Fellow Christians! In the pastoral letter of the German bishops of
June 26, 1941, which was read out in all the Catholic churches in Germany
on July 6, 1941, it states among other things: It is true that there are
definite commandments in Catholic moral doctrine which are no longer applicable
if their fulfillment involves too many difficulties.
However, there are sacred obligations of conscience from which no
one has the power to release us and which we must fulfil even if it costs
us our lives. Never under any circumstances may a human being kill an innocent
person apart from war and legitimate self-defense. On July 6, I already
had cause to add to the pastoral letter the following explanation: for
some months we have been hearing reports that, on the orders of Berlin,
patients from mental asylums who have been ill for a long time and may
appear incurable, are being compulsorily removed. Then, after a short time,
the relatives are regularly informed that the corpse has been burnt and
the ashes can be delivered. There is a general suspicion verging on certainty,
that these numerous unexpected deaths of mentally ill people do not occur
of themselves but are deliberately brought about, that the doctrine is
being followed, according to which one may destroy so-called 'worthless
life,' that is, kill innocent people if one considers that their lives
are of no further value for the nation and the state.
I am reliably informed that lists are also being drawn up in the
asylums of the province of Westphalia as well of those patients who are
to be taken away as so-called 'unproductive national comrades' and shortly
to be killed. The first transport left the Marienthal institution near
Münster during this past week.
German men and women, section 211 of the Reich Penal Code is still
valid. It states: 'He who deliberately kills another person will be punished
by death for murder if the killing is premeditated.'
Those patients who are destined to be killed are transported away
from home to a distant asylum presumably in order to protect those who
deliberately kill those poor people, members of our families, from this
legal punishment. Some illness is then given as the cause of death. Since
the corpse has been burnt straight away, the relatives and also the criminal
police are unable to establish whether the illness really occurred and
what the cause of death was.
However, I have been assured that the Reich Interior Ministry and
the office of the Reich Doctors' Leader, Dr. Conti, make no bones about
the fact that in reality a large number of mentally ill people in Germany
have been deliberately killed and more will be killed in the future.
The Penal Code lays down in section 139: 'He who receives credible
information concerning the intention to commit a crime against life and
neglects to alert the authorities or the person who is threatened in time...will
When I learned of the intention to transport patients from Marienthal
in order to kill them, I brought a formal charge at the State Court in
Münster and with the Police President
in Münster by means of a registered letter
which read as follows: "According to information which I have received,
in the course of this week a large number of patients from the Marienthal
Provincial Asylum near Münster are to
be transported to the Eichberg asylum as so-called 'unproductive national
comrades' and will then soon be deliberately killed, as is generally believed
has occurred with such transports from other asylums. Since such an action
is not only contrary to the moral laws of God and Nature but also is punishable
with death as murder under section 211 of the Penal Code, I hereby bring
a charge in accordance with my duty under section 139 of the Penal Code,
and request you to provide immediate protection for the national comrades
threatened in this way by taking action against those agencies who are
intending their removal and murder, and that you inform me of the steps
that have been taken."
I have received no news concerning intervention by the Prosecutor's
Office or by the police...Thus we must assume that the poor helpless patients
will soon be killed.
For what reason?
Not because they have committed a crime worthy of death. Not because
they attacked their nurses or orderlies so that the latter had no other
choice but to use legitimate force to defend their lives against their
attackers. Those are cases where, in addition to the killing of an armed
enemy in a just war, the use of force to the point of killing is allowed
and is often required.
No, it is not for such reasons that these unfortunate patients must
die but rather because, in the opinion of some department, on the testimony
of some commission, they have become 'worthless life' because according
to this testimony they are 'unproductive national comrades.' The argument
goes: they can no longer produce commodities, they are like an old machine
that no longer works, they are like an old horse which has become incurably
lame, they are like a cow which no longer gives milk.
What does one do with such an old machine? It is thrown on the scrap
heap. What does one do with a lame horse, with such an unproductive cow?
No, I do not want to continue the comparison to the end--however
fearful the justification for it and the symbolic force of it are. We are
not dealing with machines, horses and cows whose only function is to serve
mankind, to produce goods for man. One may smash them, one may slaughter
them as soon as they no longer fulfil this function.
No, we are dealing with human beings, our fellow human beings, our
brothers and sisters. With poor people, sick people, if you like unproductive
But have they for that reason forfeited the right to life?
Have you, have I the right to live only so long as we are productive,
so long as we are recognized by others as productive?
If you establish and apply the principle that you can kill 'unproductive'
fellow human beings then woe betide us all when we become old and frail!
If one is allowed to kill the unproductive people then woe betide the invalids
who have used up, sacrificed and lost their health and strength in the
productive process. If one is allowed forcibly to remove one's unproductive
fellow human beings then woe betide loyal soldiers who return to the homeland
seriously disabled, as cripples, as invalids. If it is once accepted that
people have the right to kill 'unproductive' fellow humans--and even if
initially it only affects the poor defenseless mentally ill--then as a
matter of principle murder is permitted for all unproductive people, in
other words for the incurably sick, the people who have become invalids
through labor and war, for us all when we become old, frail and therefore
Then, it is only necessary for some secret edict to order that the
method developed for the mentally ill should be extended to other 'unproductive'
people, that it should be applied to those suffering from incurable lung
disease, to the elderly who are frail or invalids, to the severely disabled
soldiers. Then none of our lives will be safe any more. Some commission
can put us on the list of the 'unproductive,' who in their opinion have
become worthless life. And no police force will protect us and no court
will investigate our murder and give the murderer the punishment he deserves.
Who will be able to trust his doctor any more?
He may report his patient as 'unproductive' and receive instructions
to kill him. It is impossible to imagine the degree of moral depravity,
of general mistrust that would then spread even through families if this
dreadful doctrine is tolerated, accepted and followed.
Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation if God's Holy Commandment
'Thou shalt not kill,' which God proclaimed on Mount Sinai amidst thunder
and lightning, which God our Creator inscribed in the conscience of mankind
from the very beginning, is not only broken, but if this transgression
is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.
Cardinal Clemens von Galen - August 3, 1941