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German parliament honors euthanasia victims in Holocaust remembrance

It was one of many observances around the world honoring victims of World War II concentration camps.

By Ed Adamczyk
German parliament honors euthanasia victims in Holocaust remembrance
Germany's Bundestag commemorated international Holocaust Day with readings and music, noting the deaths of 300,000 euthanasia victims in concentration camps. Seated at upper right, from left, are Bundesrat President Malu Dreyer, German President Joachim Gauck, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the German Constitutional Court Andreas Vosskuhle. Photo by Clemens Bilan/EPA

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Bundestag, Germany's parliament, noted International Holocaust Day with a moving ceremony honoring euthanasia victims Friday.

Jan. 27 was designated by the United Nation is 2005 to honor those who died in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. Chosen to reflect the 1945 day of liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camps known as "The Death Factory," the date is marked globally with remembrances, notably in Germany, Israel and at the United Nations in New York City.

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For the first time, the commemorations in Berlin highlighted the approximately 300,000 people who died in Nazi euthanasia programs. German doctors had been sterilizing people diagnosed as genetically ill since 1934, but systematic mass murders began in 1939. Those not a part of racist Nazi ideals of health, including the mentally and physically disabled, and those with epilepsy and other illnesses, were sent to six concentration camps in Germany and Austria for what were termed "mercy killings."

Bundestag President Norbert Lammert told the assembled political leaders and legislators, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "Euthanasia began with the denunciation of people as useless mouths to feed. Barbarism of language is barbarism of the spirit. Words became deeds." He expressed regret that euthanasia victims were often ignored in post-war commemorations and Germany's attempt to deal with its Nazi era.

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An actor with Down Syndrome read a letter written in a euthanasia center and not found until the end of the war, describing its appalling conditions. The audience also heard a performance of a classical work by composer Norbert von Hannenheim, who suffered from acute psychological problems and is believed to have been admitted to a euthanasia clinic. The piece was performed, with piano accompaniment, by Felix Klieser, an armless French horn player who played the instrument with one foot.

The United Nations capped a five-day commemoration of films, conferences and historical displays with speeches noting the Holocaust observance on Friday. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a video presentation, called the Holocaust the culmination of millennia of discrimination targeting the Jews. He said the world is currently witnessing a "deeply troubling" rise in extremism and anti-Muslim hatred.

"Irrationality and intolerance are back. We can never remain silent or indifferent when human beings are suffering. We must always defend the vulnerable and bring tormentors to justice. And as the theme of this year's observance highlights, a better future depends on education. After the horrors of the 20th century, there should be no room for intolerance in the 21st. I guarantee you that as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will be in the front line of the battle against anti-Semitism and all other forms of hatred," he said.

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