What’s the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda

Before we start I would like to point out that I am not a historian and I am not a sociologist and as such I have done my best to present the information here as I understand it. With that out of the way, I’ll start with an overview of how disabled people were treated in Germany during WWII.

1930s Germany

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda
A poster about how expensive disabled people are.

The Aktion T4 programme ran in Germany from 1939 to 1945. In the 1920s  Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, part of an extreme eugenics movement, advocated killing those who were judged to have “life unworthy of life.”  In the 1930s there were huge cuts to state institutions causing overcrowding and Nazi propaganda emphasised the cost of caring for mentally ill and disabled people. In 1939 parents of disabled child Gerhard Kretschmar wrote to Hitler to ask him to permit their child to be killed. Hitler agreed and immediately set up a committee whose job was to organise more such murders – Aktion T4. When the war started parents were told that their mentally ill and physically disabled children were being sent to special treatments centres. In fact they were murdered without the knowledge of the parents. The programme was soon extended to adults, starting in Poland then in Germany. Throughout the programme Hitler knew that there would be huge opposition to such killing and so he never put his orders in writing. The one exception was a secret letter written to authorise the formation of the Aktion T4 programme, mainly because his justice minister would not cooperate without one. The programme operated in secrecy until it was too late for most people. Under the programme at least 200,000 disabled people were murdered over six years, either through lethal medication, starvation or gas chambers.

Modern Britain

Now we jump forward to Britain today. The events I describe in the paragraph above are unthinkable. No government minister, no tabloid newspaper, no man in the street would advocate such things, right?

That’s not quite true though. Most of the pieces are in place. We have propaganda pushing the idea that sick and disabled people are scroungers, workshy, lazy. This propaganda is coming from government ministers, their special advisers, and tabloids like the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail. Even broadsheets like the Times and the Telegraph have contributed. Such propaganda has even been raised by MPs in the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ministers told to stop. The propaganda is working too, with hate crimes against disabled people up in vast numbers.

We have many people fighting to legalise assisted suicide, inadvertently promoting the idea that life for some people is not worth living. Sure, we’re only asking for voluntary euthanasia, but what other factors might be in play? Pressure to stop being a burden, financial problems, cuts to care all contribute to a desire for death. If euthanasia becomes legal what is to stop people from being pushed to kill themselves? It may be overt or it may be through suggestion and through making their lives hell. (This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.)

We have cuts to local authority care budgets, starting in Worcestershire, that mean anyone whose care costs more than sending them to an institution will lose some care. The politicians argue that it’s a choice because people can choose to move to a care home or to cut some of their care provision. But what to cut? Eating? Washing? Dressing? Using a toilet? We have already seen people lose in court after fighting to not have to wear a nappy. Adults are expected to soil themselves rather than get help to use a toilet. We have also seen the loss of the independent living fund. The net result is loss of care or institutionalising people. Most care homes are run by private companies and neglect does not seem uncommon. I think more abuse and neglect is likely especially when companies are cutting costs because they have underquoted better homes.

We have sick and disabled people being  judged as fit to work and told to claim job seeker’s allowance and look for work, and we have even more seriously sick and disabled people being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Both groups are subject to The Work Programme where they are expected to undertake unpaid work experience for large companies, and government plans are to make such work placements of unlimited duration. Work makes you free.

Under these plans anyone who is seen to not be cooperating with The Work Programme and other work related activities will see their benefit income slashed. Those on Job Seeker’s Allowance can have their entire allowance removed entirely for weeks, even six months. Those on Employment Support Allowance (e.g. too sick to work) will see three quarters of their allowance removed. Of course anyone who has been judged as fit to work or has been placed in the WRAG is expected to be capable of going on work placements even if their assessment was wrong and they are waiting a year for an appeal, and even if people are seriously harmed by trying to work. The result is that those who don’t destroy themselves trying to find jobs that don’t exist or going to endless work placements will instead not be able to afford food, clothes, fuel bills, rent and more. Many will be able to use food banks but some will not be physically able to get to them and food banks rely on charity from other people who are struggling too.

The result

Is it such a large step for disabled people to be dying? No. It’s already  happening. Reports in April claimed that 1,100 people had already died after being placed in the work related activity group. That’s more than thirty people a week. This is what Chris Grayling calls “Tough love.”

Some government ministers make policy decisions without thinking about the consequences of what will happen in practice. Others are fully aware of what will happen and just don’t care. Either way, they are often covered by claiming that their policy in itself does not harm people, even though the flaws with implementation allow people to fall through the net and come to harm. Government ignore evidence. They dismiss statistics, they blame the previous government, they claim that processes are being sorted out now, they claim that any harm is the fault of the sick or disabled or unemployed individual. The Government are hiding behind Atos and A4e who are “just carrying out orders” but they way they carry out those orders makes things even worse. Government ministers have the same attitude as many other people in power – they can say “make it happen” and the minions do the dirty work.

