jewish children

People aren’t usually evil. Nor are the easily accepting of evil. Usually, in order to get people to accept evil, it has to be hidden in a way. It has to be slipped in when they aren’t looking…slowly, so that it is accepted as normal…or a new normal. When Hitler ordered the systematic murder of the mentally ill and handicapped people in 1939, the people of Germany were outraged. Never before had any leader made such a boldly, callous move. Like throwing a frog in a pot of boiling water, they jumped…fought back.

Hitler moved too fast, and the people rebelled. The program, known as Hitler’s Euthanasia Department that began in 1939, came under the heading of unhidden evil. Hitler misjudged his people. He thought they would follow blindly along. When they began complaining about the T.4 program, which began as the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective,” Hitler had to act. He had been transporting children from all over Germany to a Special Psychiatric Youth Department and killing them. Later, certain criteria were established for non-Jewish children. They had to be “certified” mentally ill, schizophrenic, or incapable of working for one reason or another. Jewish children already in mental hospitals, whatever the reason or whatever the prognosis, were automatically to be subject to the program. The victims were either injected with lethal substances or were led to “showers” where the children sat as gas flooded the room through water pipes. The program was then expanded to adults. The program was heinous in every way.

Before long the outraged protests began mounting within Germany, especially by doctors and clergy. Some of them even dared to write to Hitler directly and describe the T.4 program as “barbaric.” Others circulated their opinions more discreetly. Heinrich Himmler, was the head of the SS then, and the man who would direct the systematic extermination of European Jewry. Himmler had only one regret…that the SS had not been put in charge of the T.4 program. He says of the protesting, “We know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless uproar among the people.” Finally, in 1941, Bishop Count Clemens von Galen denounced the euthanasia program from his pulpit. Hitler was concerned that other nations would get involved with such publicity about his program. He ordered the program suspended on August 18, 1941…at least in Germany. But 50,000 people had already fallen victim to it.

Hitler was not to be deterred. He now knew that he had to keep his programs hidden, if he was going to be able to carry out his plans. So, he revived the program in occupied Poland. The people there already had no say in the matter, and he hoped that it would be far enough from Germany so that the German people would not know what was going on. It worked for a time, but in the end, the world would know about the evil he tried so hard to keep hidden, and in the end the number of murder victims was far more than a mere 50,000…it was more like 11 million people.

I was thinking about Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 Jewish children from the brutal activities, and almost certain death that was being dealt out by Hitler during World War II. Of course, Sir Winton wasn’t the only person who stepped up to help wage their own battle against the Third Reich. Many people in Nazi occupied areas took in families in desperate need. When word is the deportations to the ghettos came down, some parents had to make the horrible choice to give their children to friends and neighbors to “hide” them in plain site, raising them as their own, and everyone hoping to be able to return them to their own parents after the war. The problem was that so many of the parents were killed in the camps.

After the war was over, many of these children did not remember their parents. They were too young when they were given to people to care for. That created a new and almost more difficult situation. Some of the foster parents had fallen in love with the children in their care, and the viler knew no other family. Still, they were not their children. It was a heart wrenching situation. The other problem was that due to bombings, many of the homes housing these “hidden” children were gone, and they had no way to let anyone know where they had gone. That made it even more difficult to return the children. And some people couldn’t bear to part with the children anyway. That left parents devastated and without recourse.

Some children were reunited with their parents quickly and some took years…if ever. I wonder about the ones that took years, because of the immense loss they must have felt over so much lost time. You just can’t get that time back, and you can’t change whatever the children endured in their lives. Everyone just had to let go of the past and go forward, as best they could. There was no way to go back to their pre-war lives. Each had changed, some were forever missing, and some were lost to the horrific hatred that was Hitler’s Third Reich.

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