Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Guest Post by Jeanne Hewell-Chambers on the 70273 Project


Between January 1940 and August 1941, German Nazis murdered 70,273 physically and mentally disabled people, calling them “a drag on the economy” and “social misfits” and “inferior”. Posters and public service announcements warned parents of the unpleasant consequences of exposing their children to disabled people and the dire burden of the continued expense of caring for those with special needs. Mercy deaths, they called them.

Hitler penned the order in October 1939, but backdated it to 9/1/1939 to give it the appearance of being a legitimate act necessitated by the beginning of World War II. The T4 Program (know this: I capitalize the name not out of respect, but to prevent readers from getting distracted by the rules of grammar and missing the whole point) created a new bureaucracy – one headed by physicians and dedicated to the extermination of anyone deemed to have “a life unworthy of living.”

Doctors made their evaluations based not on the actual person – they weren’t required to so much as lay eyes on them – only on their medical records or forms submitted by institutions. When two of three doctors placed a red X at the bottom of the form, the person was rounded up and murdered . . . usually in less than two hours.

Children were killed by starvation and lethal injection. More “efficient” methods were required for adults, so asphyxiation by poison gas became the preferred killing technique. SS staff members charged with transporting the disabled to their death wore white coats to make it appear like an official medical procedure. Lists of plausible causes of natural death were kept, used to falsify death records, and referred to when penning condolence letters to families. If requested, families received urns of ashes.

Authorities didn’t merely justify their actions under the T4 program, they glorified themselves by citing compassion, alleviation of suffering, cost effectiveness, and relieving pressure on the national budget as reasons for eradicating these 70,273 people. They convinced themselves and tried to convince others that they were ending the suffering of the “incurably ill”. The murders of these 70,273 people was best for all concerned, they said.

On April 3, 1940 – in the midst of the ongoing T4 atrocity – local authorities convened to hear Viktor Brack, organizer of the T4 Program, speak about the social and economic benefits of the program (

In many hospitals and nursing homes of the Reich there are countless people with incurable diseases of every kind, people who are of no use at all to the rest of humanity, who are only a burden on society, incurring endless costs for their maintenance, and there is absolutely no prospect of these people ever recovering and becoming useful members of society again. They sit and vegetate like animals, they are social misfits undeserving of life – and yet physically they are perfectly healthy human beings who may well live on for many more years. They eat the food that could be given to others, and in many cases they need twice or three times as much nursing care. The rest of society needs to be protected against these people. Given that we need to make provision now for keeping healthy people alive, it is all the more necessary to get rid of these creatures first, even if only to take better care for now of the curable patients in our hospitals and nursing homes. The space thus freed up is needed for all kinds of things essential to the war effort: military hospitals, civilian hospitals and auxiliary hospitals.” 

Read this sentence out loud: “70,273 people were murdered because they were different, because they were “not perfect”, because they were disabled.” If that doesn’t give you chills, make you clench your teeth and stomp your foot, I don’t know what will.

Some 43 years ago, I married a man – Andy, or The Engineer as he’s known in social media – who has a sister with mental disabilities resulting from brain trauma that occurred when she was three years old. For reasons we are left to wonder about, neighborhood hoodlums decided it would be great fun to hang her by the neck from a swing set. Bringing Nancy into my life is, without a doubt, one of the best gifts ever. She is a woman of few words and many needs; a woman of little intellect and much wisdom, our Nancy, and had she lived in Germany in 1940-41, she most certainly would have been one of the 70,273. I don’t care how many times it happens, I can’t type that sentence without setting off an avalanche of tears.

When The Idea came to call, I was doing what I’ve done since June 2012: stitching her drawings. Her marks, as some would say.  Meaningless marks, others call them. Ask me what I”m doing, and I’ll tell you flat-out: I’m stitching Nancy’s art. She draws, I stitch, we collaborate.

It was one of those ideas that creative people spend a lifetime hoping for. An idea that came in fully formed, ready to start, just add heart form. I am gathering 70,273 quilt blocks from around the world to commemorate the 70,273 disabled people who were so casually and callously murdered and to celebrate the people with special needs who live among us today. Commemorate. And celebrate. Both.

The quilt blocks – and promise you’ll keep reading without letting the word “quilt” scare you away – are a white base, representing the medical records on which are placed two red X’s, representing the death sentence. There will be, according to The Engineer who knows such things, more than 800 quilts when all is said and done, and not all blocks are stitched. Some folks are using markers, glue, or paint to lay down their red X’s. Whatever method you choose, check your insecurities and perfectionism at the door and remember who we commemorate and celebrate: those who are perfectly imperfect.

Thank you Kathy for inviting me here and sharing this post about The 70273 Project. I invite you and each of your readers to become a part of The 70273 Project by making blocks and helping get the word out, and even if all you do is read this blog post, I thank you and say May we never forget this atrocity, because that just paves the way for it to happen again and again and again.

~ the blog:
~ the introductory post:
~ specific information on making blocks:
~ facebook group (a campfire for those who want more engagement with other contributors:
~ facebook page (a drive-through for those who want to keep updated, but prefer less engagement):
~ to subscribe to the 70273 blog:

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