Action 14f13, also called "Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) 14f13" and Aktion 14f13, was a campaign by Nazi Germany to terminate Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Also called invalid or prisoner euthanasia, the campaign culled the sick, elderly and those deemed no longer fit for work, from the rest of the prisoners in a selection process, after which they were killed. The Nazi campaign was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners.
A so-called "charitable ambulance" Gekrat bus
|Also known as||Sonderbehandlung 14f13|
|Location||Hartheim, Bernburg and Sonnenstein killing centers|
|Incident type||Deportations to extermination camps|
|Perpetrators||Heinrich Himmler, Philipp Bouhler, Viktor Brack, Werner Heyde, Horst Schumann, Richard Glücks, Arthur Liebehenschel|
|Organizations||Concentration Camps Inspectorate, SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (Amt D), Gemeinnützige Krankentransport GmbH", Deutsche Reichsbahn|
|Camp||Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, Gusen, Flossenbürg, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Groß-Rosen and Dachau|
|Memorials||Das Denkmal der grauen Busse Traveling monument of the grey Gekrat buses|
In spring 1941, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler met with Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, head of the Hitler Chancellery to discuss his desire to relieve concentration camps of excess ballast, sick prisoners and those no longer able to work. Bouhler was Hitler's agent for implementation of Aktion T4, the euthanasia program for the mentally ill, disabled and inmates of hospitals and nursing homes deemed unworthy of inclusion in Nazi society.
Himmler and Bouhler transferred technology and techniques used by Aktion T4 personnel to concentration camps and later to Einsatzgruppen and death camps, to efficiently kill unwanted prisoners and inconspicuously dispose of the bodies. Aktion T4 was officially terminated by Hitler on August 24, 1941 but it was continued by many of the physicians who had been involved, until Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945.
Bouhler instructed Oberdienstleiter Viktor Brack, the head of Hauptamt II (Main Office II) of the Hitler's Chancellery (Kanzlei des Führers) to implement the new order. Brack was already in charge of the various front operations of T4. The scheme operated under the Concentration Camps Inspector and the Reichsführer-SS under the name "Sonderbehandlung 14f13". The combination of numbers and letters was derived from the SS record-keeping system, 14 for the Concentration Camps Inspector, f for the German word deaths (Todesfälle) and 13 for the means of killing, in this case gassing in the T4 killing centers.[note 1] "Sonderbehandlung" ("special action"—literally "special handling") was the euphemistic term for execution or killing.
The operation began in April 1941, a panel of doctors began visiting concentration camps to select sick and incapacitated prisoners for "elimination". This panel included those already experienced from Aktion T4, such as professors Werner Heyde and Hermann Paul Nitsche and doctors Friedrich Mennecke, Curt Schmalenbach, Horst Schumann, Otto Hebold, Rudolf Lonauer, Robert Müller, Theodor Steinmeyer, Gerhard Wischer, Viktor Ratka and Hans Bodo Gorgaß. To speed up the process, camp commandants made a preliminary selection list, as they had done in the T4 operation. This left just a few questions to be answered, such as personal information, date of admission to the camp, diagnosis of incurable disease, war injuries, criminal referral based on the criminal code of the Third Reich and any previous offenses. Names of ballastexistenzen (dead weight prisoners) were to be compiled and presented to the medical doctors for withdrawal from service, which included any prisoner who had been unable to work for a long time or was substantially incapacitated and would not be able to return to work.
Prisoners in the preliminary selection had to report to the medical panel but there was no proper medical examination; the prisoners were questioned about their participation in World War I and about any war medals they might have received. Based on personnel and medical records, the panel decided how to classify each of the prisoners. The final assessment was made using the information in the reporting form and was limited to the decision as to whether or not the prisoner would be steered toward "special treatment" 14f13. The report form and results were sent for documentary registration at the T4 central office in Berlin.
Prisoners being considered for the preliminary selection were sometimes encouraged by the camp administration to come forward if they felt sick or unable to work. They were led to believe they would go to a "recovery camp", where they would have light duties. Many prisoners believed the lie and readily volunteered but, after they were gassed at the killing centers, the victims' belongings were sent back to the camp warehouse for sorting. Prisoners learned the true reason for the selection and even prisoners with serious illnesses stopped reporting to the infirmary.
