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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics


Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics

The Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics in Berlin commemorates the fate of those murdered during Aktion T4, the murder of the mentally and physically handicapped. This small complex is above all an open-air documentation and information center.


A Visit to the Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics is Optional.


National Socialism never concealed its racial and territorial ambitions. The grandiose, monumental culture to which it aspired could only exist, according to its doctrine, at the end of a victorious struggle against the Reich's enemies. A prerequisite for power was the biological cleansing of the nation to ensure the vitality of the race. Exclusion and segregation were the first components of this policy, targeting specific communities such as Jews, sexual minorities, Sinti and Roma. The second component consists of the expurgation of mentally deficient people (or those presented as such) and those with severe physical handicaps.


The idea of reinvigorating the race through eugenics is not new to Germany. Since the 19th century, doctors and academics had been agreeing on the need to treat populations rather than individuals. The first coercive measures were forced sterilizations of the incurably ill, inveterate criminals and, more generally, people on the margins of society. National Socialist power allowed the institutionalization of these profoundly inhumane theses. Supported by active propaganda, eugenics became a matter of public health, leading to the internment and physical elimination of hundreds of thousands of people.


From its headquarters at Tiergartenstrasse 4 (T4) in Berlin, the regime coordinated the work of several killing centers. From 1939 to 1941, Aktion T4 was launched. Victims were murdered by lethal injection and, more generally, by gassing. The executioners were doctors and orderlies, who would later operate in the Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor extermination camps in occupied Poland. It wasn't until the 1980s and the German memory revolution that the long-forgotten victims finally received official recognition. In 2014, a memorial was inaugurated on the site of the former Nazi power plant in Berlin.

Documentation and tributes at the Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics

A Poorly Presented Site


The Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics is located along Tiergarten Park, in the shadow of the Philharmonic building. Completely open, it belongs to the public space. The ensemble is made up of two parts, some ten metres apart. The first is the original work, dating from the 1980s. It is a large vertical metal structure with two curved plates that narrow the space between them. We can guess that the artist's intention here was to create an impression of funneling and crushing the visitor who steps inside. However, there is no clear indication of this, and the only thing we retain of the work is its refined aesthetic.


The second part was inaugurated in 2014. It features an artistic work and, above all, a long information desk. The order is as much chronological as thematic. Explanatory texts on the context, places and people, as well as testimonials in multimedia format and numerous photos, provide as much education as projection. The whole is convincing, but lacks completeness. There is a Braille translation for the visually impaired. However, the height of the lectern makes it difficult for wheelchair users to access the information.


The artwork is a long wall of transparent blue glass. It represents the filter that German society of yesterday - and no doubt today too - places on disability in order to make it invisible. Facing the lectern over a distance of some thirty meters, the wall requires visitors to look up and see. It's all a question of perspective and how you look at it. Nevertheless, there is no text on site to explicitly support this reflection, and the whole thing is left open to interpretation.

The original monument at the Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics

A Problem of Definition


The Memorial to the Victims of Nazi Eugenics is an incomplete and incoherent whole. The lack of harmony results from the coexistence of two completely different and perhaps even antagonistic artistic projects. One and the other ignore each other, giving the site a taste of unfinished business. Politics bears full responsibility for this strange memorial scaffolding. The 1988 work is the product of a citizens' initiative. Rather than education, the project was aimed at official recognition and the fight against denial. In the 2010s, German remembrance policy became increasingly institutionalized, leading to the professionalization of remembrance work and political correctness. The memorial was seen as insufficient and too abstract. So, in 2014, a parallel project was launched, with a shaky outcome.


If it's a memorial, the emotional impact is diminished, and the absence of a significant work of art or an original building prevents contemplation. However, if it's a documentation center, then the information, however qualitative, lacks completeness. On the other hand, visiting conditions are not as inclusive as one might hope: limited accessibility, no benches and no protection from sun or rain. The question of erecting a national memorial is a legitimate one - indeed, it is essential, not only in the name of recognition, but also for the democratic ideal, which is not the law of the majority, but the protection of minorities. A lesson for tomorrow.


While waiting for the memorial to undergo a thorough overhaul, it's best to spend your time reading one of historian Aly Götz's books. Better still, those sensitive to this theme can travel to the nearby town of Brandenburg on the Havel and visit the remarkable memorial to the victims of the euthanasia murders on the site of one of the six killing centers during Aktion T4. A guided tour is available there. Information does not suffocate emotion, and a genuine place of remembrance offers the opportunity to commemorate the victims of the unspeakable crimes of the time.

Vue d'ensemble sur le Mémorial aux Victimes des politiques eugéniques nazies à Berlin.

Pro

  • The symbolism of the transparent wall

  • Precise information

  • Beautiful view of the Philharmonie

Contra

  • An uneven implementation

  • No single point of contact for information

  • No weather protection

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