Every year, on 27 January, the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day honouring the victims of the Holocaust. Most people are not aware that the Nazi genocide started with disabled people. Persons with handicaps were the first guinea pigs designated for all extermination, sterilization and euthanasia techniques – later applied also to homosexuals, gypsies and political opponents – that finally culminated in the Holocaust of the Jewish population.
Sterilization, internment and deportation campaigns of people with disabilities started in 1933, in the months immediately after Hitler’s rise. The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring became one of the means by which the Nazi party implemented its racial and eugenic legislation. After an intensive sterilization campaign -the little known T4 project – in the second half of 1939, they proceeded to systematically kill young people and adults with disabilities. The National Socialist ideology considered these persons as imperfect human beings, and their lives as not worth living.
Between January 1940 and August 1941 (before the Holocaust began), 70,273 physically and mentally disabled people – men, women, teens, boys, and girls – were murdered by the Nazis. Though they never even laid eyes on the disabled person they were evaluating, the Nazi doctors read the medical files and, if from the words on the page, the person was deemed “unfit” or an “economic burden on society”, the doctor placed a red X at the bottom of the form. Three doctors were to read each medical file, and when two of them made a red X on the page, the disabled person’s fate was sealed. Most were murdered within 1-2 hours.
Jersey is taking part in a worldwide quilt-making project called The 70273 Project that commemorates the lives of the disabled people murdered by the Nazis. Members of the public are invited to drop in and sew a block on 4 February 2017 at St Lawrence Parish Hall between 10am and 3pm. You do not need any experience of quilting or even be able to sew. There is an interview with the organisers by the Jersey Evening Post here.
As a charity that supports minorities, many of whom were targeted by the Nazis, this project is one that we urge you to give your time to. It doesn’t take long to make a block for the quilt and, with Holocaust Memorial Day less than a week away, it is a different way to remember those who lost their lives.
If you cannot attend on 4 February but would like to make a block, download the instructions here.
If you want to find out more about this period of hidden history, the Holocaust Memorial Day website has more information.