Between 1939 and 1945, hundreds of thousands of persons with psychiatric or physical disabilities were killed in Nazi Germany and its annexed and occupied territories. The basis of these killings was often the eugenic notion of Volksgesundheit – i.e. the health or social hygiene of a racially defined community of ‘Aryan’ Germans – which promoted a hierarchy of human value that assigned least worth to persons with infirmities, disabilities, or genetic irregularities. While physicians from all medical disciplines embraced this mindset, psychiatrists in particular played a crucial role in regime-sponsored euthanasia that involved the murder of victims by gas, starvation, or lethal injection.
The label of ‘racial outsiders’ imposed on Jews by the dictatorship exacerbated an already precarious situation for Jewish psychiatric patients. The PMJ documents reveal how such patients were segregated from ‘Aryans’ in clinics, faced the loss of carers and helpers who were prohibited from working for Jews, or were murdered as a result of Nazi brutality and euthanasia policies.