Walter Gross on Nazi eugenics policies (1934)

Dr Walter Gross was a German physician who oversaw the Office of Population Policy and Racial Welfare. In this speech from October 1934, Gross addressed a gathering of German women on Nazi eugenics policies:

“We now keep thousands, even tens of thousands of unhappy creatures alive through artificial means, those to whom life itself has denied the right to life. But keeping them alive was not itself the problem. What is worse is that they were given the opportunity to pass on their unfortunate physical and mental characteristics. That was the worst that happened: we took the physically weak, the mentally ill, the genetically defective criminals and not only kept them alive and cared for them — that is our duty as human beings, which we certainly do not want to ignore in the future either — and gave them the ability to have children with the same deficiencies, thus doubling or multiplying their misery.

The German people do not know the extent of this misery, it does not know the depressing spirit of the homes where thousands of cripples live their lives only by being fed and cared for, poor creatures who are worse than any animal. The animal, at least, is as it should be. These poor creatures are distortions of life, no joy either to themselves or others. They are a burden throughout their miserable existences, but thanks to the selfless care and devotion of those who care for them may live 60, 70, or 80 years. The German people do not realise the enormous sums that have been spent for decades, money that is taken from those who are healthy, who could do something useful, but cannot because the money is lacking.

There was a winter in which children in Bavaria did not even have wooden shoes to wear as they walked through the snow on their way to school. They had to walk for hours bare-footed. At the same time, the government made sure that those unfortunate souls in a large institution had fresh bananas twice a week so that they got the necessary vitamins. But these vitamins could not give them joy or strength or health. But they were thus denied to those somewhere in the Bavarian forest, or in the Ruhr, or in a poor fishing village on the Frisian coast, where they could have reduced the poverty and need in some worker’s house. At the same time there was a case where a single mentally ill Negro of English citizenship lived for 16 years in an institution in Berlin, costing 26,000 Marks. Money that was thrown away on a life that had no meaning. This 26,000 Marks could have been used to prepare a dozen strong, healthy, and gifted children for life and a job.

With full knowledge of our duties as human beings and the requirements of pity, we made the decision not to allow such miserable creatures to pass on their misery to the next generation, multiplied perhaps two or three or more times. That is a major accomplishment, for which our children and their children will one day thank us.

I know that there are those who will say: “You are meddling in matters that are not your concern. You are interfering in an area outside human control. Life and death are not in the hands of man, but in those of a higher power. If God wants sick and genetically ill people to be born, you may not interfere through laws, operations, or any other measures with God’s will. And if you do so — and you have with your Law to Prevent Inherited Illness — then you are acting against the will of God, and you are heretics.”

This is our answer: “My friend, you are wrong. It is true that we are subject to a higher power. We humans may never interfere with the great laws of the Creator. But you are wrong. See the laws the Creator has established for his world and your life. The great law is that life must be able to preserve itself, and that if it cannot, it will collapse. It is the hard, brutal law of the struggle for existence and of selection and extinction. It was the law we saw day by day, hour by hour, under all the clouds of heaven and all the stars of the sky, in which life seemed to find a senseless death, whether plant or animal or person, whether in distant Africa or near us.”