German historians have identified the family whose request to Adolf Hitler that their disabled son be "put to sleep" was the catalyst for the Nazi euthanasia programme. 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.
ShareA few days after Gerhard died in 1939, 15 psychiatrists were summoned to Hitler's Chancellery and told that a secret euthanasia programme - dreamed of by Hitler for more than a decade - was to be put into effect. Until this month, the boy was referred to only as "Case K", the term used by Nazi doctors when the programme was launched and at the subsequent Nuremberg war-crimes trials. Now, Gerhard's name heads the first comprehensive list of victims of the euthanasia killings, unveiled in Berlin this month as a permanent and chilling reminder of one of Hitler's lesser-known extermination programmes. It was compiled over three years after painstaking research by German government archivists into 740 previously unknown files relating to the euthanasia programme. The files, originally taken from Hitler's Chancellery, were uncovered in archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police.
It was during his trial at Nuremberg that Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal doctor, 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 blind and deformed 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."
The boy is believed to have been given luminal in the form of a dissolving tablet, causing unconsciousness and death after three to five days. The drug was later used on other victims of the euthanasia programme. Only 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 programme to wipe out the lives of people considered "unworthy of living". It contains names and case details of 200,000 of the programme's estimated 275,000 victims. (Read more.)