Aktion T4 generated a great deal of correspondence. While families and friends were anxious to locate their loved ones, T4 official were determined to keep the whereabouts of these patients secret. Thousands of desperate letters were sent by concerned loved ones to officials, pleading for news.
Here is a letter from an American, penned before the U.S. and Germany were at war and addressed to the therapeutic establishment of Warneck in Wurzburg:
November 1, 1940
I learned that my mother Frau Gertrud Sonder is supposed to be no longer in Warneck. As her only child and as an American citizen who has contributed to the costs of my mother’s upkeep, I request you kindly to give me an indication as to the present whereabouts of my mother. I should be very thankful if you would give me such indication by return airmail. Please charge any eventual expenses to my privileged frozen account.
and this letter in search of a cousin . . .
Mainz, 1 December 1940
To the Management of the therapeutic and Nursing Establishment
I beg to inquire herewith whether my cousin Herr Oswald Feis is in your establishment. He reported to me some time ago from the Therapeutic and Nursing Establishment in Ansbach that he was being transferred to Eglfing. I wrote him directly three times enclosing a stamped envelope for answer without receiving any news from him. A parcel sent to him was also returned to me. I request you kindly let me have some news as soon as possible as to the state of his health and whether he is still staying in your establishment. I would like to prepare a Christmas treat for him.
Regardless of where the letters of inquiry were sent, they were answered with the same form letter:
To: Mrs. Johanna Sara Moritz
Subj: Rubell Marin, you letter of 1 December 1940
We have forwarded your letter to the competent agency because the name of the receiving center is unknown to us.
Note that the form letters state that the loved one has disappeared into some nebulous “receiving center” and the letter is signed with only an initial. Vague, impersonal responses that leave families and friends in limbo.
There were occasional exceptions, however, like this letter from a loving mother:
Dachau, 14 December 1940
Greatly Honored Herr Direktor:
Please forgive me if I approach you personally with a heavy mother’s heart in these days which also for you must be full of suffering. On 2 December I received an announcement from the institution that my daughter Anny Wild, House 8, had been transferred because the house had to be cleared and that the receiving institution would notify me, but to date I have no heard anything. I beg you urgently to tell me as soon as possible where my daughter is now. At the same time I want to express to you, Venerated Herr Director, and to the other doctors who helped to care for my daughter in her many days of severe suffering, my deeply felt gratitude. If you realize that she has been bedridden for almost a whole year but now at this season had to go on a journey, you will understand my great solicitude; and also if you consider that the holidays are near the we would have liked to much to visit her. I beg you urgency for an immediate reply.
With German greeting.
To this moving plea, the infamous Dr. Pfannmuller replied at once, likely the only time he didn’t use the standard form (perhaps because of her use of terms like “Greatly Honored” and “Venerated”?):
Greatly Honored Mrs. Strohmier:
In reply to you letter of 14 December 1940, I regret not being able to tell you to which reception institution your daughter has been admitted, since I personally was not informed about the matter. However, I have been assured that you will be informed about the condition of your daughter, Anny Wild, in a short time by the receiving institution. The transfer of the patient occurred within the frame of a planned evacuation of the institution for the purpose of making room for evacuees upon the direction of the Commissioner for Defense of the Realm. The direction of this institution has no influence upon the transfer of patients.
It won’t surprise you to hear that Mrs. Strohmier’s daughter, Anny Wild, was murdered along with 70,272 others.
I can tell you firsthand from my experience with Nancy how agitating, aggravating, and totally unnerving (not to mention unacceptable) it is to not be able to talk to anybody at the institution where the patient resides and for your phone calls, emails, and letters to go unanswered. Poor communication still happens today, unfortunately, though it hasn’t happened a single time since we moved Nancy a few years ago. We are now in constant communication with her caregivers, and let me tell you: that means everything.
Next week we’ll talk about correspondence from the T4 committee to families and friends concerning the deaths of their loved ones.
I mean, the murders of their loved ones.
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How gut-wrenchingly vile.
Vile is the perfect word. Every time I go to post an informational article, I argue with myself. But I always win because while it’s gut-wrenching vile, as you so appropriately say, we need to know the what’s and why’s and how’s if we are truly to prevent this from ever happening again.
Yes, we DO have to be informed, hard as it is. We can’t hide from it! The world can indeed be ugly.