Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

Skip to main content

1 of 17 items in

Targets of Eugenics

Bookmark this Item

Sworn Statement of Karl Willig

Statment of Karl Willig
Harvard Law School Library

Nazi policies targeting people with disabilities became more radical with the start of World War II in Europe.1 As German forces invaded Poland in 1939, Nazi officials began a secret campaign of mass murder targeting German adults and children diagnosed with disabilities or so-called “incurable” illnesses.2 A letter signed by Adolf Hitler sometime in fall 1939 provided the foundations for this program, but the letter was backdated to appear as if it had been issued on the day of the German invasion of Poland—September 1, 1939. This date made it seem that the murders were wartime measures.3

Nazi propaganda falsely portrayed these mass murders as euthanasia, or "mercy deaths." The so-called “euthanasia” campaign became known as the T4 program.4 Authorities tried to keep the program secret by falsifying patients’ medical records and concealing the murders at six main killing centers established in psychiatric hospitals throughout the Reich.5 One of these killing centers began operating at a state hospital in the small German town of Hadamar in January 1941. Roughly 15,000 people were murdered there over the following four years through gassing, starvation, and overdoses of lethal drugs.6

The featured statement was given in September 1945 by a former nurse at Hadamar named Karl Willig. After the war in Europe ended in May 1945, US occupation authorities in Germany began prosecuting Willig and six other members of the Hadamar staff for the murder of 476 Polish and Russian forced laborers.7 These people had been transferred to Hadamar between June 1944–March 1945 because Nazi officials claimed that they were all incurably ill with tuberculosis and therefore must be killed.8 The postmortem examinations of several victims’ bodies proved this to be false. Willig’s statement acknowledges his guilt. It also shows how the “euthanasia” program expanded during the final years of the war to include the mass murder of members of other targeted groups besides people with disabilities or other so-called "hereditary illnesses."9

Willig’s statement reveals how the perpetrators of the “euthanasia” program each played different roles in the killing process. It also suggests that they may have had different reasons for becoming mass murderers.10 Willig had joined the Nazi Party in 1932, and one coworker described him as a “fanatical National Socialist.” He personally distributed lethal overdoses of medication, and he noted that no one had ever threatened him with imprisonment in a concentration camp to make him participate in the process of mass murder. After the court sentenced him to death by hanging, however, Willig appealed his sentence. He made a claim used by many Germans who faced postwar prosecution for war crimes: "we had to obey the same as the soldier at the front." In the featured statement, Willig explains that the reason he chose to become a mass murderer was that he would have lost his pension if he had left his job. American authorities were unmoved by his attempts to rationalize his actions, and Willig was executed in March 1946.11

The Nazi regime began discriminating against people with disabilities and so-called “hereditary illnesses” through the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases. Roughly 400,000 Germans were forcibly sterilized under this law, and an estimated 5,000 of these individuals died as a result of the procedures. The vast majority of those who died were women. To learn more about forced sterilizations in Nazi Germany, see Nina Tripp, Standing on Infertile Ground: An Analysis of the Spectrum of Sterilization Experiences under National Socialism (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2019). For more primary sources about forced sterilizations, see the related Experiencing History items, Sign Language Testimony of Helga Gross and Letter to SS Doctor Gregor Ebner.

This mass murder campaign focused on reshaping the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft") of "Aryan" Germans, but Jewish or Romani Germans with disabilities or so-called "incurable" illnesses were also targeted. Non-Germans living in institutional care were also murdered in German-occupied territories. For more related primary sources, see the Experiencing History collection, Targets of Eugenics

The order was backdated to appear as a wartime measure because Nazi leaders believed it would seem more justifiable in the context of war—they assumed that the financial costs of supporting the "incurably ill" would seem more burdensome to a society mobilizing for war, and human lives are often considered less valuable during wartime. 

The name T4 was taken from the address of the program’s central office in Berlin at Tiergartenstraße 4.

The killing centers used carbon monoxide gas to murder patients in the first phase of the program. The personnel and the technology of the T4 program were influential in the development of Nazi killing centers—especially the camps of Operation Reinhard in German-occupied Poland. To learn more about the connections between the mass murder of people with disabilities and Nazi genocidal campaigns, see Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to Final Solution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

In the first eight months that the killing center at Hadamar was in operation, more than 10,000 people were murdered there by gassing. The "euthanasia" program soon became known to the German population, and Hitler ordered a stop to the T4 program in August 1941 out of concerns about negative reactions. But the Nazi regime's mass murder of people with disabilities continued in different forms with new killing methods the following year. This second phase of the “euthanasia” campaign was less centrally organized than the first phase had been. From 1942 to 1945, German medical staff typically murdered patients by starvation or overdose of lethal drugs.

There was no legal precedent for US authorities to prosecute German citizens for crimes against other German citizens that had been committed before American forces occupied the territory. Prosecuting members of the staff for the murder of imprisoned Polish and Russian citizens—who were citizens of Allied countries—was the only way to bring charges against the staff of Hadamar before the introduction of the charge of "crimes against humanity" by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in December 1945.

