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"Euthanasia" in the Third Reich

An unpublished private letter from Hitler, backdated to 1 September 1939, instigated the German Reich's secret programme of mass murder of people with mental illnesses or disabilities, which cost the lives of more than 200,000 patients by 1945. Up until August 1941, a central office in Berlin passed death sentences based on medical files and organised transport to six death camps, whereas in the years that followed it was the supervising doctors themselves who made the life or death decisions for patients in the relevant camps.

The administrative records of the central office in Berlin have not been passed on, but the Federal Archives (record group R 179) has the files of around 30,000 patients from the first phase of the "euthanasia" programme. The medical files of later victims and of "children's euthanasia" and the records of various participating German authorities are stored in state or communal archives in the German federal states and in Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic, whilst some remain in successor organisations to the hospitals and care institutions concerned. Further related holdings are kept in the archives of ecclesiastical organisations and universities.

Also of significance are the records held in state archives relating to the prosecution of offenders in the post-war era and the collections of memorials from the six former central death camps. The Federal Archives has additional important archives on the history of the "euthanasia" programme in holdings from the highest Reich authorities and in the film archive section.

In the light of public interest and the unclear source material, with the help of the German Research Foundation the Federal Archives have produced an inventory of sources on the history of the "euthanasia" outrage 1939-1945, which is available in electronic form and is supplemented and revised on an ongoing basis. The inventory contains information on more than 760 holdings from four states.

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