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Jim Rakete's portraits of disability

January 27, 2017

German star photographer Jim Rakete presents arresting portraits of disabled people as Germany marks Holocaust Remembrance Day with a special focus on the victims of the Nazis' "euthanasia" killings.

Jim Rakete exhibition "Wir sind viele" | Friedhelm Fleischmann
Image: v. Bodelschwinghschen Stiftungen Bethel

Germany commemorates the victims of the Nazis' "T4" program at this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. Within this euthanasia program, more than 70,000 disabled people - "burdensome lives" according to Nazi propaganda - were systematically killed.

As German marks the Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, moving portraits of disable individuals by Jim Rakete are being shown at the Paul Löbe House located in Berlin's government quarter. The star photographer captured individuals with a wide variety of both physical and mental disabilities.

Systematic annihilation

The Greek term "euthanasia" literally means "gentle death." In ancient Greece, it stood for a fast, painless death not caused by external forces. The term is highly problematic in Germany even today as the Nazis used it to sugarcoat mass murders.

Even before World War II, eugenics - practices to improve the genetic quality - and Social Darwinism based on notions of natural selection were applied to promote policies known as "racial hygiene." Social Darwinism was the Nazis' justification to kill people they regarded as weak and inferior.

In October 1939, Adolf Hitler issued a "euthanasia decree," allowing for the killing of people whose lives were not deemed worth living - the first systematic murders in the Third Reich. In the decree, the murders were veiled as "mercy deaths." Children with disabilities and adults suffering from mental or hereditary diseases or syphilis were categorized as not worthy of living, in particular if they belonged to what the Nazis deemed an "inferior race."

The Nazis' 'Aktion T4' and its victims

Hitler's chancellery was to organize and execute the killings, hidden by yet another smokescreen: a specially-created department for medical and nursing institutions (RAG).

The project was called "Aktion T 4," short for the department's address at Berlin's Tiergartenstrasse 4; six centers were set up nationwide.

By 1941, at least 120,000 people both with and without disabilities had been gassed, shot or killed via lethal injection. Their relatives were notified of the alleged sudden, unexpected deaths by special registry offices created on site.

jhi/db/kbm (epd, zukunft-braucht-erinnerung.de, gedenkort-t4.eu)