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The fate of the mentally ill in Germany during the Third Reich1

  • Joachim-Ernst Meyer (a1)

This paper surveys the measures taken against mental patients in Germany during the National Socialist regime. It covers the eugenic sterilization programme, the killing of handicapped children, the so called Action T4 (the killing of adult psychiatric patients) and the second phase of Action T4 after its official termination, i.e. between 1941 and 1945. The possible social and political causes of these measures, and the attitude of German psychiatrists to them are discussed. In particular, attention is drawn to a prevalent fear of national degeneration, to social Darwinism, and the ideas of Binding & Hoche on ‘permission for the extermination of worthless life’.

Corresponding author
2Address for correspondence: Professor J. E. Meyer, Psychiatrische Klinik, von Sieboldstr. 5, 3400 Göttingen, Germany FRG.
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Based on the 10th Aubrey Lewis Lecture, delivered at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, on 4 November 1987.

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G. Aly & K. H. Roth (1984). The legalisation of mercy killings in medical and nursing institutions in Nazi Germany from 1938 until 1941. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 7, 145163.

G. Bock (1986). Zwangssterilisation im Nationalsozialismus. Westdeutscher Verlag: Opladen.

H. Lauter & J. E. Meyer (1982). Mercy killing without consent. Historical comments on a controversial issue. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 65, 134141.

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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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