Some 14,000 people judged as threats to German genetic superiority were secretly murdered at the Bernburg Euthanasia Center in eastern Germany. (Photo: Robert M. Peacock)

An update from Christie Pearson ’11, faculty-led program specialist for SMU Abroad:

The Bernburg Euthanasia Centre – one of six psychiatric hospitals used to covertly kill 70,273 people during the Holocaust – operated from Nov. 21, 1940 through July 30, 1943 in support of the Third Reich’s T4 euthanasia program.

The Nazis’ 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring mandated the compulsory sterilization of anyone of child-bearing age whose mental or physical conditions – from depression to deafness, alcoholism to “congenital imbecility” – might potentially weaken the German gene pool.

The killings at Bernburg, via gas chamber or lethal injection, were considered a “dress rehearsal” for the “Final Solution.”

By August 1941, 9,300 people had been killed by doctors and other medical personnel here. And by March 1943, an additional 5,000 inmates from concentration camps in Germany and Poland also would be murdered.

On Jan. 31, 1941, Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: “Discussed with [Philipp] Bouhler the question of silent liquidation of the mentally ill.  40,000 are gone, 60,000 must still go. This is difficult, but necessary work. And it must be done now.”

During our visit, we recognize a few of the “lives unworthy of life,” whose deaths were registered 75 years ago on this very day (March 14) – but whose actual deaths would have been within 24 hours of their arrival. “No one ever stayed the night here,” our guide tells us.

~ Jakob de Vries, arrested by the Gestapo Feb. 13, 1937. He was sent to Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps before being transferred here.

~ Nusyn Dawid Apelbaum, born in Poland on this day in 1892 and supposedly murdered here the day before his 50th birthday.

~ Heinz Eidlmann, who, with Jakob de Vries, was transferred from Buchenwald before his death in Bernburg’s gas change. Heinz was 28 – the same age as me.

~ Simon Jakob Urbach, who was originally from Poland, but lived in Hamburg prior to the war, and was imprisoned at Buchenwald before he was sent here. Hamburg is also where our Embrey Human Rights Program travel group began our “Holocaust Germany” journey.