June 4, 2009
Deaf People In The Holocaust
The deaf and disabled were the first on Hitler’s list.
About 13,000 deaf people were sterilized or killed in the 1930’s. The
deaf people were in the executioner’s hand because communication was a
problem. They were also viewed as inferior, "useless eater’s”. In
1939, Hitler made a decision to kill the “useless eaters” in Germany. The
deaf and disabled were to be killed (Berke, 2007).
Children and Babies born with physical defects were
taken from their parents to a special part of the hospital. There they
were starved and given lethal injections to finish the last few days or
seconds of their lives. The parents were told that their children had
died of natural causes. Almost 2,000 deaf children were killed this
In 1939, Hitler decided to create the T4 program. In
doing this he sent questionnaires to all the institutional care homes to
be filled out on those that where deaf and disabled. From the home they
were taken to a kill center. Some say it looked like a big factory with
ashes flowing out the chimney of those who were just executed. It later
became known as the killing factory. In 1934, they forced sterilization
on individuals who were deaf. In 1937, 95 percent of deaf children
where a part of Hitler’s Youth for the Deaf. The young members wore a
“G” on their shoulder. The “G” stood for “gehoerlosen” deaf. (Which
means hearing lose) (Berke, 2007)
While doing my research I came across a story of a
survivor. In fact this survivor became an assistant professor of
English at Gallaudet University. Eugene Bergman was a 7 year
old boy who could hear until one day when he was walking down the street
and saw the German Army walking a group of Jews through the streets.
Out of nowhere a solider hit Bergman in the head with a rifle. Bergman
lost his memory of his childhood up to that point. He also woke up in
the hospital to another surprise. He was looking around and saw a
doctor and nurse moving their mouths but, he couldn't hear them.
Bergman was from Poznan, Poland, but not long after he was released from
the hospital his family moved to Lodz to stay with family. The next year, 1940,
Bergman and his family moved to Warsaw. Bergman stated, “I remember that we
traveled in a horse-drawn cart to get there.” (Walter, 1987)
For five months his family lived in the non-Jewish part
of the city. Communicating was not easy for Bergman, he used
lip-reading along with paper and pencil to talk with people.
“Most of the time I lived in a fog, I couldn't hear and
didn’t know what was going on around me. I lived a very sheltered life,
but my father always made sure we had food so we didn't go hungry,” says
His family was forced to move to Warsaw’s Ghetto. This was an area set aside
for Jews by the Germans. They lived in a two room apartment with his
mother and two brothers. His father had obtained false Aryan
identification papers and lived outside the ghetto. Once a week his
father would sneak into the ghetto and give his family a sack of food so
they wouldn't go hungry. (Walter, 1987)
Bergman's safe life would change on July 22, 1942 when
the Germans decided to extradite the rest of the Jews in
Warsaw to a
Treblinka Extermination Camp. Between July 22 and October 3, three-
hundred and ten thousand Jews were killed. Bergman and his family hid
in a secret cellar in their apartment building. They could hear people
being drug out of the building. These people were taken away and sent
to death camps. Not everyone was carried out, if you were crippled,
sick or had a disease you were shot and killed on site.
At this point the Germans were not letting anyone in the
Ghetto, so Bergman and his family were starving. His father couldn't
sneak food into them. In the morning time they would hide from the
German soldiers coming into apartments to take people to the death
chamber or the kill factory. But in the afternoon they could go out and
walk the streets.
People living in the ghetto had no idea what was
happening to their friends and family at this point. All they knew was
that they were being drug out of their homes and taken somewhere else.
“The German’s followed their usual policy; they forced the people to
write post cards to their families saying that they were being treated
well and that they had found work, before they were gassed. “(Walter,
After days of being hungry his father was able to
smuggle in a loaf of bread. But he had attached a message to the bread
that they needed to get out of the ghetto. David, one of Bergman’s
brothers had bribed a guard in order to get his family out of the
ghetto. After leaving the ghetto they walked to the apartment that his
father was staying. He recalls, “I remember we opened the door and
father was sitting inside. In five days his hair had turned completely
white. Dad was only 37 and I was 10.”(Walter, 1987)
They stayed with his father for several days, but people
in the building became suspicious of the situation. His father, Pesakh,
took Sarah, Eugene and David to another ghetto in Czestochowa. But within a
few weeks the Jews were being drug out of their homes in this ghetto.
His brother David left and took a train to Warsaw to get his father. He returned back to
the ghetto with his father to wait for the others out side the wall.
Bergman and his mother climbed over the wall. The family was united
again, but not for long.
The Germans had moved all the Jews out of this city, so
the family moved to
day, Bergman went to a river to go swimming when he had severe leg
cramps and almost drowned. He was saved by a Polish boatman. The
boatman asked if Bergman was Jewish. Bergman just pointed to his ear
and said the Polish word for deaf. The boatman just let him go, being
deaf may have kept him alive.
When he was walking home he noticed the dirt was flying
up by his feet and around him. It was the Polish insurgent unit
shooting at him. They stopped him and asked him for his papers. When
they found out he was deaf they let him stay with them, but he could not
For two months he was a work horse for the Polish. On
October 1 the Polish surrendered, Bergman now became a prisoner of war.
He was taken to Lamsdorf POW camp in
While at this camp he was always hungry, they only got one eight of a
loaf of black bread a day. He lived here for about six months. Then
one day they were set free. (Walter, 1987)
Bergman now a free man went back to the apartment that
his family was living in but, his family was not there. He heard
through the newspaper that the Jewish had formed a committee. He went
to this committee to find his parents; they gave him an address to
locate his mother. His father had been shot in the neck and killed by a
They lived in this displaced camp for about two years,
and then an uncle helped them come to America. When they came to America
Bergman learned sign language. He also became an assistant professor of
English at Gallaudet University.
Even though Bergman had been through so much I found his
history to be astounding. He has mastered five languages, he was the
first deaf person to earn a PhD in English, co-author of a play “Tales
from a Clubroom,” and author of the book Art for the Deaf and Hard of
Hearing; plus, many other accomplishments. (Walter, 1987)
According to Jochen Muhs, Vice President of The Deaf
Federation of Berlin, deaf people in Germany
after World War II were ashamed of this era. A couple of reasons were
because of the sterilization and many had joined the Nazi party. This
explains why very little has ever been written about deaf people in the
part of history.
It is my personal opinion that this topic should not be
overlooked or ignored as a part of the history of what took place during
World War II to the deaf and handicapped.
Berke, J. (2007, December 2). Deafness. Retrieved January 5,
2009, from About.com: http://deafness.about.com/cs/featurearticles/a/holocaust.htm?p=1
Gilbert, L.-J. (1998). Deaf people in Hitler's Europe. Gallaudet Today , Vol 29, No 1.
Walter, V. (1987). Inside the Madness A Deaf survivor Remembers the
Holocaust. Gallaudet Today , Vol 18 No 2.