The first known selection took place in April 1941 at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. By the summer, at least 400 prisoners from Sachsenhausen had been retired. During the same period, 450 prisoners from Buchenwald and 575 prisoners from Auschwitz were gassed at the Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre; Hartheim Euthanasia Centre was used to kill 1,000 prisoners from Mauthausen concentration camp. Between September and November 1941, 3,000 prisoners from Dachau and several thousand people from Mauthausen and neighboring Gusen concentration camp, were gassed at Hartheim. Prisoners from the Flossenbürg, Neuengamme and Ravensbrück camps were also selected and killed. After November, another 1,000 prisoners from Buchenwald, 850 from Ravensbrück and 214 from Groß-Rosen, were gassed at Sonnenstein Castle and Bernburg. From March to April 1942, some 1,600 women were selected at Ravensbrück and gassed at Bernburg.
The "medical reviews" are described in an excerpt from letters written by Dr. Friedrich Mennecke; during a selection at Buchenwald, Mennecke wrote to his wife;
Weimar, Nov. 25, '41 8:58 a.m.
First there were 40 forms to finish filling out from a 1st portion Aryan, on which my two other colleagues had already worked yesterday. Of these 40, I worked on about 15. ... Then came the "examination" of the pat.[ients], in other words, an introduction to the particulars & comparison with the notations in the files. We were not yet finished with these by noon because both my colleagues only worked in theory yesterday, so that I "post-examined" the ones who Schmalenbach (& I myself, this morning) had prepared & Müller, his. At 12:00 we first took a lunch break. ... Then we examined some more until around 4:00 p.m., in fact, I had 105 pat[ients], Müller 78 pat[ients], so that at the end, as 1st installment, 183 forms were done. As 2nd portion, now came a total of 1200 Jews, who will be entirely not first "examined", but rather with them, it's sufficient to pull from the files the reasons for arrest (often very extensive!) and transfer them to the forms. So, it's a purely theoretical job that takes us to Monday, certainly including benefit, perhaps even longer. Of this 2nd portion (Jews), today we did: I, 17; Müller 15. 5:00 sharp, we called it a day and went to dinner. ... The next few days will also go Just as I have described today, above – with exactly the same routine and the same work. After the Jews come about 300 Aryans as 3rd portion, who again will have to be "examined".— Friedrich Mennecke
Only three Nazi killing centers (NS-Tötungsanstalt) were used for the gassing of the invalided prisoners, Bernburg Euthanasia Centre (manager: Irmfried Eberl), Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre (manager: Horst Schumann) and Hartheim Euthanasia Centre (Rudolf Lonauer and Georg Renno). Under the code name „Aktion 14f13“ prisoners from Mauthausen and Gusen were murdered at Hartheim Castle; starting in July 1941.
After the doctors' commissions had invalided the concentration camps' prisoners, the camp administration had to provide them on request. They were transported either by the "Gekrat" or the Reichsbahn to one of the killing centers. The prisoners were examined for gold teeth by a prison doctor and labelled appropriately before being led into a gas chamber, where they were killed with carbon monoxide. After any gold teeth were removed, for dispatch to a central office in Berlin, the corpses were incinerated in the crematorium; some corpses were examined further before incineration.
The killing was carried out by the same staff, using the same means as used previously with the mentally ill in Aktion T4. A few administrative details were changed, in that the deaths were recorded by members of the respective camp administration; they informed relatives of the deaths, claiming illness as the cause. A detailed description was given by Vincent Nohe to the Linz Kriminalpolizei in September 1945, who were investigating Nazi war crimes that had taken place nearby. Nohe, who had worked as a "burner" in the crematorium at the Hartheim killing center, was convicted at the Dachau-Mauthausen Trial in 1946 and sentenced to death, for the murder of sick and incapacitated concentration camp prisoners and was executed in 1947.
Selections increasingly included political or other persecuted peoples, Jews and so-called asoziale. Pursuant to the general guidelines of the Bavarian police of August 1, 1936, those to be taken into Schutzhaft ("protective custody") were "gypsies, vagrants, tramps, the "work-shy", idlers, beggars, prostitutes, troublemakers, career criminals, rowdies, traffic violators, psychopaths and the mentally ill."
Shortages of labour for the war economy led to a Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI) decree on March 26, 1942, which was distributed to all camp commandants. In 1942, the CCI was incorporated into the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt under SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl as Amt D under SS-Brigadeführer Richard Glücks. The decree was signed by Arthur Liebehenschel, acting in Glücks' stead.
