"These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders...."
--Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg

The Nuremberg Precedent

"Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in basic attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived."

--Dr. Leo Alexander at Nuremberg

The Nuremberg Trials were a unique proceeding, by which the primary victorious powers of World War II--the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France--determined to put the leaders of Nazi Germany on trial before an international military tribunal. The crimes were, in the eyes of the convenors, "crimes against civilization," so extraordinary as to demand prosecution of this sort. The crimes fell into three categories: crimes against the peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity.

During the first trial, 24 leading figures in the Nazi regime were tried on one or more of the three counts, and additionally, with conspiracy to carry out the crimes in the other three counts. Following this Four Power trial, the United States proceeded on its own, with what is called the Nazi Doctors trial, in which 23 doctors and Nazi officials went on trial for carrying out crimes against humanity, against the German population itself. About 16 people in each trial were convicted, many of whom were hanged for their crimes.

The theory behind the prosecutions was laid out in the opening address for the United States, given by the U.S. Chief of Counsel, Justice Robert H. Jackson. Jackson (originally from Pennsylvania) stressed that the prosecution was targetting the men who were responsible for criminal policies, "men of station," "the planners and designers." It was implicit in this prosecution that the guilty could not have known every individual who would die by his order; but it was made crystal clear, that the individual who orders the policy, holds individual responsibility for the murderous result.

We quote Justice Jackson:

"The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched....

"The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority in back of all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders....

"It is not the purpose in my part of this case to deal with the individual crimes. I am dealing with the common plan or design for crime and will not dwell upon individual offenses. My task is only to show the scale on which these crimes occurred, and to show that these are the men who were in the responsible positions and who conceived the plan and design which renders them answerable, regardless of the fact that the plan was actually executed by others....

"The Charter recognizes that one who has committed criminal acts may not take refuge in superior orders nor in the doctrine that his crimes were acts of state....

"The real complaining party at your bar is Civilization.... The refuge of the defendants can only be their hope that International Law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law. Civilization asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance...."

And important the criminals were, including such individuals as Hermann Goering, head of the Air Force and for many years chief of the war economy effort; Fritz Sauckel, head of the forced-labor program; Hans Frank, the Governor-General of Poland; Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick; and Albert Speer, Hitler's Director of Armaments and successor to Goering in responsibility for the war economy. These were not the individuals who ran the work camps or the death camps, or turned on the gas, or shot the prisoners. They were the ones who gave the orders under which this policy was carried out.

Knew or Should Have Known

Justice Jackson made it clear in his closing address in the first trial, that individuals with such policy-making authority, held personal responsibility for the monstrous crimes that were documented to have occurred. The defendants often sought to answer the charges, he said, by saying that they hadn't known what was going on.

Jackson insisted they were in fact guilty, by way of the conspiracy in which they had participated. "These are rules which every society has found necessary in order to reach men, like these defendants, who never get blood on their hands, but who lay plans that result in the shedding of blood...."

Jackson then ridiculed the claims by Goering, and many others, that they had no idea of the atrocities being committed by the organizations which they headed. "They do protest too much," he said. "They deny knowing what was common knowledge...."

In other words, they knew, or should have known, the consequences of their policies and their actions.

The Nazi Policies

It is common mis-knowledge today, that Nazi policies were basically those of building up a military-industrial complex, of one-man rule, or of marching Jewish people into gas chambers. Such specification misses the root which generates fascist policies.

The root of Nazi ideology comes from the rejection of man's nature as a creature with creative God-given intelligence and responsibility (even though many Nazis claimed to be Christians). Such a rejection leads to cultural pessimism, the idea that man cannot use his reason to solve the problems he faces; thus man turns to mysticism (often of a racial sort). The Nazi ideology also embraced Social Darwinism, the theory that only the strong are fit to survive, and this was often combined with a cost-cutting mentality, which views people as defined by their usefulness in accomplishing a particular task.

Thus, the Nazi movement promoted what looked like a moral family life, for those of the right blood stock and race, but its devotees were prepared to carry out the most hideous atrocities against "outsiders," if it were deemed necessary for the safety and survival of the race.

