The deaf and disabled were the first on Hitler’s list. About 13,000 deaf people were sterilized or killed in the 1930’s. The deaf people were in the executioner’s hand because communication was a problem. They were also viewed as inferior, "useless eater’s”. In 1939, Hitler made a decision to kill the “useless eaters” in Germany. The deaf and disabled were to be killed (Berke, 2007).
Children and Babies born with physical defects were taken from their parents to a special part of the hospital. There they were starved and given lethal injections to finish the last few days or seconds of their lives. The parents were told that their children had died of natural causes. Almost 2,000 deaf children were killed this way. In 1939, Hitler decided to create the T4 program. In doing this he sent questionnaires to all the institutional care homes to be filled out on those that where deaf and disabled. From the home they were taken to a kill center. Some say it looked like a big factory with ashes flowing out the chimney of those who were just executed. It later became known as the killing factory. In 1934, they forced sterilization on individuals who were deaf. In 1937, 95 percent of deaf children where a part of Hitler’s Youth for the Deaf. The young members wore a “G” on their shoulder. The “G” stood for “gehoerlosen” deaf. (Which means hearing lose) (Berke, 2007)
While doing my research I came across a story of a survivor. In fact this survivor became an assistant professor of English at Gallaudet University. Eugene Bergman was a 7 year old boy who could hear until one day when he was walking down the street and saw the German Army walking a group of Jews through the streets. Out of nowhere a solider hit Bergman in the head with a rifle. Bergman lost his memory of his childhood up to that point. He also woke up in the hospital to another surprise. He was looking around and saw a doctor and nurse moving their mouths but, he couldn't hear them.
Bergman was from Poznan, Poland, but not long after he was released from the hospital his family moved to Lodz to stay with family. The next year, 1940, Bergman and his family moved to Warsaw. Bergman stated, “I remember that we traveled in a horse-drawn cart to get there.” (Walter, 1987)
For five months his family lived in the non-Jewish part of the city. Communicating was not easy for Bergman, he used lip-reading along with paper and pencil to talk with people. “Most of the time I lived in a fog, I couldn't hear and didn’t know what was going on around me. I lived a very sheltered life, but my father always made sure we had food so we didn't go hungry,” says Bergman.
His family was forced to move to Warsaw’s Ghetto. This was an area set aside for Jews by the Germans. They lived in a two room apartment with his mother and two brothers. His father had obtained false Aryan identification papers and lived outside the ghetto. Once a week his father would sneak into the ghetto and give his family a sack of food so they wouldn't go hungry. (Walter, 1987)
Bergman's safe life would change on July 22, 1942 when the Germans decided to extradite the rest of the Jews in Warsaw to a Treblinka Extermination Camp. Between July 22 and October 3, three- hundred and ten thousand Jews were killed. Bergman and his family hid in a secret cellar in their apartment building. They could hear people being drug out of the building. These people were taken away and sent to death camps. Not everyone was carried out, if you were crippled, sick or had a disease you were shot and killed on site.
At this point the Germans were not letting anyone in the Ghetto, so Bergman and his family were starving. His father couldn't sneak food into them. In the morning time they would hide from the German soldiers coming into apartments to take people to the death chamber or the kill factory. But in the afternoon they could go out and walk the streets. People living in the ghetto had no idea what was happening to their friends and family at this point. All they knew was that they were being drug out of their homes and taken somewhere else. “The German’s followed their usual policy; they forced the people to write post cards to their families saying that they were being treated well and that they had found work, before they were gassed. “(Walter, 1987)
After days of being hungry his father was able to smuggle in a loaf of bread. But he had attached a message to the bread that they needed to get out of the ghetto. David, one of Bergman’s brothers had bribed a guard in order to get his family out of the ghetto. After leaving the ghetto they walked to the apartment that his father was staying. He recalls, “I remember we opened the door and father was sitting inside. In five days his hair had turned completely white. Dad was only 37 and I was 10.”(Walter, 1987)
They stayed with his father for several days, but people in the building became suspicious of the situation. His father, Pesakh, took Sarah, Eugene and David to another ghetto in Czestochowa. But within a few weeks the Jews were being drug out of their homes in this ghetto. His brother David left and took a train to Warsaw to get his father. He returned back to the ghetto with his father to wait for the others out side the wall. Bergman and his mother climbed over the wall. The family was united again, but not for long. The Germans had moved all the Jews out of this city, so the family moved to Kielce. One day, Bergman went to a river to go swimming when he had severe leg cramps and almost drowned. He was saved by a Polish boatman. The boatman asked if Bergman was Jewish. Bergman just pointed to his ear and said the Polish word for deaf. The boatman just let him go, being deaf may have kept him alive.
When he was walking home he noticed the dirt was flying up by his feet and around him. It was the Polish insurgent unit shooting at him. They stopped him and asked him for his papers. When they found out he was deaf they let him stay with them, but he could not go home.
For two months he was a work horse for the Polish. On October 1 the Polish surrendered, Bergman now became a prisoner of war. He was taken to Lamsdorf POW camp in Silesia. While at this camp he was always hungry, they only got one eight of a loaf of black bread a day. He lived here for about six months. Then one day they were set free. (Walter, 1987) Bergman now a free man went back to the apartment that his family was living in but, his family was not there. He heard through the newspaper that the Jewish had formed a committee. He went to this committee to find his parents; they gave him an address to locate his mother. His father had been shot in the neck and killed by a German solider. They lived in this displaced camp for about two years, and then an uncle helped them come to America. When they came to America Bergman learned sign language. He also became an assistant professor of English at Gallaudet University.
Even though Bergman had been through so much I found his history to be astounding. He has mastered five languages, he was the first deaf person to earn a PhD in English, co-author of a play “Tales from a Clubroom,” and author of the book Art for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; plus, many other accomplishments. (Walter, 1987)
According to Jochen Muhs, Vice President of The Deaf Federation of Berlin, deaf people in Germany after World War II were ashamed of this era. A couple of reasons were because of the sterilization and many had joined the Nazi party. This explains why very little has ever been written about deaf people in the part of history.
It is my personal opinion that this topic should not be overlooked or ignored as a part of the history of what took place during World War II to the deaf and handicapped.