[nabs-l] Honors research

Ashley Bramlett bookwormahb at earthlink.net
Sat May 13 19:07:42 UTC 2017

Hi Emma,

I like your research project and please keep us updated. I wish I could help 
in funding.

I am surprised though you don't need a reader. In my experience, OCR 
software makes too many mistakes as I scan print stuff to be effective; 
also, it messes up page numbering which I need for citations. Even if the 
copy is fairly clean, I
often end up scanning the wrong chapter. Using my reader, she can skim for 
info and read exerpts of chapters as needed. If scanning, I approach it by 
identifying a section or chapter to scan based on the table of contents. 
Then a sighted person tells me the page number and I mark that with a paper 
clip or something. Then I can scan it.

I'd like to do some research for fun to learn about history but would need a 
reader for free to do it and do not have that. I've dreamed of reading 
primary sources like diaries as you will be doing. I'm interested in 
composers' lives and would like to read the journals or letters of 
Beethoven, Mozart, or someone more recent like John Philip Sousa.

Again, good luck!
-----Original Message----- 
From: Emma Mitchell via NABS-L
Sent: Sunday, April 23, 2017 12:03 PM
To: National Association of Blind Students mailing list
Cc: Emma Mitchell
Subject: [nabs-l] Honors research

Hey, everyone My project was selected to receive funding from my university 
however since it takes a lot of money to travel I could use some help by any 
donations possible. The project is below—

The Fates of Blind People in Nazi Germany

Statement of Purpose:

I have an opportunity to spend the summer in Germany at the University of 
Köln to study the impact of Nazi T4 on blind German adults and children.  My 
parents, who are GW faculty members, have received a grant to live, lecture, 
and make a documentary film on the T4 program and contemporary 
memorialization efforts. The research will involve travel to all six T4 
Euthanasia Memorial Centers (Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Bernburg, 
Sonnenstein-Pirna, Hadamar, and Hartheim Castle) as well as to two T4 
memorial sites outside of Germany (Vienna, Austria and Posnen, Poland).  All 
of the memorial centres include an archive with research materials related 
to that particular site as well as medical records of the 300,000+ disabled 
killed.  In these records is where I will look up the individual stories of 
blind people caught up in the T4 killing program.  Using optical character 
recognition software that allows my phone to scan paper documents, graphs, 
and charts (can't do photos) I will gain access to this unique collection of 
research materials in order to pursue my topic.
One important thing about T4 is that the staff and killing technology was 
later transferred to Holocaust death camps.  Thus, T4 was the precursor to 
the mass murder of 6 million Jewish people (mostly Eastern European not 
German).  The memorial sites that, in some cases, still house the original 
death apparatus (gas chamber, observation window, autopsy room, and 
crematoria) are also on the campuses of operating psychiatric hospitals and 
prisons.  Whereas the killing of "psychiatric patients" would seem to 
include only those with mental impairments, people with physical and sensory 
impairments were also killed because eugenics attempted to rid the nation of 
disabled people as excessively burdensome.
As a young woman who is blind and also has a physical disability, I would 
have been included in those groups identified as "unworthy of life." 
Therefore the opportunity to study T4 has significant meaning to my research 
in that we must resist the urge to artificially separate the past from the 
present.  Today across Europe and the United States we see many potential 
harms to disabled peoples' well being on the horizon including: repeal of 
the Affordable Care Act which provides healthcare for a large percentage of 
disabled people (including myself), the passage of Assisted Suicide Laws, 
the lowering of the age limit for assisted suicide requests, the alarming 
escalation of the number of disabled women in prison, public education's 
increasing participation in the pipeline to prison program for students with 
autism and other behavioral disabilities, and the raiding of healthcare 
coffers in the name of austerity cut backs to balance beleaguered state 
budgets.  I have written on the T4 program for my Introduction to Critical 
Theory class and on Marxist analyses of disabled people excluded form the 
workforce for my Literature in the Financial Imagination class this 
semester.  Thus, the opportunity to live in Germany will significantly 
enhance my developing research interests in this area.  While in Germany I 
will participate in the making of a feature length documentary film on T4 
and contemporary memorialization being made by my family that records our 
many visits to Euthanasia Memorial Centers over the past two decades.

Research Questions and Methodology
My primary goal while researching in Germany this summer will be to create a 
history of blind peoples’ fates during World War II under National Socialism 
(Nazi authoritarianism).  We know that many blind people were killed in the 
medical mass murder campaign known as the T4 program because all T4 
researchers identify blindness as a category of selection (Robert Lifton, 
Henry Friedlander, Götz Aly, for example).  We also know that blind Jewish 
people were killed in the Holocaust because blindness was one of the 
conditions selected out at the train spurs by Nazi physicians and SS 
officers for immediate gassing.  Sometimes people with visual impairments 
slipped through this initial selection process and worked under conditions 
of forced labor in the camps.  For instance, in Martin Sherman’s play, Bent, 
the character of Rudy is killed because he has poor vision after living and 
laboring for a time in a Jewish concentration camp outside of Berlin (likely 
a camp similar to Sachsenhausen).  Significant to my interests is the fact 
that I have visited one German memorial, Otto Weidt’s Blind Workshop, where 
blind people made brooms and brushes during World War II on Rosenthaler 
Strasse in Berlin.  Since the factory owner, Otto Weidt (who had a visual 
impairment himself), was able to keep blind and deaf people from T4 and 
concentration camp deportations until 1943, I want to research how other 
blind people might have been employed during this period and whether 
employment served as a buffer against extermination?
There are also specific questions about blind peoples’ fate that are not 
fully answered in the existing literature.  For instance, T4 began by 
killing disabled infants and young children and current research identifies 
blindness as a condition that was used to select disabled adults in the 
adult killing program.  Thus, were blind children targeted as well as adults 
in the T4 program?  In other words, was blindness considered a severe enough 
disability to get children caught up in the T4 net or was blindness only 
operative in the adult killing phase?
One of the research rationale offered up for the relationship between T4 and 
“the final solution” is that T4 physicians went to Jewish concentration 
camps and selected ill and disabled Jewish people for death at the T4 
killing centers before the program was stopped in late 1942.  This 
transitional program of mass murder is referred to as the 14f13 program. 
Was blindness a criteria for selecting disabled Jewish people for killing 
during this period between T4 and the larger Holocaust?  To answer this 
question I will read the personal diaries of the 14f13 physicians contained 
in the memorial archives.
There are also questions relating to contemporary memorialization efforts 
about the victims of the T4 program.  If blindness was a key criteria used 
for selection, why is there only one memorial site devote to blind people 
who killed by the Nazis and what does that tell us about contemporary modes 
of memorialization?  Should T4-related memorials be based on single 
disability categories – such as blindness – and what can we learn about T4 
by focusing on such particular disability experiences?  Also, is there a 
danger in focusing the memorialization effort so tightly?
Future presentation and/or publication of the result sof this hands-on 
research experience might develop into my honors thesis at GW.  The deaf 
history researcher, Horst Biesold, wrote a book on the fate of deaf people 
in Nazi Germany titled, Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi 
Germany.  Perhaps this depth of research experience might well allow a more 
extended study of blind people in a similar vein.  I am certain that the NFB 
would be greatly interested in any research outcomes from this project and 
that I could present them at their annual convention.

Please share and spread the word.
The website is below:
Thank you for your time,
Emma Jane Mitchell
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