WHY JANUARY 27, 1945 SHOULD MATTER TO EVERY PERSON IN OUR SOCIETY

“Action T4” (German: Aktion T4) is likely not a familiar term to most Canadians, but to those of us in the disability/rehabilitation sector it should be, and it should remind us that ignorance and evil dealt enormous cruelty upon people with disabilities as part of the Nazi-era agenda. Our purpose must always be to recognize and support the dignity, equality and humanity of our fellow human beings, including those with disabilities.

The Holocaust that resulted in the death of 6,000,000 Jews, included an official government sponsored program from September 1939-August 1941 that led to the extermination of 70,173 people with mental and physical disabilities, followed by an ensuing, less official, elimination of another 200,000+ people with disabilities.

Treigartenstabe 4, the address of a villa in Berlin, in the borough of Treigarten, was the headquarters of a supposed care institution, that really served as the headquarters for Adolf Hitler’s private physician and henchmen who directed part of a eugenics program aimed at “cleansing racial enemies,” including people with disabilities or mental health issues, from the German body politic.

Why must we remember January 27, 1945 and continue to memorialize those murdered and celebrate  this day? Because on that day, the Soviet Red Army liberated one of the most notorious, sickening and inhuman death camps, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp which included both labour and extermination camps, where at least 1.1 million people died. The place? Oswiecim, Poland.

Of those killed, “90% were Jews, but there were 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, thousands of homosexuals, and tens of thousands of other people of diverse backgrounds. Those who did not die in the gas chambers, died of starvation, forced labour, infectious diseases, individual executions and medical experiments. “ (Wikipedia) The latter practice was part of the treatment of people with disabilities under Action T4.

On November 11th each year, we in Canada, commemorate the end of World War II; Remembrance Day  is a day to honour our own fallen soldiers. Lest we forget, millions of people died, for no reason other than their difference,  their “otherness”, their “distinctiveness”, whether in dress, beliefs, customs, language, physical appearance, mental state, or sexual preference. We honour their memory on January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a UN sponsored commemorative day which should remind us that human beings can be extremely inhuman, that “NEVER AGAIN” MUST MEAN  NEVER AGAIN, and that all human life has meaning, all human beings have value. Arising from the ashes of the crematoriums were several significant outcomes: The United Nations itself was created to help the world end hatred, end anti-Semitism, and end war. Has it been successful?

The State of Israel was established by the UN, to provide a permanent home for the Jewish people, allowing Jews to return to their ancestral home, should they wish. The concepts of equality, freedom, tolerance, inclusion, diversity, became part of our lexicon and our common values  post WWII. It didn’t all happen at once. In Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees rights to all citizens, but its taken specific legislation like Ontario’s AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) to cover full inclusion for people with disabilities, and other institutional frameworks have also evolved to support these values. At the UN, we have an international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, endorsed by Canada and may other countries, setting a standard on human dignity for people with disabilities.

For March of Dimes, and every disability/rehabilitation organization, our legacy must include knowledge that the horror of Action T4 is the antithesis of our values, and that our vision is always to strive for a society inclusive of all people with disabilities. We have a moral obligation to remember the past and to create a better future; loving and valuing the vulnerable, and those with disabilities among us.

About modcpresident
I grew up in Calgary, where I completed a BA at the University of Calgary, then travelled and taught in Kenya and the Canadian Arctic during the heyday of Trudeaumania, hippie travel and social experimentation. I settled in Vancouver to complete a Master of Social Work degree at the University of British Columbia, and stayed another 8 years. After graduating I was a Social Planner and eventually became the Executive Director of the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. Ontario March of Dimes recruited me in 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons and the 30th anniversary of the agency. It has grown from a budget of $5m in '81 to $100m in 2010. Services have expanded drafmatically. We incorporated a non profit housing corporation in 1992 and a national charity in 2001, and since 2006 the latter has operated as March of Dimes Canada. We own and operate several properties that provide accommodation and independent living services to 77 people in 4 municipalities and will add another property this year. Two other exciting non profit entities have been incorporated in my 30 years (yes, it has been 30 years!) and we expect to hold our first fundraiser in the US this year and to initiate our first service south of the border also. My role as President and CEO continues to be that of creating a vision, fulfilling the mission and developing strategic plans to meet an increasing demand for services from people with disabilities and their caregivers. This is achieved through direct service, advocacy and peer programs. On a personal note, I live with my 17 year old daughter and two cats, and enjoy their company a lot. My two adult sons are doing interesting exploration in their own lives and I am intrigued with how they are progressing. In my spare time, I have various volunteer roles on several non profit boards and committees, and enjoy creating programs for building awareness of diversity and disability. I think it has become true for me that youth is, while not "wasted on the young," something that I appreciate more with age. Adventures are physically more challenging for me now, so they have to occur in new dimensions.

