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The sickly child that launched Hitler on a path of killing

By Irene Zoech
Berlin

October 17, 2003

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German historians have identified the family whose request to Adolf Hitler that their blind and deformed son be "put to sleep" was the catalyst for the Nazi euthanasia program.

The five-month-old boy, who was given a lethal drug after Hitler sent his own doctor to examine him, has been named as Gerhard Kretschmar, the son of a farm hand.

The case was to provide the rationale for a secret Nazi decree that led to "mercy killings" of almost 300,000 mentally and physically handicapped people. The Kretschmars wanted their son dead, but most of the other children were forcibly taken from their parents to be killed.

A few days after Gerhard died in 1939, 15 psychiatrists were summoned to Hitler's Chancellery and told that a secret euthanasia program - dreamed of by Hitler for more than a decade - was to be put into effect. Until now, the boy was referred to only as "Case K", the term used by Nazi doctors when the program was launched and at the subsequent Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Now, Gerhard's name heads the first comprehensive list of euthanasia victims unveiled in Berlin this month as a permanent reminder of one of Hitler's lesser-known extermination programs.

It was compiled over three years after painstaking research by German government archivists into 740 previously unknown files taken from the Chancellery and uncovered in archives of the Stasi, the former East German secret police. At his trial at Nuremberg, Hitler's personal doctor, Karl Brandt, revealed that an unnamed infant had provided the Nazis with the excuse to embark on creating a master race. The baby's father, Richard Kretschmar, from the small Saxony town of Pomssen, near Leipzig, had written to Hitler's office in early 1939 asking for permission to kill his son.

In his testimony, Dr Brandt said: "The father of a deformed child wrote to the Fuhrer with a request to be allowed to take the life of this child or this creature. Hitler ordered me to take care of this case. The child had been born blind, seemed to be idiotic, and a leg and parts of the arm were missing."

As was the case with many other victims, Gerhard Kretschmar's cause of death was recorded not as euthanasia but as "heart failure", according to documents at the church where he was buried. A month after the baby's killing, in August 1939, Hitler's Interior Ministry issued the decree ordering the systematic annihilation of mentally and physically disabled children.

The new report contains the most comprehensive analysis yet of Nazi records, including the hundreds of hospitals and clinics that took part in the Third Reich's program to eliminate those considered "unworthy of living". It contains names and case details of 200,000 of the program's estimated 275,000 victims. German Culture Minister Christina Weiss said the report had been drawn up to set the record straight, confront the truth and "restore some dignity to the victims".

The program was responsible for the deaths of up to 8000 children. By the beginning of 1940, six hospitals had been devoted to "processing" cases.

However, the newly discovered records show that it eventually extended to 296 medical facilities in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, in which children and adults were drugged, gassed or starved.

- Telegraph

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