An actor with Down Syndrome has read aloud from a letter written by Ernst Putzki, identified by the Nazis as “unworthy of living” and murdered in 1945, before German parliamentarians as the country marked Holocaust Memorial Day.
On Friday Sebastian Urbanski took to the speaker’s podium of the German lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, for five minutes to recall the 300,000 victims of the Nazi euthanasia campaign that targeted the seriously ill, handicapped or destitute.
Urbanski’s appearance was the first by someone with an intellectual handicap before the house. It was also the first time the Nazi euthanasia programme was highlighted during the annual Holocaust memorial.
“Death candidates” like Putzki were taken to the Hesse state asylum in the small town of Weilmuenster so that they could be “left to starve unnoticed in this sparsely populated area”, Urbanski cited from Putzki’s letter to his mother from September 1943.
“People here starve to skeletons and die like flies,” Putzki wrote in his letter. Starvation was part of the Nazi euthanasia campaign.
Bundestag President Norbert Lammert stressed the importance of evidence such as Putzki’s letter: “All facts on ‘euthanasia’ remain abstract without the contemporary reports of the victims. Only the individual fates of the tortured and murdered really let us appreciate what was done to innocent people.”
In Poland, survivors of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp were due to gather at the site on the anniversary of the day in 1945 that the Red Army liberated the camp.
Under the Nazis at least 1.1 million people were gassed, beaten or shot to death, or died from hunger or disease in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In 1996, the then German president Roman Herzog proposed January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated, as a day of remembrance in Germany for the victims of the Nazi regime.
In 2005, the United Nations made January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
On Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning about the rise of anti-Semitism in the West.