One of the major influences upon Hans Scholl and his decision to form the White Rose was the sermons of Clemens August von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster, especially the sermon that he delivered on August 3, 1941. In another part of the sermon, available here, Bishop von Galen spoke of conscience and how the Nazi regime had set itself against God, praying that God's forgiveness and mercy descend upon the German people. In the excerpt below, he speaks out against the egregious and horrifying attacks on human life.
The Killing of the "Unworthy"
Sermon of 3 August 1941
The Killing of the "Unworthy"
Sermon of 3 August 1941
Dearly beloved Christians! The joint pastoral letter of the German bishops, which was read in all Catholic churches in Germany on 26 June 1941, includes the following words:One of those "worthless" and "unproductive members of the national community" came from the family of Joseph Ratzinger. Reports John Allen in his book, The Rise of Benedict XVI, p. 148 (2005),"It is true that in Catholic ethics there are certain positive commandments which cease to be obligatory if their observance would be attended by unduly great difficulties; but there are also sacred obligations of conscience from which no one can release us, which we must carry out even if it should cost us our life. Never, under any circumstances, may a man, save in war or in legitimate self-defense, kill an innocent person."I had occasion on 6th July to add the following comments on this passage in the joint pastoral letter:"For some months we have been hearing reports that inmates of establishments for the care of the mentally ill who have been ill for a long period and perhaps appear incurable have been forcibly removed from these establishments on orders from Berlin. Regularly the relatives receive soon afterwards an intimation that the patient is dead, that the patient’s body has been cremated and that they can collect the ashes. There is a general suspicion, verging on certainty, that these numerous unexpected deaths of the mentally ill do not occur naturally but are intentionally brought about, in accordance with the doctrine that it is legitimate to destroy a so-called "worthless life" - in other words to kill innocent men and women, if it is thought that their lives are of no further value to the people and the state. A terrible doctrine which seeks to justify the murder of innocent people, which legitimizes the violent killing of disabled persons who are no longer capable of work, of cripples, the incurably ill and the aged and infirm!"I am reliably informed that in hospitals and homes in the province of Westphalia lists are being prepared of inmates who are classified as "unproductive members of the national community" and are to be removed from these establishments and shortly thereafter killed. . . . the patients who have been selected for killing are removed from their home area to some distant place. Some illness or other is then given as the cause of death. Since the body is immediately cremated, the relatives and the criminal police are unable to establish whether the patient had in fact been ill or what the cause of death actually was. I have been assured, however, that in the Ministry of the Interior and the office of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Conti, no secret is made of the fact that indeed a large number of mentally ill persons in Germany have already been killed with intent and that this will continue. . . .
We must expect, therefore, that the poor defenseless patients are, sooner or later, going to be killed. Why? Not because they have committed any offense justifying their death; not because, for example, they have attacked a nurse or attendant, who would be entitled in legitimate self-defense to meet violence with violence. In such a case the use of violence leading to death is permitted and may be called for, as it is in the case of killing an armed enemy.
No: these unfortunate patients are to die, not for some such reason as this but because in the judgment of some official body, on the decision of some committee, they have become "unworthy to live," because they are classed as "unproductive members of the national community." The judgment is that they can no longer produce any goods: they are like an old piece of machinery which no longer works, like an old horse which has become incurably lame, like a cow which no longer gives any milk. What happens to an old piece of machinery? It is thrown on the scrapheap. What happens to a lame horse, an unproductive cow?
I will not pursue the comparison to the end - so fearful is its appropriateness and its illuminating power.
But we are not here concerned with pieces of machinery, we are not dealing with horses and cows, whose sole function is to serve mankind, to produce goods for mankind. They may be broken up, they may be slaughtered when they no longer perform this function.
No: We are concerned with men and women, our fellow creatures, our brothers and sisters! Poor human beings, ill human beings, they are unproductive, if you will. But does that mean that they have lost the right to live? Have you, have I, the right to live only so long as we are productive, so long as we are recognized by others as productive?
If the principle that men is entitled to kill his unproductive fellow-man is established and applied, then woe betide all of us when we become aged and infirm! If it is legitimate to kill unproductive members of the community, woe betide the disabled who have sacrificed their health or their limbs in the productive process! If unproductive men and women can be disposed of by violent means, woe betide our brave soldiers who return home with major disabilities as cripples, as invalids!
If it is once admitted that men have the right to kill "unproductive" fellowmen - even though it is at present applied only to poor and defenseless mentally ill patients - then the way is open for the murder of all unproductive men and women: the incurably ill, the handicapped who are unable to work, those disabled in industry or war. The way is open, indeed, for the murder of all of us when we become old and infirm and therefore unproductive. Then it will require only a secret order to be issued that the procedure which has been tried and tested with the mentally ill should be extended to other "unproductive" persons, that it should also be applied to those suffering from incurable tuberculosis, the aged and infirm, persons disabled in industry, soldiers with disabling injuries!
Then no man will be safe: some committee or other will be able to put him on the list of "unproductive" persons, who in their judgment have become "unworthy to live." And there will be no police to protect him, no court to avenge his murder and bring his murderers to justice. Who could then have any confidence in a doctor? He might report a patient as unproductive and then be given instructions to kill him! It does not bear thinking of, the moral depravity, the universal mistrust which will spread even in the bosom of the family, if this terrible doctrine is tolerated, accepted and put into practice. Woe betide mankind, woe betide our German people, if the divine commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," which the Lord proclaimed on Sinai amid thunder and lightning, which God our Creator wrote into man’s conscience from the beginning, if this commandment is not merely violated but the violation is tolerated and remains unpunished! . . .
"Thou shalt not kill!" God wrote this commandment in the conscience of man long before any penal code laid down the penalty for murder, long before there was any prosecutor or any court to investigate and avenge a murder. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before there were any states or any courts of law. And he confessed his deed, driven by his accusing conscience: "My punishment is greater than I can bear ... and it shall come to pass, that everyone that finds me the murderer shall slay me" (Genesis 4,13-14).
"Thou shalt not kill!" This commandment from God, who alone has power to decide on life or death, was written in the hearts of men from the beginning, long before God gave the children of Israel on Mount Sinai his moral code in those lapidary sentences inscribed on stone which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture and which as children we learned by heart in the catechism. . . .
And now the fifth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill," is set aside and broken under the eyes of the authorities whose function it should be to protect the rule of law and human life, when men presume to kill innocent fellow-men with intent merely because they are "unproductive," because they can no longer produce any goods. . . .
The brutality of the Nazi regime once touched the Ratzinger family personally. A cousin with Down's Syndrome, who in 1941 was fourteen years old, just a few months younger than [Joseph] himself, was taken away in that year by the Nazi authorities for "therapy." Not long afterward, the family received word that he was dead, presumably one of the "undesirables" eliminated during that time. Ratzinger revealed the episode on November 28, 1996, at a Vatican conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care. He cited it to illustrate the danger of ideological systems that define certain classes of human beings as unworthy of protection.