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Doctors in Nazi 'Mercy Killings' Get 4-Yr. Terms

May 18, 1987|From Times Wire Services

FRANKFURT, West Germany — A Frankfurt court today convicted two doctors in the so-called "mercy killings" of more than 15,000 physically handicapped and mentally retarded people under Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

Aquilin Ulrich, 73, and Heinrich Bunke, 72, were convicted on accessory to murder charges and sentenced to four years imprisonment each for their roles in the killings.

Their trial lasted 15 months and was one of the last major Nazi war crimes trials in West Germany.

Ulrich was found guilty of helping put to death at least 4,500 patients during the so-called "Euthanasia Action" carried out by the Nazis in 1940 and 1941.

Bunke was convicted in the deaths of at least 11,000 people during the same period.

Acting Under Orders

The two doctors argued during their trial that they had to kill the handicapped people because they were under orders.

Both doctors served at the Brandenburg and Grafeneck camps, where thousands of handicapped people, mostly mental patients, were gassed.

The Nazis claimed that their "euthanasia" program was designed to help patients with no hope of recovery.

Freed in 1960

The two doctors, who both practiced gynecology after World War II, first went on trial in the 1960s but were freed when the court ruled they were forced by the Nazis to take part in the mercy killings and acted under orders.

The West German Supreme Court overturned the ruling in 1970 and ordered a retrial, which was delayed for years by the ill health of both doctors.

The prosecution had demanded six-year prison terms. The defense called for acquittal.

Explaining the sentences, which are only one year more than the minimum three years for being an accessory to murder, Presiding Judge Johanna Dierks said the two men had been unable to withdraw from the euthanasia program once they had recognized its criminal nature.

Anyone who had not experienced the Nazi state should be wary of underestimating influences such as its ideology and the prevailing pressure to obey orders, Dierks said.

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