Nazi Euthanasia Program and the Church

The technique of killing by gas asphyxiation, used so successfully in the Nazi death camps, began in the German “Euthanasia Program” in the summer of 1939.

In their quest for the perfect Aryan race, the Nazis gassed 70,273 children and adults between the summer of 1939 and August of 1941.  Their crime — mental illness or physical disability.  These crimes deemed them “unworthy of life.”  The “Euthanasia Program” was aimed at Germans, not Jews, though it was fine if some Jews were murdered there.  Here began the deception – a physical exam by a doctor, followed by an invitation to disrobe and shower, only to be asphyxiated by carbon monoxide.

The program ended in August 1941, when public awareness led to Hitler’s fear of domestic resistance.     At its closing, 92 staff members were transferred to the Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Sobibor, Belzek and Treblinka) where the skill of gassing humans was used on a larger scale.

But here is what I learned today from Gitta Sereny’s book, Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience – the Catholic Church knew about the Euthanasia Program from the beginning and did not object in any way until the spring of 1940, and even then the objection was meek.  Sereny lays out the evidence from oral interviews as well as a review of transcripts from the 1967 Frankfurt Euthanasia trials.

Sereny concludes that, “[a]ccording to all the evidence now on hand, whether knowledge was official or unofficial, obtained through fair means or foul, transmitted through practicing or lapsed priests, it was literally impossible for the Church – which has what has been called the ‘best information service in the world’ at its disposal – to have been in ignorance.”   (Sereny at 74).

The fact of the Church’s indifference to the mass murder of the Jews is well known.  But who knew that they were also indifferent to the murder of non-Jewish Germans who were “unworthy of life.”


  • Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York, NY. Basic Books. 2010.
  • Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945. New York, NY. Bantam Books. 1975.
  • Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience. New York, NY. Random House. 1974.

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