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Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims

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Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims
Floral tributes were laid on Tuesday at the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Photo: DPA
10:39 CEST+02:00
A 24-metre blue glass wall in Berlin has been unveiled to commemorate the systematic murder of up to 300,000 mentally ill and disabled people under Adolf Hitler.

"This is a day we have long awaited," Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said before an audience of around 600 guests at the city's Philharmonie concert hall near the Tiergarten park.

The hall is located near the now-demolished offices where more than 60 Nazi bureaucrats and doctors once worked in secret to implement the so-called T4 euthanasia programme.

Activists who had campaigned for a memorial since 2007 "had to fight not only against [people] forgetting but also against powerful opponents - science organisations that denied any participation in the 'euthanasia' murders and protected scientists who became criminals, Wowereit said.

"More than 70 years after these crimes, we finally owe these people a place in the memory of our families and a place in the collective memory of our country," said Sigrid Falkenstein, the niece of a learning-disabled victim, Anna Lehnkering.

The glass wall is the fourth and likely the last memorial to distinct groups of Nazi victims. It stands near a memorial to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust constructed in 2005, and two more to a million Roma and Sinti victims as well as homosexuals murdered by the Nazis.

"It was long overdue," added Lorena Endler, who works for Stolpersteine-Berlin, an organization that embeds small brass remembrance blocks into pavements outside houses where Holocaust victims lived before their deportation and murder.

First major extermination programme 

The T4 programme began in 1939. Between January 1940 and August 1941 about 70,000 people died in what the Nazis deemed "mercy killings" of unfit members of society. Victims were mainly sent to gas chambers or killed by lethal injection in death camps in Germany and Poland.

The programme was ostensibly shut down in 1941, partly due to protests by the church, but continued in secret. Historians estimate that between 200,000 and 300,000 people were murdered.

Uwe Neumärker, director of the Holocaust memorial foundation in Berlin, said the slaughter of patients and residents of care homes marked "the first systematic mass crime of the National Socialist regime".

"It is considered a forerunner of the extermination of European Jews," he said before the inauguration.

Only few of the killers were brought to justice after the war, despite high-profile trials like those of doctors at Nuremberg in 1946-47. Many of the implicated medical professionals simply continued with their careers.
 
Meanwhile many victim's families only learned years later what had happened to their loved ones.

Hartmut Traub fought back tears as he paid tribute to his uncle Benjamin, a schizophrenic who was murdered in a gas chamber in 1941 at the age of 27.

Based on his own research in recent years, he offered a haunting account of his uncle's death.
 
"Benjamin stood wedged with 63 other naked men in the narrowest of spaces.
 
The doors closed," Traub said. "Carbon monoxide streamed from the 'faucet' of the showers. Benjamin felt sick. He lost consciousness. After a few minutes he and his 63 comrades in suffering suffocated on the gas."
 
After the inauguration speeches, people were offered white roses to lay by the blue glass as a symbol of remembrance. Many teared up while laying the flowers, including some with disabilities and also relatives of the T4 programme victims. 
 
The memorial has been designed to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs, and includes audio commentary for the blind, videos with sign language for the deaf, and simplified texts for the learning disabled.
 
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