It has been made known via a report from a camp commandant, that of the 51 prisoners retired for Sonderbehandlung 14f13, after a while, 42 of these prisoners again became "capable of work" and consequently didn't need to be sent. From this, it is evident that the selection of prisoners is not proceeding according to the stated regulations. The examinations panel may only choose such prisoners who match the regulations and above all, are no longer able to work.... In order to administer the work set up at concentration camps, the prisoner workforce must be retained at the camp. The camp commandants of the concentration camps are asked to focus particular attention to this.
The Chief of the Central Office
A year later, the deteriorating war situation required further restrictions on selections, to ensure that every able-bodied worker could be put to work in the war economy. On April 27, 1943, Glücks presented a new circular decree with instructions to retire only those prisoners who were mentally ill or disabled.
The Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police has decided that in the future, only mentally ill prisoners may be retired by the doctors' panel assembled for Action 14f13. All other incapacitated prisoners unable to work (those sick with tuberculosis, bed-ridden cripples, etc.) are categorically excluded from this operation. Bed-ridden prisoners shall be groomed for corresponding work that they can perform from bed. In future, the order of the Reichsführer-SS is to be heeded closely. The fuel requirements for this purpose are therefore dropped.— Glücks
After these guidelines were issued, only the Hartheim killing center was needed and those at Bernburg and Sonnenstein were closed, bringing the first phase of Aktion 14f13 to an end.
According to a command from April 11, 1944, new guidelines were issued and began the second phase of Aktion 14f13 in which no forms were filled and selections were not made by a doctors' panel. The selection of the victims to die became the responsibility of camp administrations, usually the camp doctor. This did not exclude the physically ill who were no longer fit for work from being killed, which was done at the camp or by transferring the prisoners to a camp that had a gas chamber, such as Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen or Auschwitz. Those being gassed at Hartheim included forced laborers from eastern Europe, who were unfit for work, Soviet prisoners of war and Hungarian Jews, as well as concentration camp inmates. The last prisoner transport to Hartheim was on December 11, 1944, ending the operation. The gas chambers at Hartheim were dismantled and traces of their use were removed, as much as possible and the castle was used as an orphanage.
The number of people killed under Aktion 14f13 is not certain but scholarly literature puts the figure at between 15,000 and 20,000 people for the period ending in 1943.
The Nazi Euthanasia Centre at Bernburg (German: NS-Tötungsanstalt Bernburg) operated from 21 November 1940 to 30 July 1943 in a separate wing of the State Sanatorium and Mental Hospital (Landes-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt) in Bernburg on the River Saale in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It was one of several euthanasia centres run by the Nazis under their official "Euthanasia Programme", later referred to after the war as Action T4. A total of 9,384 sick and handicapped people from 33 welfare institutions and nursing homes as well as around 5,000 prisoners from six concentration camps were killed here in a gas chamber using carbon monoxide gas.
Today there is a memorial in Bernburg commemorating the victims of the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre.Ernst Krankemann
Ernst Krankemann (19 December 1895 – 28 July 1941) was an infamous Kapo in Auschwitz concentration camp.
A German criminal, he was transferred into Auschwitz on 29 August 1940. Although generally disliked amongst the SS, Krankemann had powerful supporters such as Karl Fritzsch, the camp's Lagerführer (camp leader and deputy of camp commandant Rudolf Hoess).As a Kapo, Krankemann held great power over other inmates of Auschwitz, including the authority to murder. One infamous incident involved Krankemann ordering other inmates to pull a very heavy roller over a collapsed inmate, killing him.On 28 July 1941, as part of the newly extended adult euthanasia Action 14f13, Krankemann was chosen along with around 500 other inmates to be taken by train to a converted mental hospital at Sonnenstein near Danzig. These were the first Auschwitz inmates to be gassed, although they were not gassed at Auschwitz itself.Erwin Lambert
Erwin Hermann Lambert (7 December 1909 – 15 October 1976) was a perpetrator of the Holocaust. In profession, he was a master mason, building trades foreman, Nazi Party member and member of the Schutzstaffel with the rank of SS-Unterscharführer (corporal). He supervised construction of the gas chambers for the Action T4 euthanasia program at Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar, and then at Sobibór and Treblinka extermination camps during Operation Reinhard. He specialized in building larger gas chambers that killed more people than previous efforts in the extermination program.Franz Hössler
Franz Hößler, also Franz Hössler (listen ; 4 February 1906 – 13 December 1945) was a Nazi German SS-Obersturmführer and Schutzhaftlagerführer at the Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dora-Mittelbau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during World War II. Captured by the Allies at the end of the war, Hößler was charged with crimes against humanity in the First Bergen-Belsen Trial, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging at Hameln Prison in 1945.Friedrich Brauner
Friedrich Brauner (1889 – March 23, 1942) was an Austrian fitter and resistance fighter against the German Nazi Reich. He was deported to the concentration camp Ravensbrück and then murdered at the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre.Gemeinnützige Krankentransport GmbH
The Gemeinnützige Krankentransport GmbH listen (known as "Gekrat" or "GeKraT", commonly translated as "Charitable Ambulance") was a National Socialist subdivision of the Action T4 organization. The euphemistically named company transported sick and disabled people to the Nazi killing centers to be murdered under the Nazi eugenics program and was known for the gray buses it used.German casualties in World War II
Statistics for German World War II military casualties are divergent and contradictory. The wartime military casualty figures compiled by German High Command, up until January 31, 1945, are often cited by military historians when covering individual campaigns in the war. A recent study by the German historian Rüdiger Overmans found that the German High Command statistics are not reliable, he estimated German military dead at 5.3 million, including 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders, in Austria and in east-central Europe. The German government still maintains that its records list 4.3 million dead and missing military personnel. Civilian deaths during the war include air raid deaths, estimates of German civilians killed only by Allied strategic bombing have ranged from around 350,000 to 500,000.
