Creating Connections: Disabled People and the Holocaust

December 1, 2023

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Creating Connections: Disabled People and the Holocaust

By: Myriam Brenner, FSWC Education Program Coordinator

December 3 is recognized as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is a day to raise awareness about contributions made and challenges faced by those with disabilities, as well as breaking down our own personal biases and misinformed perceptions.

In the 1930’s, those identified with physical and/or mental disabilities in Germany became one of the early victim groups targeted by the Nazis. Disabled people were transferred to institutions across Germany and, once annexed, Austria, where they were murdered by gas, injected with lethal drugs or starved to death.

Helene Melanie Lebel, born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, was raised Catholic in Vienna, Austria. As a 19-year-old law student, she began to suffer from a mental illness and eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Following her diagnosis, Lebel was confined to the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Lebel and all patients at Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital, fell under the rule of the Nazi German government. The Nazis, in their effort to build a “pure Aryan race,” saw people with physical and/or mental disabilities as a threat to this genetically pure ideal.  In 1939, they began their T4 or Euthanasia Program, the systematic murder of institutionalized patients with disabilities in Germany.

In 1940, Lebel’s parents, still hopeful that she would be allowed to return home as her condition had improved, were informed that she had been transferred to Bavaria, Germany. Unbeknownst to them, she had actually been transferred to Brandenburg, Germany where, after a physical examination, Lebel was murdered by gas in a makeshift prison. Helen Melanie Lebel was one of 9,772 people gassed in one year in Brandenburg. Cause of death was reported as “acute schizophrenic excitement.”

The T4 or Euthanasia Program became the prototype for the systematic mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

CLICK HERE to read more about the persecution of disabled people during the Holocaust.

The Murder of People with Disabilities | Holocaust Encyclopedia (