Empty Beds: Representations of Euthanasia in Nazi Propaganda Films




Wilkinson (Wald), Sarah

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Between 1939 and 1945, 300,000 mentally and physically disabled people living in Europe were murdered through an involuntary euthanasia campaign undertaken by the NSDAP. The scale of this destruction required the widespread involvement of healthcare practitioners, medical institutions, and the German public. Taking into consideration Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels’ “orchestra principle” -- a strategy where each branch of Nazi media was conducted to bombard the public with complementary propaganda -- this project will examine how film was used to promote forced euthanasia within the Nazi Party as well as to the public. To accomplish this, two films commissioned by the Nazi Party are examined. Screened only to significant figures within Aktion T4, the film Dasein ohne Leben provides insight on how carefully cultivated depictions of patients living in care facilities were used to encourage euthanasia for the alleged sake of economic and public health. An analysis of the emotionally-charged feature film Ich klage an examines the use of the Third Reich’s film industry as a vector for pro-euthanasia sentiment as the audience sympathises with the protagonist and her wish for death as she struggles with multiple sclerosis. Information provided through these analyses aids in understanding how National Socialist Germany used film to undermine the human rights of a vulnerable demographic of people and contributes to the ongoing discussion on representation, agency, and accessibility of people with mental and physical disabilities.