Civilian deaths, due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and the forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union are disputed and range from 500,000 to over 2.0 million. According to the German government Suchdienste (Search Service) there were 300,000 German victims (including Jews) of Nazi racial, political and religious persecution. This statistic does not include 200,000 German people with disabilities who were murdered in the Action T4 and Action 14f13 euthanasia programs.Hartheim Euthanasia Centre
The Hartheim Euthanasia Centre (German: NS-Tötungsanstalt Hartheim) was a killing centre involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, also referred to as Action T4. The killing centre was housed in Hartheim Castle in the municipality of Alkoven, near Linz, Austria.Horst Schumann
Horst Schumann (1 May 1906 – 5 May 1983), SS-Sturmbannführer (major) and medical doctor, conducted sterilization and castration experiments at Auschwitz and was particularly interested in the mass sterilization of Jews by means of X-rays.Karl Brandt
Karl Brandt (8 January 1904 – 2 June 1948) was a German physician and Schutzstaffel (SS) officer in Nazi Germany. Trained in surgery, Brandt joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and became Adolf Hitler's escort doctor in August 1934. A member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof, he was selected by Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's Chancellery, to administer the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Brandt was later appointed the Reich Commissioner of Sanitation and Health (Bevollmächtigter für das Sanitäts- und Gesundheitswesen). Accused of involvement in human experimentation and other war crimes, Brandt was indicted in late 1946 and faced trial before a U.S. military tribunal along with 22 others in United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and later hanged on 2 June 1948.Life unworthy of life
The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German: "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which, according to the Nazi regime of the time, had no right to live. Those individuals were targeted to be euthanized by the state, usually through the compulsion or deception of their caretakers. The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. It is similar to but more restrictive than the concept of "Untermensch", subhumans, as not all "subhumans" were considered unworthy of life (Slavs, for instance, were deemed useful for slave labor).
The euthanasia program was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope from Action T4 ending officially in 1941 when public protests stopped the program, through the Action 14f13 against concentration camp inmates. The euthanasia of people with disabilities continued more discreetly until the end of World War II. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, and Romani.Maria Michał Kowalski
Jan Maria Michał Kowalski (25 December 1871 – 18 May 1942) was a Polish priest, the first Minister General of the order of the Mariavites.Martin Gottfried Weiss
Martin Gottfried Weiss alternatively spelled Weiß (3 June 1905 – 29 May 1946) was the commandant of the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 at the time of his arrest. He also served from April 1940 until September 1942 as the commandant of Neuengamme concentration camp, and later, from November 1943 until May 1944, as the fourth commandant of Majdanek concentration camp. He was executed for war crimes.Muselmann
Muselmann (pl. Muselmänner, the German version of Musulman, meaning Muslim) was a slang term used among captives of World War II Nazi concentration camps to refer to those suffering from a combination of starvation (known also as "hunger disease") and exhaustion and who were resigned to their impending death. The Muselmann prisoners exhibited severe emaciation and physical weakness, an apathetic listlessness regarding their own fate, and unresponsiveness to their surroundings owing to the barbaric treatment by the Nazis and prisoner functionaries.
