Since 1939, the euthanasia program for mentally ill and disabled people, defined as “empty human shells” and destined for elimination by suppression, has been underway in Germany.
The sick were brought to some German asylums such as Zwiefalten, in Badenwuerttenberg, and from there they were sent to the Grafeneck annihilation centre. Nobody, not even their relatives, could choose between sending them to Germany or letting them stay in Italy. They were people of different social backgrounds: farmers, peasants, workers, craftsmen, Capuchin friars, a seminary student, an engineer, a stationmaster, a teacher. The majority are Catholic, two women are Jewish. Almost all of them had been hospitalized in Pergine for some time, 30 came from the agricultural colony of Vàdena, 23 from the Istituto di Nomi, some from Udine and Gemòna. Empty human shells, a theatrical tale of one of the most dramatic and cruel (and also forgotten) episodes in the history of the Trentino twentieth century. Between the 25th and the 26th May 1940, 299 German-speaking men and women hospitalized in the regional mental hospital of Pergine (classified as a psychiatric hospital) which had jurisdiction over the whole of Trentino Alto Adige were deported to Germany at night. The cruel decision was agreed by the Nazi and fascist German and Italian military and civil authorities in the framework of the “options exercised by the allogeneic in favour of the Third Reich” and the “Aktion 4” program.
Aktion T4 was a eugenics program, started in 1939 and initially aimed only at children with deformities and disabilities.
its goal was the methodical elimination of infants with physical or mental problems. The program envisaged the elimination of 300,000 disabled people starting with the children, they were the first victims of the T4 operation, so called because the Nazi health and social care agency in Berlin was located in Tierga tenstrasse 4.
People with disabilities were sterilized to prevent them reproducing, they were isolated and segregated both children and adults to prevent them from living in society and the worst thing was that they were destined to be treated as cavy for scientific experiments and then be suppressed.
The jurist Karl Binding agreed with those who wanted to eliminate them: “They have neither the will to live nor the will to die. For this reason, neither from a legal, social or moral or religious point of view, there is no reason not to consent to the killing of these beings. In times of higher morality – in ours, however, every form of heroism has been lost – these poor beings would have freed themselves from their own lives “.
The choreographic actions have a decisive visual impact and alternate in the story that becomes more and more dramatic: the masked faces made subjects anonymous, helpless and impotent in the hands of their executioners; deported against their will; the captivity behind the railings which is effectively represented by the scenography; the original photographs projected on the screen show suffering faces; doctors in white coats whose mission to cure is abdicated to obey the blind Nazi madness to exterminate every “different” life form. The choice of stage music: Steve Reich, Giorgio Battistelli, César Franck, The Comet is Coming and Samuel Barber’s poignant Agnus Dei who accompanies the protagonists in the finale, enhances the visual dramatic power of the scenic action and force us – yet another time – to ask us about the evil committed by man.
The documentation from which “Empty human shells” was inspired is taken from “The thinning of the darkness” (volume 1 / 1939-1941) made by the Rovereto History Laboratory: three volumes of 1400 pages that tell the story of Trentino in the second World War. A search in public and private archives around the world. An accurate documentation work that has made it possible to rediscover dramatic stories such as the of Pergine’s mentally ill people’s one.
Among the many testimonies of what happened, the authors also chose a nurse’s one who worked in the psychiatric hospital where the patients were deported from Italy.
“When I returned from a vacation in August 1940, eleven of my patients were gone, but nobody knew where they had been taken. We believed that they had moved them to an asylum where they would have been well cared for. But when a second group of women disappeared on November the 8th and we saw their underwear returned in pitiful conditions, as if it had been torn, we became suspicious. The third transport of women took place on December 9th, 1940. It was particularly difficult for us nurses to deliver these patients, whom we had cared for years, as if they were beasts destined for a death that we believed was almost certain. The transport workers came from Berlin and were rough and frightening women and men: they grabbed patients abruptly and immobilized them in the cars, sometimes even with chains. The ambulances did not appear at the main entrance, but they arrived before dawn in the internal courtyard – where the selected patients were gathered – and always before dawn, they left the hospital. Patients began to understand what was going to happen to them and they cried, sometimes they even screamed. A woman who had been transferred from the ward to the so-called country house, from where the transport started, said, “I know what awaits me.” Before they took her away, she asked for a treat as a farewell gift. Sometime after her deportation, her sister was told that the patient had died of dysentery. ”
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