Sunday, December 26, 2010

I Know Who Baby Knauer Was

[Trigger warning for discussion of (historical) violence against disabled people.]

Finals week was a weird time to be knocked down by history.

I'd been researching and writing a final paper for my German history class (weeks overdue) on a topic that I've studied before: disabled people in the Nazi regime. Really sad, grim stuff, and I knew that going in.

But here's the thing that I've learned from three years of genocide studies and a lifetime of Holocaust-related neuroses: you know that saying? The one every history major has heard several thousand times? That one death is a tragedy, and a million deaths is a statistic?

Well, it's kind of true.

Not that you can't feel sad about a million deaths. But for me personally, there's something abstract, something incomprehensible about deaths that are presented only as numbers. One death is easier to understand, because all around me are individuals I love, and I know how crushed I would be if one of them died. It's somehow easier for me to conceptualize a death if I know some details about the person who died: their name, something about their life story.

The person I knew as baby Knauer lived for such a short time, there was very little of his life story to tell. Until finals week, I didn't know that story. Now I do. And where before I had been outraged at the injustice of baby Knauer's death, now I feel utter grief.

Let me explain.

Probably everyone who has done research on the Nazi 'euthanasia' program knows about the Knauer case. The basic facts are: a man who for a long time was only known as Herr Knauer petitioned Hitler to have his infant child killed after his child was born blind and with some physical deformities. Hitler sent his personal physician, Karl Brandt, to assess the baby. If Brandt deemed the child "unworthy of life," he was authorized to have the child killed. Brandt decided baby Knauer should die, and baby Knauer did. Soon after this, the children's killing program began, and then the T4 adult killing program. Baby Knauer was the first victim of Nazi 'euthanasia.'

Then, in 2007, historian Ulf Schmidt published a biography of Karl Brandt. In this biography, Schmidt revealed the details of baby Knauer's life, saying that he didn't feel it was right to "place the justifiable claim of the parents for anonymity above the personality and suffering of the first 'euthanasia' victim."

In my school library, I found Schmidt's book and read the section on the Knauer case. Here's what I learned:

Gerhard Herbert Kretschmar was born on February 20th, 1939, in a village called PomĪ²en. He was blind, and "lacked one leg and part of an arm." Some doctors speculated that he was "feeble-minded" but realistically they probably couldn't have known this at his age. His parents, Richard Gerhardt Kretschmar and Lina Sonja Kretschmar, believed strongly in Nazi ideology, and his father wanted him dead.

Schmidt writes that Richard Kretschmar took Gerhardt to the Leipzig Children's Clinic "in the spring of 1939" -- when Gerhardt was just one or two months old -- and had him institutionalized there. Werner Catel, the head of the clinic, later testified that Herr Kretschmar had wanted him to kill Gerhardt right then, but Catel refused because of legal concerns. (As an aside here, Catel took part in the T4 program later, so when he refused to kill Gerhardt he didn't have any moral problems with infanticide -- he was just concerned about going to jail.) When Catel would not kill Gerhardt, Herr Kretschmar or perhaps one of his relatives petitioned Hitler directly to end the child's life. Hitler sent Karl Brandt to examine Gerhard and decide whether he should live or die. After confirming that Gerhard was blind and physically disabled, Brandt authorized the clinic staff to kill the baby, and Gerhard was murdered on July 25, 1939. He was five months old.

Once I read those names and dates, I couldn't get them out of my head for days. It's strange to think that these few details -- Gerhard's name, his assigned sex, his birth and death dates -- would change my perception of the case. I wish that it didn't matter, that I would feel just as much grief for a nameless child murdered 70 years ago as I would for a named one, but somehow the name is important to me. Today, when parents continue to murder their children, when people call themselves part of the disability community while dreaming of a world without us, it seems vitally important to hold on to that name.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Recommended Reading: Finals Week Edition

Okay, so it's finals week and I want to write a post but I don't have time to write my own post so instead I'll link to other people's posts. These are all things I've found recently that I think are important and wanted to share. The "recommended reading" post itself is in the style of FWD-Forward, which does a similar link roundup every weekday and which I would most definitely recommend.

First, Amanda recently did a series of posts on the concept of "social skills" that changed the way I think. They are collected here:
Social Skills Don't Exist

Secondly! My friend Asher wrote a Trans 101 that explains sex and gender identity without using transphobic language.
Not Your Mom's Trans 101

I found this brilliant essay by Cal Montgomery a while ago. It deals with a lot of things, but mostly the way that people talk about dependence as it relates to disability.
Critic of the Dawn

Finally, some takes on aspects of Glee that have annoyed the fuck out of me recently:
Dear Ryan Murphy: I have words about Glee
Glee: A Very Glee Christmas

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Guilt-allaying things people tell me over the internet

So I think I've mentioned before that I deal with a lot of guilt due to the amount of late work I turn in in my classes, or the fact that I can't do all my reading -- various lapses of academic performance. But lately people have been saying awesome things, on chat or in emails or in blog posts that I read, that help me put the guilt aside for a little bit. I save these communications, and I take them out and look at them later, and I remind myself that people love me and I am okay.

"You are a very good student. However. There are a lot of ableist expectations for what being a very good student means. I know you have had a tremendous amount of your self worth wrapped up in your academic performance since FOREVER. But you might want to consider whether you want to continue basing your self worth on how well you adhere to standards which are not designed for Zoes."

“You and I both space out when we should be working on things. The difference is I meet deadlines more often. The difference is prob because I can pull all-nighters and you stop functioning. It’s not me having better discipline at all. It’s me having more energy.”
-My girlfriend

"I'm so proud of you... the more I learn about ASD the more I admire and respect how you've gone about building your life."
-My dad

"All too often I find myself waiting for the day when I can do shit properly, which more or less amounts to waiting until I'm not disabled anymore. Then I can feel good enough to deserve everything I want. Well my cure is slow in arriving, so I'm just going to do everything I want now, if that's okay with you."
-Amanda, in an amazing post about executive dysfunction

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I am a limited resource and I don't know what to do about it

I’ve found a new way to be productive and it’s exhausting me.

I’m not sure if it’s more or less exhausting than the potent combination of guilt and anxiety produced by procrastination – probably it’s just a different kind of draining.

Today, after two hours cloistered in a library cubicle, working diligently on a late paper, I got stuck on the stairs to the ground floor. A girl passed me on the landing. She said something , and I couldn’t hear what. I had my headphones on, but with the cord yanked out, so I just heard muffled quiet, and felt pressure. The girl glanced back at me a few times. I remembered how to climb the stairs.

Outside of the library, I stood rocking on my heels, getting cold, blowing out clouds, stimming out on stars. It took me a while to gather the energy to walk to my dorm. I felt I’d hit some kind of wall. I thought, I have come to the end of my brain. In high school I had some arrogant idea that my brain was somehow infinite, and only my time was limited.

The moisture on the ground was turning into frost, creating a sparkling effect that first dazzled and then overwhelmed me.

I’m pretty sure I used the last of my spoons to get to my room, or perhaps the penultimate spoon. I have a backlog of German homework to do, but I can’t do it anymore, so now I’m calculating how early I have to get up this morning, how best to bury and wrap my alarm to keep my sleep-deprived self from simply shutting it off and giving up. I’m at that point where I’m so tired that the steps between me and sleep – taking things off the bed, turning off the light, setting and wrapping the clock – seem insurmountable.

So I’m not sleeping. I’m thinking about thinking, worrying about worrying, writing about writing.