4 Responses to WHY JANUARY 27, 1945 SHOULD MATTER TO EVERY PERSON IN OUR SOCIETY

  1. Great article which I re-posted – http://njnnetwork.com/2015/02/liberation-of-auschwitz-is-a-reminder-to-every-canadian/

    They are not killing us in Canada any more but we don’t have much in the way of human rights, unless we’re rich enough to afford lawyers and strong enough for the battle.

    In 2009, the PEI Press Gallery ejected me for being a journalist and a disability advocate, in a case of disability discrimination. The president said there was “no room in the inn” referring to my electric wheelchair as taking up too much space. The CBC supported this vote with their 37 members of the PEI Press Gallery, more people than the Ontario Press Gallery in total.

    I filed a human rights discrimination case in PEI and with the Canadian Human Rights Commission because the CBC is exempt from Provincial law.

    My human rights case is in its 6th year with the CBC funding the bigots on the other side. I should just quit but then where will the next bloke / gal be if we don’t win the right to work. I will probably win if it doesn’t kill me. The stress brought on a heart attack last year after one court session.

    Poverty and living on social assistance is no fun nor is it healthy but that is the life for too many people with disabilities.

  2. Thank you for this eloquent and important message, Andria! We need to pay attention to this history and be vigilant, determined and creative in our public education about the equal human worth and the contributions of people with disabilities, especially those with severe cognitive impairments. In 2011, Al Etmanski asked disability leaders in Canada to write about their advocacy aspirations for the coming year. The title of his blog series was “What Are You Skating Towards?” This is what I wrote then:

    “Over the last year, I have observed a pernicious trend toward labelling some people as unworthy of continued care. In 2012, I will be skating defensively toward it. Thanks to information technology, I have many friends all over the world who are also parents of children with disabilities. One family, from Australia, I have known ‘virtually’ for many years – their son has developmental disabilities, is medically complex and has managed to survive over 77 hospitalizations in his 23 years of life. This year, the professional advisory committee at their hospital took a unilateral decision that there would be no more ICU hospitalizations or resuscitation measures because these would ‘not be in the best interest of the patient’ and furthermore, they would be ‘futile’. It was my guess that a meeting of hospital administrators had taken place that basically placed a cap on the public funds that one individual could or should consume in a lifetime – especially if that individual had developmental disabilities.”

    We live in a world where many equate the worth of a human life to its capacity to earn a salary enabling ‘self-sufficiency’. There are so many things wrong with this belief. First, self-sufficiency in the human race is a fallacy. We are all ‘some mother’s child’ and some day, we will all require the assistance of sons and daughters (or at least paid helpers) to get through the day. Every parent of a child with disabilities (me included!) knows the worth and contribution of her child. That’s why we created the Registered Disability Savings Plan. We built a network of supportive friends around our son who love him and celebrate his many talents and who share his many interests. Because our son requires 24 hour care, he supports many families whose salaries he generates. Those people pay taxes.

    Yesterday, when I read Andria’s blog post, I googled disability and the holocaust. I watched silent films of toddlers with deformities in their hands and legs. I wanted to hold those babies tightly, because that is what we must do to protect our children who are under threat from anyone who might think they are worthless. 1939 is not that long ago.

  3. Stephen Pate says:

    If I may comment twice. Our society only wants normal. Normal looking people are beautiful. Normal talk is nice. Abnormal is strange.

    Well to be disabled is to be abnormal but its all good. My brother has a girl who is down syndrome. He cried when she was born but she taught him to feel. That woman, my niece – she’s in her 20s – shows us all how to love, to love without condition. I wish she lived closer to me to remind me over and over what a jerk I can be with my intellectualism. I have tried for 64 years to fake normal by being extra smart, super achieving and erudite. What a waste it has been,

    Last night we watched “Nell” which is a fictionalized account of a young woman with developmental disability, most of which in her case is environmental. The movie wasn’t too popular because it accurately depicted prejudice by normal people against someone with a learning disability. Nell felt life on a more emotional level than our society expects and almost got herself institutionalized.

    I saw the movie as a allegory about all people with disabilities, how the differences can result in exploitation (side show), discrimination, abuse, being patronized, etc.

    We are a long way from accepting each other as we really are but we should try. The world can be destroyed by people like the Nazi’s who carried intellectual argument to the illogical extreme of exterminating those who were not Aryan. Inside of many cultures is a similar desire that is held back by public approbation, but just barely.

  4. Ron says:

    Just a thank-you for remembering us. Keep up the fight for injustice. Make sure all you who fly the banner of march of dimes also fight injustice. 2 issues
    1.. Resarch and development should pay handicap volunteers the same as “healthy people” hear us uhn!
    2. Rdsp- the age should be 55 as the cut off for grants, etc. for the 10 year rule to match disability ccp. Hear us Conservative party!!

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