When doing wrong was doing right and the impossible became the possible

Department of Nursing Practice and Education, Faculty of Health & Social Care, University of Hull, UK

In Nazi Germany, the mentally ill were forcibly sterilised and later killed, as were those with mental and physical handicaps, alcoholism and other disorders, as part of the drive to ensure “purity” of the Aryan race. Nursing as a profession is blighted by the lack of historical examination and accountability given to these policies (though medicine has addressed its role).

Some nurses participated willingly, while others refused. Many had been influenced by Nazi Party propaganda to believe that killing those of inferior race and intellect was the correct approach to ensure the on-going development of the Aryan races.

This aim of paper is to examine the history of these events and describe the propaganda and sociological forces which prevailed in nursing in Germany at that time. It will examine the methods used to kill the mentally ill, the handicapped, those with neurological disorders such as epilepsy and those who were considered “useless feeders.” The role of nurses, who saw killing as a legitimate part of their caring, will be described.

Symposium II: Euthanasia and Nazi Neuroscience
Friday, 8 July 2005, 1.30 - 3.00 pm

Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Tenth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005