I have to say that I have an issue with that popular saying attributed to Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller that begins with, “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.”
I don’t have a problem with the sentiment expressed. It’s just that there’s a hole in it. It ought to begin with, “First they came for the cripples and I did not speak out because I was not a cripple.“
It would be nice if we could update Niemoller’s words for the sake of historical accuracy and inclusion. I know that’s difficult because first, he never mentioned cripples in his original statement; and second, he’s dead. But maybe his estate could grant permission to put words in his mouth, posthumously, just this once.
Because the “they” in this saying are, of course, Hitler and his Nazis. And they refined their extermination techniques by first practicing on snuffing out cripples. In 1939, Hitler launched a program called T4, named after the address of the Berlin headquarters for the program, Tiergartenstrasse 4. At this headquarters, a team of “medical experts” reviewed the records of all the institutionalized cripples in Germany and sent about 200,000 of them off on a field trip to take a shower. Except the rounded-up cripples didn’t know it was a one-way trip. The so-called group shower facilities were really gas chambers.
For a government to get away with treating a group of its citizens so shabbily, it must rationalize such behavior with a steady diet of propaganda. The victims must be dehumanized. The rest of the citizens have to feel that the victims pose some sort of threat to them and thus, wiping them out becomes an act of self-defense.
The T4 propaganda made cripples out to be a major threat due to the enormity of their dead weight. They were depicted as “useless eaters” living “burdensome lives.”
I don’t think such a blatantly hateful marketing approach would work today. Cripples have come a long way since 1939 in some countries. People see us out and about on the streets all the time. We’re not as scary as we used to be. Getting the uncrippled majority to buy in to a cripple-cleansing program like T4 today would require a much more humane exercise in dehumanization, st