Wednesday May 18, 2016: A visit to the T4 Memorial
It is rather difficult to summarize what we have experienced today; unlike what we will see in Poland, which will focus more intently on the Holocaust itself, our goal in Berlin has been to cover the ideological aspects that set the genocide in motion as well as to witness the multitude of historical layers still visible in the city of Berlin, be it the remnants of the Nazi regime, the physical divide of the city during the Cold War, or the commemorative actions that resulted in memorial sites all over the city in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s.
For the time being, there is only one, quite small moment from this day that I would like to reflect upon. It took place at the first site we visited, the T4 Memorial, and was profound in its quietness.
I first learned about the T4 Program while taking Professor Derek Linton’s history course on Nazi Germany at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in the spring of 2014. Through the assigned reading materials I came to know that one of the first groups the Nazis targeted were those considered to be disabled – mentally or physically – and therefore incapable of living ‘worthy’ lives in service of National Socialism. From forced sterilization to murder in vans pumped with carbon monoxide, doctors and nurses willing to participate in the regime’s means of ‘purifying’ the German population experimented with the killing methods that eventually lent themselves to the mass murder techniques employed in the death camps. There are many victims who were murdered in the T4 program – those with schizophrenia, blindness, deafness, physical deformities, ‘chronic’ alcoholism, learning difficulties, ‘asocial’ individuals, and many more. They are often among the forgotten victims of the Nazis.
A year ago I traveled to Berlin on a scholarship and visited the T4 Memorial for the first time. As I walked along the memorial’s information section – a series of passages explaining the T4 Program and coupled with images of victims, perpetrators and sites – I came across the description of one such victim, a young woman named Anna Lehnkering. Again, this time at the memorial, I walked along the information section and the same description held my attention completely. This is what was written:
Anna Lehnkering was a sweet, mild-mannered child who found learning difficult. As someone with a “hereditary disease”, she was sterilised in 1935 and admitted to Bedburg-Hau hospital in 1936. Here, she was regarded as difficult and “incapable of work”. In 1940, she was asphyxiated by gas in the Grafeneck killing centre.
Anna was sterilized and asphyxiated because she had difficulty in learning: soberly phrased, and yet this statement of fact seemed to scream out to me, not only because of its absurdity but because of its deep personal resonance. I am a dyslexic learner, and therefore I have always struggled to learn. I know how it feels to be considered incompetent or stupid in a society were my style of learning is not the norm. But Anna’s right to procreate was taken away from her because of her difference; Anna was murdered because of her difference.
I numbly stood in front of this description and stared down at Anna’s photo when I felt a hand on my shoulder. One of the community members on our trip, Bob, then walked through the rest of the memorial with me. We shared our respective reasons for feeling so intimately the significance of these individuals and the incomprehensibility of the experiences they endured.
This reflection is one that I hope to return to later on our journey, for there is still much that I need to digest and contemplate in regards to this experience. For now, it is suffice to say that Anna has touched me deeply, and I will carry her story with me as I continue to live and thrive as a dyslexic learner – her memory always in my mind.
Caitlin Petty, Hobart and William Smith Colleges ’16