Some scholars argue that the term possibly comes from the Muselmann's inability to stand for any time due to the loss of leg muscle, thus spending much of the time in a prone position, recalling the position of the Musulman (Muslim) during prayers. It has also been suggested by Giorgio Agamben that the term hails from the Islamic fatalism which characterizes Sunnite orthodoxy, i.e. the idea that there are no such things as causality but that God performs every occurrence in the world, meaning that everything including men simply undergoes the workings of God and does not act on its own. Muselmann would then be the darkest interpretation of this fatalism.Nazi concentration camps
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (German: Konzentrationslager, KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS) took full control of the police and the concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35. Himmler expanded the role of the camps to hold so-called "racially undesirable elements", such as Jews, Romanis, Serbs, Poles, disabled people, and criminals. The number of people in the camps, which had fallen to 7,500, grew again to 21,000 by the start of World War II and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.The concentration camps were administered since 1934 by the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI) which in 1942 was merged into SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt and they were guarded by SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV).
Holocaust scholars draw a distinction between concentration camps (described in this article) and extermination camps, which were established by Nazi Germany for the industrial-scale mass murder of Jews in the ghettos by way of gas chambers.Operation Reinhard
Operation Reinhard or Operation Reinhardt (German: Aktion Reinhard or Aktion Reinhardt; also Einsatz Reinhard or Einsatz Reinhardt) was the codename of the secretive World War II German plan to exterminate Poland's Jews in the General Government district of German-occupied Poland. This deadliest phase of the Holocaust was marked by the introduction of extermination camps.As many as two million Jews were sent to Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka to be put to death in purpose-built gas chambers. In addition, mass-killing facilities, using Zyklon B, were developed at about the same time at the Majdanek concentration camp and at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, near the earlier-established Auschwitz I camp for ethnically Polish prisoners.Philipp Bouhler
Philipp Bouhler (11 September 1899 – 19 May 1945) was a senior Nazi Party functionary who was both a Reichsleiter (National Leader) and Chief of the Chancellery of the Führer of the NSDAP. He was also the SS official responsible for the Aktion T4 euthanasia program that killed more than 70,000 handicapped adults and children in Nazi Germany, as well as co-initiator of Aktion 14f13, also called "Sonderbehandlung" ("special treatment"), that killed 15,000–20,000 concentration camp prisoners.
Bouhler was arrested on 10 May 1945 by American troops. He committed suicide on 19 May 1945 while in the U.S. internment camp at Zell am See in Austria.Schloss Hartheim
Schloss Hartheim, also known as Hartheim Castle, is a castle at Alkoven in Upper Austria, some 14 kilometres (9 mi) from Linz, Austria. It was built by Jakob von Aspen in 1600, and it is a prominent Renaissance castle in the country. The building became notorious as one of the Nazi Euthanasia killing centers, where the killing program Action T4 took place.
In 1898, Prince Camillo Heinrich Starhemberg (1835 – 1900) donated the castle as a gift to the Upper Austria Charity Organization. With the help of additional donations, they used the castle from the beginning of the 20th century as a psychiatric institution (German: Psychiatrische Anstalt, but originally called the Idioten-Anstalt).Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre
The Sonnenstein Euthanasia Clinic (German: NS-Tötungsanstalt Sonnenstein; literally "National Socialist Killing Institution Sonnenstein") was a Nazi euthanasia or extermination centre located in the former fortress of Sonnenstein Castle near Pirna in eastern Germany, where a hospital had been established in 1811.
In 1940 and 1941, the facility was used by the Nazis to exterminate around 15,000 people in a process that was labelled as euthanasia. The majority of victims were suffering from psychological disorders and intellectual disability, but their number also included inmates from the concentration camps. The institute was set up after the beginning of the Second World War as part of a Reich-wide, centrally coordinated and largely secret programme called Action T4 for the "Elimination of life unworthy of life" (Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens) or the killing of what the Nazis called "dead weight existences" (Ballastexistenzen). Today, the Pirna Sonnenstein Memorial Site (Gedenkstätte Pirna Sonnenstein) stands to commemorate the victims of these crimes.
The Nazi euthanasia facility at Sonnenstein Castle also supported the personnel as well as the organisational and technical preparation of the Holocaust. It was one of six that were in operation in Saxony, and was — not least due to the number of victims — one of the worst sites of Nazi war crimes in the state.
The methods of gassing prisoners at Sonnestein were later adopted at Auschwitz to exterminate the Jewish prisoners.