Nazi Policy and Cultural Minorities

During World War II, Nazi policy gripped Eastern Europe, afflicting

its peoples with unspeakable acts of cruelty and depravity. Known as the

Holocaust, this was a setting in which some of the worst aspects of man's

psyche emerged. A plan for extermination of ethnic impurity, known as the

Final Solution, informed the German perpetration of genocide, executed

through the encampment, abuse and slaughter of millions, with Jews, gypsies

and other cultural minorities being specifically targeted. The cultural

minorities here noted would include many of those considered to be on the

fringe of German society and, in the early running of the Nazi regime,

would serve as defenseless groups upon which to test strategies relating to

the Cultural isolation and the so-called Final Solution.

The policies which Hitler pursued amongst the handicapped are

indicative of both the philosophical premise of Aryan purity and the sheer

sadism which were perpetrated by the Nazis. Indeed, according to recent

sources featured by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the handicapped,

mentally ill and physically impaired were among the first Germans to be

targeted by purification initiatives. This would be an early initiation of

the terminology and methodology which would ultimately distinguish the

'Final Solution,' in which Hitler would attempt the mass extermination of

the Jews. Persecution of the handicapped created a precedent, with the

notion of 'euthanasia' suggesting that the outright murder of the mentally

or physically impaired should be seen as mercy-killing. This type of

language underscored the clinical approach taken by the Nazis to effect

this 'purification' of the people. As the Holocaust Museum reports, "The

'euthanasia' program required the cooperation of many German doctors, who

reviewed the medical files of patients in institutions to determine which

handicapped or mentally ill individuals should be killed. The doctors also

supervised the actual killings." (TVC, 1)

In this way, the Nazis would begin the process of purifying society

by initially targeting those who were most defenseless and establishing

institutional acceptance for this type of behavior. Indeed, though the

Final Solution concerning the extermination of Jews would not be fully

implemented until the early 1940s and under an intensification of the

larger war, the treatment of the physically and mentally impaired showed

early indications of this inevitable outcome. Hitler was, in fact,

influenced in shaping his policies by the published works of prior German

thinkers. Herewith, "the idea of 'mental death' and killing the

handicapped swept rapidly through Germany. In 1931, a group of

psychiatrists met in Bavaria to discuss the sterilization and killing of

those with chronic mental illnesses. By 1936 the practice of killing the

socially unfit was so common that it was mentioned only incidentally in a

German medical journal." (TVC, 1) To the German policy-makers, this