"Life unworthy of life"
: "Lebens unwertes Leben"
) was a Nazi designation
for the segments of populace that, according to racial policies of the Third Reich
, had no right to live
and thus were to be "exterminated." This concept formed an important component of the ideology
and eventually led to the Holocaust
The expression first occurs in the title of a 1920 book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens, (Release for Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Life) by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche.
Those considered to be "deviant" or a "source of social turmoil" in Nazi Germany
and the occupied Europe
fell under this designation. The "deviant" category included the mentally ill
, physically disabled
, political dissidents
, intermarriage partners
. The "social turmoil" category included the clergy
, Jehovah's Witnesses
, and a variety of other groups in society. More than any other of these groups, the Jews soon became the primary focus of this genocidal
The concept culminated in Nazi extermination camps, instituted to systematically murder those who were unworthy to live, according to Nazi ideologists. It also justified various human experimentation, and eugenics programs, as well as racial policies.
Development of the concept
According to the author of Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, the policy went through a number of iterations and modifications:
"Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the principle of "life unworthy of life," coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of “impaired” children in hospitals; and then the killing of “impaired” adults, mostly collected from mental hospitals, in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide gas. This project was extended (in the same killing centers) to “impaired” inmates of concentration and extermination camps and, finally, to mass killings in the extermination camps themselves."