Disabled people - Unworthy of life?
Thirty-five bodies were found earlier this week in a western German town. The Catholic cemetery in Menden, near Dortmund, was long rumored to be a mass gravesite of Nazi victims. Another hundred and sixty-five bodies are expected to be unearthed as excavation continues at the Catholic Church site. Most of the innocents were children, believed to have been victims of Hitler’s program of forced “euthanasia” that killed tens of thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities.
Around 70,000 people, deemed “unworthy of life” because of their disabilities, were murdered between autumn 1939 and summer 1941 and tens of thousands were murdered in the following years, usually by injections and drug overdoses in hospitals and sanatoriums supposed to protect them.
This grisly discovery begs the question; What took them so long to investigate? The burial site was the subject of more than sixty years of rumor from surviving eyewitnesses who remember bodies being transported daily. Some of the victims may have come from nearby Wimbern hospital built on the orders of Hitler's personal physician Karl Brandt, who was in charge of the euthanasia program. Was it because these victims were disabled adults and children, that no one cared enough about them to investigate these heinous rumors? They had little or no voice in life and now they have had no voice in death, after more than sixty years! Astonishing!
For me, this story is especially compelling, as I get ready to embark on my tour of the Netherlands www.Unitedbymusic.nl This tour features the amazing talents of several special needs people who will sing and dance onstage with me in a star studded musical line up. These are Dutch young adults, with various levels of disabilities, yet they will take the stage with American blues musicians, singing in their second language of English, many performing original songs that they have composed themselves. How many disabled Americans could sing and compose songs in Dutch? How many so-called “normal” Americans could perform onstage in anything other than their native tongue? How many Americans can even remember the words to an entire song, all the way through, much less perform it, in front of hundreds of strangers?
I have been astounded at the capabilities of these so-called “disabled” people. They speak better English than many of my peers and the joy and spontaneity they experience through music clearly shows them to be more evolved than the average person. I know now that the words “special needs, disabled, handicapped and retarded” need a thorough re-evaluation.
As a Jew, I have long known of the horrific history of Nazi Germany and the ruthless cruelty that was imposed on six million innocent people. But too often, it is forgotten how many others were brutally murdered simply because they were old, gay or gypsies, or simply because they were born with a different looking body or another invisible obstacle. Now, with the United by Music tour days away, it makes this an especially poignant story. Knowing that these courageous and exceptional people may have been put to death during WWII simply because they saw the world through a different set of eye glasses, makes me feel even more honored to be part of the United by Music tour.
Next week, I will take the stage with gifted human beings who will share their talents with grateful audiences. I will take the stage in memory of the tens of thousands of people who were murdered just because they were different; The tens of thousands of victims who died without a voice. And the 200 special needs people who were discarded like so much rubbish in the mass grave behind the Catholic Church in Menden. May they all, finally, rest in peace.