Holocaust Memorial Day and the story of disabled people

Holocaust Memorial Day helps us to remember the atrocities against minority groups including disabled people

Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January commemorates all those affected by Hitler’s campaign of genocide against the Jews and other minority groups including Roma Gypsies, eastern Europeans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, trade unionists, socialists, communists and disabled people.

It is estimated that close to 250,000 disabled people were murdered by the Nazi regime. The Nazis used the discredited theory of eugenics to argue that mentally and physically disabled people were inferior to the Aryan race.

This formed the basis of the ‘T4 programme’, a state sponsored genocide of disabled people with doctors authorised to sign off patients for the death camps.

A “survival of the fittest” ideology saw disabled people as worthless and a financial burden, justifying the murder of adults and children by lethal injection and starvation.

Six “killing centres” were established to speed up the process. At the Brandenburg centre thousands of disabled people were murdered in a gas chamber described as a shower room, a cruel deception also used at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Other disabled people were forcibly sterilized so their “tainted” genes would not affect the “pure” Aryan race. It has been estimated that between 1933 and 1939, 360,000 people were forcibily sterilised to prevent “hereditary diseased offspring”.

Holocaust Memorial Day helps us to remember these atrocities, particularly in the face of the continued denial of the Holocaust by far right organisations and academics.

Furthermore, despite the creation of the United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention, agreed after the Holocaust to criminalise genocide, further genocides have continued worldwide, including in Rwanda and Bosnia.

“We must be vigilant against the false theories used by the Nazis to justify genocide,” said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis, “and aware of the disastrous consequences that can result from dehumanising a particular group and infringing their rights.”

Added Mr Prentis: “We must never forget that the Holocaust was a state programme designed to destroy particular groups, including disabled people, and we must remember all those affected.

“UNISON branches can join in this work by commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, fighting for equality for disabled people in the workplace and in society and by working with their regional International Committee on solidarity actions.”