The darkest and best-documented atrocity in the history of disabled people occurred during the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Hitler’s Aktion T4 program killed disabled people and incinerated their bodies, almost as a way of practicing its methods for the numerically greater atrocities committed against the Jewish people in the “final solution” remembered as “The Holocaust” to this day.

Margaret MacMillan’s book helps us understand what history is and how it can be used or misused when applied to current situations. Facts can be “cherry-picked” or left out altogether, twisted for current political purposes, or misinterpreted accidentally or deliberately. But facts are facts. People had their bodies harmed in painful “medical” experiments. People died at the hands of other people, many of whom were medical professionals. Some families volunteered their disabled family members to be slaughtered. Other families would have been horrified, but never found out the truth about how their disabled family member died.

Kenny Fries is a disabled writer, researcher and scholar who has lived in America, Canada, Japan, and Germany. While living in Germany, he has contributed important work on the history of Aktion T4, the Nazi program of experimentation and extermination of people with disabilities. In these six videos, Fries details the facts gleaned about the people who died, and those who killed them.

One of the most infamous Nazi doctors was Josef Mengele, a Nazi scientist who did heinous experiments on many disabled people, both before and after he had them killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. But one family was not killed, so their story survives. Perla was a member of the Ovitz family, a family of Jewish dwarves — “little people” who performed in circuses and shows for a living. Dr. Mengele decided not to kill this large family of performers for reasons we will never know, but he did conduct painful and humiliating experiments on them. One film, Liebe Perla, interviews one of the survivors, who is so grateful to him for not murdering her family that she refuses to say anything bad about him, and refuses to acknowledge the number of disabled people he tortured and killed.

There is much to say about the manner in which disabled people have been treated in Canada as well, from institutionalization to sterilization, from segregated education to victimization. Eugenic thinking was common here before and during the Nazi war, across the political spectrum, left to right, and the notions behind it did not disappear with the eventual change in the law. Large, congregate institutions for people with intellectual, mental and psychiatric differences and disabilities were notorious for physical, sexual and emotional abuse of residents. Most of these places have been closed in most provinces and territories, but they still exist, often under different names. Unmarked graves of thousands of residents have been desecrated and treated with disrespect. Woodlands in BC is one of those institutions, but there were many others from coast to coast.

For a tally of the effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on disabled and institutionalized people, see Amy Hasbrouck’s June 2020 Blogpost, The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the policies meant to contain it, on disabled people. While you’re there, spend some time checking out the 245-episode archive of webinars, from 2012 up to June, 2020.

While disabled people in Canada achieved a measure of equality by having their rights recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1981, this has not resulted in social and material conditions of equality for most. While there have been many important challenges resulting in strengthened legal status for people with disabilities, there is still a very long way to go before the country achieves real recognition of substantive equality.

There is much more material to be included on this page in the future. For example, The Eugenics Archive provides a rich and comprehensive historical resource that deserves much more attention, and will be highlighted in upcoming blog posts. Meanwhile, please give sober consideration to the real historical backdrop of the disabled community’s opposition to a Bill that offers them “death by choice”, but fails to provide material support for life.


Important speeches on the floor of the Senate during Third Reading of Bill C-7

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