Philip Bouhler

Philip Bouhler

Philip Bouhler was born in Munich on 11th September 1899. He served in the German Army in the First World War where he was badly wounded.

After the war he worked for the Völkischer Beobachter. Bouhler was an early member of the Nazi Party and by 1925 was its business manager. He held the post for the next nine years and was given the rank of Lieutenant General.

In 1933 Bouhler was elected to the Reichstag as a deputy for the electoral district of Westphalia. The following year he became head of the police in Munich. Later he became Hitler's chief of chancellery. He also became chairman of the censorship committee that issued lists of approved and condemned books.

Karl Brandt was responsible for the Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health that was used to introduce compulsory sterilization. In August, 1939 the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and Congenially Based Diseases was established. Euthanasia was employed to deal with the incurably insane or the physically handicapped. Brandt and Bouhler were put in charge of this programme that Hitler said would result in the "racial integrity of the German people."

The euthanasia programme was known as T-4 and began in autumn 1939. According to Ulf Schmidt, the author of Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor, the first person to die as a result of the T-4 programme was Gerhard Kretschmar, a child born on 29th February 1939. Documents show that the parents, who lived in the south-eastern region of Saxony, petitioned Adolf Hitler asking for the child to be "put to sleep". Brandt claimed "it was a child who was born blind, an idiot - at least it seemed to be an idiot - and it lacked one leg and part of one arm."

Carbon monoxide gas was selected as the means of death and several asylums were equipped with chambers for this purpose. Between October 1939 and August 1941, T-4 killed over 70,000 people. As the Second World War progressed the euthanasia program was used to exterminate people said to be biologically inferior, such as Jews, Poles, Russians and Gypsies.

Philip Bouhler committed suicide before he could be captured by the Allies on 19th May 1945.

Primary Sources

(1) Ulf Schmidt, Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor (2007)

In the autumn of 1939, Karl Brandt and Philipp Bouhler, head of the Chancellery of the Fuehrer, were personally entrusted by Hitler to organize and implement the 'euthanasia' programme. The origins of the programme are complex, and scholars are still arguing over how it actually started. However, we have a clear idea with whom it started, namely with the most defenceless and vulnerable members of the population: children. Post-war testimony agrees that around 1939, a severely handicapped infant served as a pretext for Hitler to initiate the programme to kill the mentally and physically handicapped, a policy Hitler had wanted to implement since he had become Reich Chancellor, if not earlier. The precise sequence of events is thus of historical significance, not only with regard to the role of Brandt, but in understanding the mechanisms of decision-making in the high echelons of the Nazi leadership, and the powerful and mostly destructive dynamics which went along with it.

Until recently, the identity of the infant and exactly when it was killed were shrouded in mystery, amplified by the conflicting post-war testimony of those involved in the killing programme. It was believed that the infant, sex unknown, was called `Knauer', and that the case occurred in the winter of 1938, or at the latest at the beginning of 1939.1 Testimony seemed to agree that the infant was born blind and with severe handicaps, lacking one leg and part of an arm. Most of the physicians involved in the case diagnosed the infant as an idiot; but not all, and some stated that the baby suffered from convulsions. Other sources which could have corroborated the sequence of events were believed to have been mostly destroyed or lost. New research, however, enables us to reconstruct the identity of the infant, and the events which led to its death, with greater clarity.

A German medical historian, Udo Benzenhofer, has recently found out the name and sex of the child, but he is adamant that he cannot disclose this information because of strict German data-protection laws. He argues that historians should from now on call the case the 'child K' and that the main importance of his discovery lies in its factual value; in other words, that it is now safe to say that this child "really existed".

Although this approach is understandable and sensitive to the feelings of the parents and relatives of the child, it somehow overlooks the child itself and its individual suffering. Let us he precise in describing the context. The parents of this child wanted the child to be killed. According to the available evidence, they were ardent Nazis, who regarded their child's prospective life as "not worth living"; and saw to it that their child would be killed in accordance with Nazi ideology. By calling the case the "child K", we would not only medicalize the child's history, but also place the justifiable claim of the parents for anonymity above the personality and suffering of the first "euthanasia" victim.

I therefore wish to reveal the child's full identity: the child was a boy, born on 20 February 1939 in Pomben, a small village in the south-eastern region of Saxony. His name was Gerhard Herbert Kretschmar. In the spring of 1939, Gerhard's father, an agricultural labourer called Richard Gerhard Kretschmar of Pomben, consulted Werner Catel, the director of the University Children's Clinic in Leipzig, with a view to having the child admitted. Catel later claimed that the father had been concerned about the effect the child was having on the mother, Lina Sonja Kretschmar, and had asked him to admit the infant to his clinic with a view to `putting it to sleep: Catel apparently declined to do so because he felt it was illegal. The child's parents (probably the father), or a relative, then petitioned Hitler to grant permission to have the child killed. Such appeals were directed to Hitler's KdF, where similar requests had previously been lodged.

(2) Werner Heyde, statement at Nuremberg (1947)

We were told that the euthanasia of the mentally ill should in practice be put into reality and we were asked to offer our support as experts and advisors. This meeting was followed by a series of meetings from September 1939 onwards. During these meetings Brack, Karl Brandt, Bouhler, Conti, and Linden were present, among others. The attendance of the aforementioned was not regular. At the meeting in September or October 1939 it became very clear to me and also for the others that Philipp Bouhler and Karl Brandt were the men in charge of the so called euthanasia programme.

(3) Karl Brandt, letter to his wife (8th July, 1947)

Why I did not know anything, well, the answer lies in the matter itself. The implementation was just none of my business. For this Bouhler had his organisation. He signed for it. However, the prosecution will now attempt to make me responsible, because only I am now here. Moreover, the prosecution will try to blame me for all the killings in the concentration camps and in Poland. I don't know how they propose to prove this... In any case, I would like to give you once more the inner reassurance that I was in no way informed about these things and that I in no way ever initiated anything even remotely of this nature. In retrospect, I have to add: what would have happened, if I had known? Could I have influenced it? Could it have been prevented? Not through me, I believe. Even my channels would have been limited: Hitler, Bormann, Bouhler - I could not have approached anyone else. So today I must say - whether it was for good or bad - that fate protected me from having to make difficult choices.