In 1930s Germany the government themselves ordered the rounding up and the killing of disabled people. In modern-day Britain the government can claim that it is not their fault, even that it should not happen, but private companies and the chasm of bureaucracy between various government departments are what kill people. Starvation, homelessness and neglect are what will kill people. The implementation is different and the scale is different but the attitude and the outcome are the same.


Further Reading

Godwin’s law must die [A Latent Existence]

Action T4 [Wikipedia]

Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan [The Guardian]

32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit [Mirror]

Early day motion 295 [Parliament]

Work-or-starve plans for seriously ill welfare claimants might backfire [Eklesia]

Past Caring? [We are Spartacus]


Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

12 thoughts on “What’s the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?”

  1. A brilliant and incisive article on the nightmares that we, the disabled, face and are going to face in the future.

    Of course you realise that your words will be seen as scaremongering and outright lies by those in government, their media lackeys and organisations such as Atos.

    I’m fast losing my faith that one day, one day soon, these people will actually wake up to the unethical, immoral and obscene situation that exists in the UK..

    Thanks for this.

  2. A very interesting post with a lot of food for thought. The things you talk about are reality and government et al should not be allowed to dodge the issue as they seem to do all the time.
    I think all those who are in a position of authority on decisions for disabled people should start their job by spending a week living as a disabled person under current policies. Although they may not feel the physical pain they would in reality at least they might begin to understand how ridiculous and impossible those policies are.

  3. I don’t believe modern Britain is comparable to Nazi Germany at all, because Nazi Germany was a dictatorship and there was almost no opportunity to challenge the propaganda coming through state advertising and media, which there is in this country. Schools do not teach blatant propaganda, the media are not all controlled by the ruling party (indeed, none of it is – only by business interests sympathetic to it) and there are plenty of dissenting views even in the right-wing press but there are whole sections of the press which would not print this material and certainly not print it prominently. There is also a strong religious lobby which vigorously opposes any drive towards euthanasia which would do the same if it ever became government policy. The reason eugenics did not catch on in the UK was because of a strong Catholic resistance.

    What is less well-known about the Nazi T4 programme is that it actually attracted massive popular resistance – it was the only Nazi policy to do so – because many families, including prominent Nazis who supported German territorial expansion and their version of “law and order”, actually had disabled relatives and friends and this became more repellent to the general population as the war went on as disabled soldiers came back from the front line. So, you had a mass pull-out of disabled relatives from institutions, often at great expense to them. In addition, disabled people were not transported to distant camps into the “care” of an organised coterie of racist inner-corps Nazis, so it was a much less disguised policy than the Holocaust was. The killings happened near home and people knew (and cared) about them.

    I do not think the present climate could lead to another T4 type programme. It could lead to more disabled people becoming impoverished or destitute, to more being thrown on the kindness of their families or friends (with potential abusive consequences), to more abortions of foetuses diagnosed with some sort of disability pre-natally, to more disabled children being given up into institutions or other state care, and to some suicides and neglect-related deaths – quite possibly, to the clock being turned back to the 1970s in some regards – but not to an organised massacre.

  4. i am speechless at the inhumanity being unleashed on these people whom have no way of fighting back. this saddens me deeply, where has compassion gone? more to the point where are the jobs , there are very few in my area, let alone for people whith disabilities. its nothing but cruel and we call ourselves human beings, i think not.

  5. A good article, agreed with a lot of it – but was quite disgusted when you mentioned euthanasia. These people are NOT promoting the idea that ‘some lives are not worth living’, and it is not about ‘being a burden’ just because you’re disabled. We’re talking about people who want help to end their lives because they wake up every morning in pain, can’t do anything enjoyable at all with their lives, and are merely surviving in an undignified way that makes them desperately unhappy. You obviously have never tried to imagine the heartbreak that people go through when their relatives beg them to end their lives.

    Ok, you do say “This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.” But then why bring it up? There is no connection here and I was quite surprised by your insensitivity about this subject, for one who claims to support the disabled.

    1. I brought it up because people taking up assisted suicide out of fear of being a burden or because they are pressured in some way IS a possibility because of the other things that are happening. And why would someone end their life unless it was not worth living? That is the message that is effectively broadcast by the fight for Euthanasia and some people will assume that it applies to other people who don’t want to die.

  6. I live in The United States and here there’s noting covert in Right-Winged Republican Party’s Political opinions and propagandizing of the worthlessness of the elderly and the disabled. The ‘Poor’ are openly villainized. Thank you for your post.

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