin. His life was saved by Heinrich Himmler who stalled the execution by asking for additional witnesses. On May 2, a few days after Hitler's suicide, Brandt was released by order of Karl Doenitz. He was rearrested by the British on May 23 and placed on trial as one of the main defendants at the Doctors' Trial in Nuremberg. In addition to his membership in the SS, Brandt was charged with special responsibility for the numerous medical experiments to which thousands of concentration camp inmates were subjected, as well as with the planning and execution of the Euthanasia program. Brandt was sentenced to death on August 20, 1947 and hanged on June 2, 1948 at Landsberg prison. Before his execution he was quoted as saying, "It is no shame to stand on this scaffold. I served my Fatherland as others before me."

    [Source: Zentner, Christian. "Encyclopedia of the Third Reich." MacMillan, 1991.]
    Record last modified:
    2014-01-23 00:00:00
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