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Germany opens memorial to Nazis' disabled victims

BERLIN — Germany on Tuesday inaugurated a memorial to more than 200,000 people with physical and mental disabilities killed by the Nazis after their lives were deemed "worthless."

The transparent 24-meter (79-foot) blue glass wall outside the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall is near memorials to the Jewish Holocaust victims and the Nazis' gay and Gypsy, or Roma, victims, opened over the past decade.

It stands on the site of a villa where the murder of patients at hospitals and mental institutes was coordinated. More than 70,000 people were gassed at centers for what the Nazis described as their euthanasia operation, coded "T4" in reference to the building's address, Tiergartenstrasse 4, in 1940 and 1941.

It saw "a technology of killing tested and carried out for the first time on defenseless, sick and disabled people, a test run for all the Nazis' following programs of mass eradication," said Sigrid Falkenstein, whose aunt, Anna Lehnkering, was sterilized and later killed.

Tens of thousands more were killed using methods such as injections and starvation, and mental patients were targeted by SS units in countries invaded by Nazi Germany. In all, estimates of the number of mentally and physically disabled people murdered under various Nazi euthanasia programs range from around 200,000 to 300,000.

Few of the administrators and doctors involved were brought to justice after World War II. Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said it had taken too long for Germany to publicly commemorate the long-ignored victims.

The memorial, which includes audio and video information on the program and its victims, confronts visitors with "a way of thinking that presumes to judge the worth of individual lives," Gruetters said.

She added that the program also benefited from "a deformation of moral senses which ultimately led many people to believe that killing sick and disabled people was something like an act of pity, and ethically legitimate."