From the end of the19th century onwards mentally ill were sometimes seen as a threat to the human race. To ensure the quality of the next generations, nations had to protect themselves against mentally ill by sterilizing them or even worse, by killing them.
Eugenetics A threat to the human race
The reasoning, which had no truly scientific basis, was based on Darwinism.
“The völkisch state must see to it that only healthy people beget children. (…) The state must act as a guardian of a thousand year future (…) At the service of this realisation he must employ the most modern means. He must declare everyone who is in some kind of way ill or has a hereditary disease that could be passed on to their offspring unfit to procreate.” These were Adolf Hitler’s ideas, which he formulated himself in 1933. The concept of eugenics, which arose during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, viewed epileptics, the insane, the blind, the deformed, criminals and other socially weak individuals as a threat to the human race. The reasoning, which had no truly scientific basis, was based on Darwinism. After all, the starting point was that if these ‘cripples’ were kept alive in institutions and hospices ‘by artificial means’, they would pass on their deficiencies, thereby affecting the quality of life of future generations.
Consequently, if a nation did not want to collapse, the only thing it could do was protect itself from them, which is precisely what the Nazis did. They introduced a system of forced sterilisation for the mentally ill. However, this was not that uncommon in the Western world during the interwar period. Around 1920, sterilisation was obligatory in 25 of the United States of America for the criminally insane and for others deemed to be genetically deficient.
However, the Nazis were not driven by the logic of eugenics alone. The economic cost of caring for the mentally ill was also a factor. Ultimately, this would lead them to murder the mentally ill. Doctors and psychiatrists collaborated in this, for example by selecting the patients that were to be killed. Moreover, the first experiments with Zyklon B gas were carried out on psychiatric patients in an institution outside Dresden.