The Nazis began a huge propaganda campaign against mentally and physically disabled Germans. They did not fit into the Nazi stereotype of the pure Aryan, that is physically fit with an obedient mind to serve the Reich. In addition, they were viewed as a burden on society, as they were unable to work and drained resources from the state.
As early as July 1933, the Nazis passed a law that allowed forced sterilisation of 350,000 men and women, who were deemed likely to produce 'inferior' children.
Between 1939 and 1941 a programme of euthanasia (so called ‘mercy killing’), ordered by the state, led to the murder, by doctors and medical staff, of at least 70,000 people.
Both the Protestant and Catholic Churches in Germany protested against the euthanasia programme. In July 1941 a letter from the Catholic bishops was read out in all churches, declaring that it was wrong to kill. Opposition to the programme increased amongst the Catholic population of Germany.
During July and August 1941, Bishop Clemens August Graf von Gale, a Catholic Bishop issued three sermons condemning this practice; he sent a telegram of the third sermon to Hitler calling on him to “defend the people against the Getsapo”. This third sermon was also reproduced and sent all over Germany to families, and even to German soldiers on the Western and Eastern Fronts.
Fearing a public uprising across Germany, Hitler ordered a stop to the killings.
However, the policy continued in one way or another through to 1945. For instance, after the Nazi invasion of Poland they murdered thousands of seriously ill Poles in hospitals.
The experience gained as a result of the euthanasia programme was also put to use from 1941 onwards as the Nazis sought to murder the Jews of Europe.