From the time of Hitler's takeover, the measures taken cohered with this outlook. Organizations representing the poor and downtrodden--such as labor unions--were crushed. Living conditions were suppressed, in order to permit the buildup of the armaments industry. Laws were passed which sought to cut down on the expense of maintaining those who were either of the wrong "stock," or not totally capable of working to the fullest. Concentration camps were set up, first for the political problems, and then increasingly for other "undesirables," like Jews and Gypsies.

While these were Hitler's policies, they were also the policies of many of his financial backers, not only in Germany, but internationally. Hitler's Economics Minister, until 1937, Hjalmar Schacht, acted virtually as a representative of the British-dominated international banking community, in implementing fascist labor policies. It was only when these policies came to their logical conclusion, in the launching of Hitler's war to the East, that Schacht left the government. In fact, there was an international movement that shared the Nazi ideology, a movement that explicitly opposed the "pedagogy of progress in every sphere" which Christianity had promoted and made possible. (This view was directly expressed by Armin Mohler, an active organizer for National Socialism, and the coiner of the term Conservative Revolution for the fascist movements of the 1920s and 30s.)

Cost-Cutting and Useless Eaters

The social policy which cohered with this overall Nazi outlook, was laid out on the table in the Nuremberg Trials, including the trials of the Nazi Doctors. The policy was one of dehumanization, which began with deciding that some lives were not worthy to be lived. We quote Dr. Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist who formulated the core theory of the doctors' trials:

"Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in basic attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually, the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted, then finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitatable sick" [Alexander analyzed this process in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, in 1949].

In other words, is a person useful to society, or not? If not, don't worry about why, or what could be done. Just get him or her out of the way.

This anti-human attitude toward the sick was actually spelled out in a book by the Nazi Director of Public Health in the Ministry of the Interior, Dr. Arthur Guett, in 1935. Guett said:

"The ill-conceived `love of thy neighbor' has to disappear, especially in relation to inferior or asocial creatures. It is the supreme duty of a national state to grant life and livelihood only to the healthy and hereditarily sound portion of the people in order to secure the maintenance of a hereditarily sound and racially pure folk for all eternity...."

Hitler himself coined the phrase "life not worthy to be lived," when he ordered the expansion of the euthanasia program in 1939. But the concept was embedded in the Schachtian, fascist economic system much earlier. In the fourth volume of a little series called Doctors of Death (Ferni Publishers, Geneva, 1976), author Philippe Aziz outlines the propaganda that the Hitler regime put out to build support for the genocidal, "useless eater" policies.

Beginning in 1934, children's textbooks contained problems with cost-accounting comparisons, like the following:

"Problem 97. A mental patient costs 4 RM [Reichsmarks] each day. A crippled person costs 3.50 RM per day. In many cases, a civil servant earns only 4 RM a day, an office worker barely 3.50 RM, an illiterate worker less than 2 RM per family head.

"a) Analyze these figures on the basis of the fact that in Germany there are 300,000 mental patients in the institutions.

"b) On the basis of 4 RM each per day, what is their total cost each year?

"c) How many marriage loans of 1,000 RM each could be obtained each year with this money?"

At the National Socialist Party Congress in 1934, this was also discussed. Dr. Wagner declared:

"The economic burden represented by people suffering from hereditary diseases is a danger for the State and for society. In all, it is necessary to spend 301 million Reichsmarks per year for treatment, without counting the expenditures for 200,000 drunkards and about 400,000 psychopaths."

The implication was clear. However, Hitler did not give his general order for killing off the insane (and others) until the war began, and resources became even scarcer. The order was written by hand by Hitler in October 1939--and backdated by him to the first day of the war, in September. In preparing it, he had stated that he "considered it to be proper that the `life unworthy of life' of severely mentally ill persons be eliminated by actions that bring about death." In this way, "a certain saving in hospitals, doctors, and nursing personnel could be brought about." The title of Hitler's order was "The Destruction of Lives Unworthy of Life," and the standard was, as the order said, that the patients "considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health, be accorded a mercy death."

As a result of that order, at least 100,000 Germans were put to death: 70-80,000 patients in medical and nursing homes; 10-20,000 invalids and disabled people in prisons; 3,000 children between three and thirteen who needed special care. In addition to all this, were the millions and millions of Jews, Gypsies, and other "undesirables" who were killed, or worked to death, in concentration camps.

The Case of Wilhelm Frick

Nazi Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick was tried in the Nuremberg trial of the so-called "majors" (major war criminals), and was hanged for his crimes on October 16, 1946.

