Historical Timeline

Early 1900’s

The eugenics movement takes root in the United States.  In the 1920’s and 30’s the focus was on eliminating ‘negative traits’ from society. Prejudices and pseudoscience of the day focused attention on the poor, the uneducated and minority populations. In an attempt to prevent these “undesirable” groups from propagating, 28 states passed laws requiring the forced sterilization of mentally and physically disabled people as well as those considered incorrigible.  As a result, 6,4000 people were forcibly sterilized.

1924

Adolf Hitler reads about ‘racial hygiene’ (a.k.a eugenics) during imprisonment for his part in a Nazi uprising at the end of 1923.

May 2, 1927

In an 8-1 decision known as Buck v Bell, the US Supreme Court, upheld state’s rights to forcibly sterilize patients in mental institutions. The sole dissenter was Justice Pierce Butler, a devout Catholic. The decision still stands.

1927-1934

More than 400,000 ‘disabled’ Germans dismissed as Lebensunwertes Leben (‘lives unworthy of life’) were forcibly sterilized with input from the U.S. eugenics community and funding from the Rockefeller Foundation

1933

Hitler named Chancellor of Germany

Clemens August von Galen installed as Bishop of Münster.  From the outset he objected to many aspects of the Nazi regime.

1936

The Third Reich honors U.S. eugenicist, Harry H. Laughlin with honorary doctorate from University of Heidelberg

1937

Bishop von Galen helped draft Pope Pius XI’s anti-Nazi encyclical Mit Brenneder Sorge (With Burning Concern), written in German rather than Latin, and smuggled into Germany so it could be read publically in all Catholic churches on Palm Sunday.

1939

The Third Reich initiates the AktionT4 Program, an the extension of the eugenics movement which authorized killing the Lebensunwertes Leben by the State. 

1939-1941

100,000 disabled people, including 5,000 children, were murdered as part of the T4 Program. At first lethal injections were used, but soon, at Hitler’s suggestion, carbon monoxide was employed, a precursor to the “Final Solution.” 

July and August, 1941

Bishop von Galen delivers three sermons in which denounces the killing of the disabled from the pulpit at Münster Cathedral, earning him the nickname, “The Lion of Münster.”  These sermons are copied and distributed widely. As a result, the T4 program was “officially” halted, but killings continued in secret.  The unofficial total count for disabled persons killed through 1945 is 200,000. Another 100,000 were killed in territories annexed by Germany during the war.

1941 – 1945

The mass murder of 6 million Jews, gypsies and others in camps equipped with gas chambers based on the AktionT4 model. When the program was disbanded, equipment and personnel were transferred to become part of the “Final Solution,” the extermination of the Jews and other undesirable people

May, 1945

Germany surrenders to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. During post-war trials, Nazi doctors cite Buck v Bell case as part of their defense for atrocities committed.

1945

After the war, Bishop von Galen was critical of the allies for lack of humanitarian support for the German people.

February 1946

Bishop von Galen travels to Rome, where he is made a Cardinal. He dies a few days after returning to Germany on March 22 from an appendix infection.

October 9, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI beatifies von Galen.

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