During World War II, Nazi leaders and German medical professionals were preoccupied with the threat of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis or typhus being spread to the German population, and they often enacted extremely harsh measures to contain outbreaks. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History items, Police Order on Tuberculosis X-Rays, Photo of Quarantined Building in the Warsaw Ghetto and Oral History with Avraham Tory.

Historians estimate that roughly 250,000 people were murdered in the Nazi "euthanasia" programs. This included people with disabilities and "hereditary illnesses," Russian and Polish prisoners, and German children in state care who had both Jewish and "Aryan" parentage. Nazi racial laws classified people with both Jewish and "Aryan" ancestry with the demeaning term "Mischlinge," or "mixed-breeds." For more on so-called "Mischlinge," see the Experiencing History item, Identity Card of Ruth Kittel.

For more on the personal motivations of those involved in the T4 program, refer to this episode of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum podcast, 12 Years That Shook the World

All seven defendants were found guilty, and two of them were sentenced to death along with Willig. To learn more about the Hadamar trial, see Patricia Heberer, "Early Postwar Justice in the American Zone: The 'Hadamar Murder Factory' Trial," in Atrocities on Trial: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Prosecuting War Crimes, Patricia Heberer and Jürgen Matthäus, eds. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008): 25-48; and Michael S. Bryant, "Constructing Mass Murder: The United States Euthanasia Trials, 1945-1947," in Confronting the "Good Death": Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953 (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005): 63-106.

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .


[Page 1]

[in English]

(Place) Nuremberg, Germany

(Date) 8 Jan. 1947


I, Patricia A. Radcliffe, of the Evidence Division of the Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, hereby certify that the attached document, consisting of

3 photostated handwritten pages and entitled

No. 751 Statement of Karl Willig


dated 14 September 1945, is the original of a document which was delivered to me in my active capacity, in the usual course of official business, as a true copy of a document found in German archives, records and files captured by military forces under the command of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces.

To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, the original document is held at:


War Crimes Group
APO 633


[Signed] Patricia A. Radcliffe


[Page 2]

[first part in English]
Statement of Karl Willig
[in block letters] KARL WILLIG

Before me, Captain Luke P. Rogers, being authorized to administer oaths, personally appeared Karl Willig, who being duly sworn through the interpreter, made and subscribed to the following statement:

[translation of German original] When the Poles and Russians came to Hadamar, they were taken into the facility, their papers were immediately taken to the office and handed over to Klein or Merkle. Then I or Ruoff or the [female] nurses used to take them into the small rooms on the ground floor. There they were immediately given injections, because Klein had given instructions that Poles and Russians were not to be kept in the facility. Dr. Wahlmann came and examined the Poles and Russians after they were dead.

Before the Poles and Russians came to Hadamar the first time, Klein called all the male employees together and told us that [“Poles and Russians” crossed out; added above line: changed by KW] foreign workers with tuberculosis were coming there, and that they were to be liquidated. I can’t remember precisely who was present at this meeting, but I know that Ruoff, Blum and I were there. [Words crossed out]


[Page 3]

[translation from German]

Once a [illegible] transport of Russians and Poles was brought in trucks from Limburg. As far as I can remember, there were two loads of them on that occasion. Ruoff went with the first load and brought the Poles and Russians to Hadamar. Then I went to Limburg for the second load. When I came back to Hadamar, all the people from the first load were asleep. I remember that Klein, Ruoff, and Blum were in the big room with them. Female nurses were there too. I can definitely recall Bellin and Hackbarth. Ruoff, Blum, and I undressed the Russian and Polish men in the second load. I’m not certain whether Russian or Polish women were in the second load. As far as the men in the second load are concerned, Ruoff gave them injections and I gave them veronal or chlorol to drink. The next morning all the Russians and Poles from the first and second loads were dead.

No one ever threatened me with the concentration camp if I lost my work at Hadamar. I had no other job anywhere else.


[Page 4]

[translation from German] I never tried to get myself fired. Once I asked to be transferred to another facility, but the request was denied. I couldn’t ask to be let go, because then I would have lost my pension and probably would have been imprisoned.

[different hand] I have made this statement of my own free will and without duress. I have read and corrected it before signing it. I understand this statement in full and I swear by God that it is the absolute truth.

[signed Karl Willig]

[All below in English] Subscribed and sworn to before me at Wiesbaden, Germany, on this 14th day of September, 1945.

Luke P. Rogers

Captain, CMP

Investigating Officer

I, Herbert H. Waller, being first duly sworn, state that I acted as sworn interpreter in this matter and that I truly translated the oath administered by Captain Luke P. Rogers for KARL WILLIG and that he made and subscribed to the foregoing statement.

Herbert H. Waller.

Pvt. 42134448

Subscribed and sworn to before me at Wiesbaden, Germany, on this 18th day of September, 1945

Luke P. Rogers
Captain CMP
[?] #19

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Harvard Law School Library
Accession Number NO-751, Item 1936
Date Created
September 14, 1945
Author / Creator
Karl Willig
Patricia Radcliffe
Luke P. Rogers
Herbert H. Waller
Nuremberg, Germany
Document Type Report
How to Cite Museum Materials

Thank You for Supporting Our Work

We would like to thank The Alexander Grass Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for Experiencing History. View the list of all donors and contributors.


Learn more about sources for your classroom