Below, we excerpt some of the evidence presented at his second trial, which has an eerie similarity to arguments today:

Presentation of Evidence

January 16, 1946:

"One category of Frick's contribution to the planning of, and preparation for, aggressive war deserves special notice. This is the systematic killing of persons regarded as useless to the German war machine, such as the insane, the crippled, and aged. ... These killings were carried out in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums....

"I now offer Document 1556-PS, Exhibit USA-716. This is an official report, dated December 1941, of the Czechoslovak War Crimes Commission entitled: `Detailed Statement on the Murdering of Ill and Aged People in Germany.' "

1) The murdering can be traced back to a secret law which was released some time in the summer of 1940,"

2) Besides the Chief Physician of the Reich, Dr. L. Conti, the Reichsführer SS Himmler, the Reich Minister of the Interior Dr. Frick, as well as other men, the following participated in the introduction of the secret law:..."

3) As I have already stated, there were--after careful calculation--at least 200,000 mainly mentally deficient, imbeciles, besides neurological cases and medically unfit people--these were not incurable cases--and at least 75,000 aged people."

July 27, 1946:

"Frick's ears were deaf to pleas for justice and ethics such as that. A year later, in August 1941, the Bishop of Limburg wrote to the Reich Ministries of the Interior, of Justice, and Church Affairs:

" `About 8 kilometers from Limburg ... there is an institution which had formerly served various purposes and of late has been used as a nursing home. This institution was renovated and furnished as a place, which by consensus of opinion the above-mentioned euthanasia has been systematically practiced for months....

" `You hear old folks say, "Do not send me to a state hospital. After the feeble minded have been finished off, the next useless eaters whose turn it will be are the old people." ' "

July 31, 1946:

The President: Under which part of Article 6 of the Charter does this come?

Lt. Col. Griffith-Jones: It would come under Crimes against Humanity with respect to ...

The President: Are they connected with war?

Lt. Col. Griffith-Jones: In some respect, yes, because the purpose of this extermination of old people was to rid the Reich of unproductive elements.

August 29, 1946:

"The purpose of these crimes is clear, as it was clear to the Catholic population of Augsburg whom the Ortsgruppenleiter reported as asserting:

" `The State must be in a bad way now, or it could not happen that these poor people should be simply sent to their deaths solely in order that the means which until now have been used for their upkeep may be made available for the prosecution of war.' "

Summation of Indictment

October 1, 1946:

"During the war, nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums in which euthanasia was practiced as described elsewhere in this Judgment came under Frick's jurisdiction. He had knowledge that insane, sick, and aged people, `useless eaters,' were being systematically put to death. Complaints of these murders reached him, but he did nothing to stop them."


October 1, 1946:

"Defendant Wilhelm Frick, on the Counts of Indictment on which you have been convicted, the Tribunal sentences you to death by hanging."

Labor Policy

The treatment of prisoners in the work camps, associated with the concentration camps, was part of the criminal activity for which the Nazi principals were indicted, and convicted. But it is important to point out, the relationship between these atrocities, and labor policy as a whole.

From the time Hitler came into power, and before, the fascist policy was the glorification of work--not what you accomplished, but manual labor. Some of Hitler's first measures--with Hjalmar Schacht at his side--were to further cheapen labor, by forcing the unemployed into whatever jobs were needed, and constantly reducing wages, the quality of necessities, like food, and so forth.

As the war effort proceeded, and resources became tighter and tighter, the regime turned increasingly toward slave labor--putting prisoners to work in the factories. Today, this policy would be called, putting factories behind walls. The most famous example of all was the I.G. Farben factory at Auschwitz, where artificial rubber was produced, and oil from coal. But there were many others as well. Krupp itself had 100 factories, which were supplied with slave labor. While the concentration camps were run by the state, the work facilities were "privatized"--and the private industries were permitted, if not encouraged, to work their workforce to death.

The Manpower Chief for the Nazis, Fritz Sauckel, enunciated the prison labor policy this way:

"All the inmates must be fed, sheltered, and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent, at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure."

Taken to the extreme, as it was, this meant feeding workers at levels of caloric intake, much below what they were using up during their day's work. Some say 1,100 calories a day, for a worker who would typically use more than 2,500 up. The result was predictable: Hundreds of thousands were literally used up, and worked to death.

Picture credits: U.S. Army

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