My husband Ken is a history teacher and one of the reasons he so enjoys teaching World History to his students is because of the lessons learned… or, I should say, the lessons not learned. All too often the worst moments in history have a way of repeating themselves. Mankind hasn’t learned much from history. The same mistakes are still made. And the result? Nations still rise up against nations as they’ve done for centuries.
But there’s one lesson in modern history that Ken feels especially strong about. It is, you might guess, connected with the horrors that happened during the Nazi occupation of Germany. History there, at least, God willing, will never repeat itself.
So I hope you don’t mind if I share a history lesson with you today. It has to do with something close to my heart too. It’s the killing of thousands of retarded people which began in Germany in the summer of 1939.
Under a cloak of secrecy and often with the consent of parents, organized euthanasia was set up for infants, children, and adults. The secret orders came directly from Hitler himself, and these orders — written on his personal stationery — are the only written document connecting him to the death of 6 million Jews.
During 1940 though, many Germans became aware of what was happening. They saw the buses that came to the hospitals for mentally ill children, buses that took these kids away, never to return.
And here’s the interesting thing. For the only time in 12 years of Nazi rule, there was public outcry about this. Many people were afraid the program would be extended to elderly folks who were senile or to disabled soldiers. And so on August 24th of 1941, Hitler ordered systematic euthanasia stopped, but he planned to resume it after the war. But the killing of disabled children by starvation never did stop.
This is a sad and shocking lesson from history. But have we truly learned from it? Can we say for certain that this will never happen again? I don’t know… I can’t say. I do know one thing we haven’t learned, one thing from history that even now is dangerously close repeating itself.
And that is, the attitude, the philosophy, the moral (or I should say amoral) groundwork which spawns such awful acts. Because it was the Nazi judges and physicians who had talked of eliminating those with “lives devoid of value.” I mean these same people called disabled and mentally ill individuals “useless mouths to feed with no right to life.”
Does that sound familiar? Are we hearing history begin to repeat itself? For the sake of the disabled, for the sake of those who are mentally ill, and for the sake of our own nation, I do hope we will learn from history lessons.
Joni and Friends Radio Broadcast #2086. Airdate April 30, 1990
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