Germany had been the site of an increasing number of measures taken in the name of "racial purity" since the Nazis asssumed power in 1933, including forced sterilization of those with physical and/or mental handicaps, and the murder of infants with similar handicaps (in both cases, the primary targets were not Jews, but so-called "Aryans," or non-Jewish Germans). Now in 1939, under the cover of war, the program was to be expanded to include murdering handicapped adults. Since Hitler would issue no law legalizing such forced "euthanasia," and since physicians would hesitate or refuse to take part in the killing unless they had written protection from later prosecution, Hitler was persuaded to sign this document on his personal stationery (German-language version also available) instructing his assistants Philipp Bouhler and Dr. Karl Brandt to initiate the program. The document was signed in October 1939, but backdated to 1 September, the date of the beginning of World War II. For further information, see Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), p. 67.
Berlin, 1 September 1939
Reichsleiter Bouhler and
Dr. med. Brandt
are instructed to broaden the powers of physicians designated by name, who will decide whether those who have - as far as can be humanly determined - incurable illnesses can, after the most careful evaluation, be granted a mercy death.
/signed/ Adolf Hitler