>Two Painters – One Fate

>Being the day after the March for Life, I would like to share with you, gentle reader, a little about the lives of two artists whom you have probably never heard of, yet whose stories show us why we should never discount the human soul. Their lives were as different as their art, and yet both suffered the same fate. For in the end, the world lost their artistic creativity as a result of legalized selfishness.

In the 1930’s German artist Gertrud Fleck was in her 60’s, and had been a resident of the Sonnenstein Castle Nursing Home in Prina, a beautiful hospital campus located outside of her native Dresden, for many decades. As a young woman from a middle-class family, she attended art school and worked part-time in a professional photographer’s studio in the hope of finding a full-time job as an art teacher, but with no success. This frustration in combination with other factors led to some type of a mental breakdown, and her family had to have her institutionalized.

Although she never recovered from her condition to the point where she could go back to leading a normal life, with medication and counseling Gertrud was able to function to some degree. In fact, its success with patients like Gertrud helped to establish the reputation of Sonnenstein as the most advanced, progressive, and successful mental institution then in the country, and visitors from around the world came to study their methods. Doctors noted that while Gertrud had difficulty processing what people said to her, and sometimes had mood swings or spoke gibberish, she was characterized as generally chatty and friendly, and she even kept and cared for a pet canary.

Gertrud’s family continued to regularly visit her at the sanatorium, and her treatment notes refer to the fact that Gertrud kept up with her drawing and painting, often commenting on how accomplished her artwork was. Indeed, for Christmas in 1933 Gertrud painted a large, beautiful floral still life in oils on canvas, which she gave to the director of the nursing home and his wife with a note expressing her gratitude for caring for her for so many years. Much to Gertrud’s joy, they expressed their gratitude in return by hanging the painting in the formal salon of the hospital for visitors to admire.

Around the same time that Gertrud painted her Christmas present, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler had been institutionalized for several years in a less-pleasant state-run sanitorium in the village of Arnsdorf. A fellow native of Dresden, who had also come from a bourgeois background and been to art school, Elfriede was from a younger generation born at the turn of the 20th century. She spent much of her youth in the 1920’s experiencing the scandalous, bohemian wildness of that era along with her artist-musician husband, themes which she often examined in her painting.

Unlike Gertrud and her pretty, somewhat decorative style, Elfriede was a modernist exploring difficult subjects, beginning with Secessionism and eventually leading to Expressionism. Her work was often raw; if Gertrud’s work reminds us of Fantin-Latour, Elfriede’s evokes Egon Schiele. Elfriede was also friendly with numerous important German artists of the age, including fellow Secessionist Otto Dix, and she became involved in artistic societies for women painters as well as having her works exhibited publicly in group shows of contemporary art.

Whereas Gertrud’s mental illness was primarily triggered by her failure to find a path for her life, Elfriede suffered through an abusive marriage, and later financial ruin. She ultimately experienced a mental breakdown and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Even when she was institutionalized in the 1930’s however, she was able to function, and continued to develop her art, which provided a therapeutic outlet for her illness. She often painted portraits or studies of other patients and staff members at the sanatorium; indeed, her output actually increased during her convalescence when she was able to focus on her art.

While as young girls these two artists had shared somewhat similar backgrounds, as adults their paths differed significantly; their respective works show distinct differences in training, style, and outlook. The reader is, of course, free to like or dislike either or both of their artistic outputs. Yet whatever one thinks of their art, I would hope that the reader will react as I did in learning that these two incredibly talented, but emotionally wounded women were put to death by their government, under a program known as “Action T4”.

The T4 program, which grew out of public policy concepts pushed by people like Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood and adopted with great enthusiasm by Adolf Hitler, began with the assumption that those who are mentally or physically handicapped are an unjustifiable drain on the resources of the state. A key public health goal of the State therefore, was to have those suffering from such handicaps and still physically capable of reproduction be medically sterilized, in order to reduce the possibility of their passing on these genes to their children and into the population at large, thereby increasing health care and social welfare costs. Hitler of course, after implementing a public sterilization program, over time took this policy a step further to its logical conclusion, decreeing that all people suffering from mental and physical handicaps needed to be eliminated completely. After all, there was no need to sterilize people who were already dead.

The end result for our two artists was tragically predictable. Elfriede, who was still of child-bearing years, was forcibly sterilized in 1935, and was so traumatized afterwards that she was never able to paint or draw again. And the beautiful Sonnenstein hospital where Gertrud had lived happily for so many years was turned into a gas chamber. There, both of these ladies were murdered in 1940, along with an estimated 15,000 other persons from mental institutions around the Third Reich. It is further estimated that as many as a quarter of a million mentally or physically handicapped people may have been killed under the T4 program.

The days are coming, and indeed they are already here, when the idea that killing off human beings who are a drain on our resources will be acceptable in many American households. Through advanced scientific technology, we learn that our unborn children will be born with mental or physical handicaps, and learn so at an increasingly earlier stage of development in which abortion is not only feasible, but recommended. We are already seeing the acceptance in some states of a so-called “Right to Die”, in which people with incurable or long-term illnesses decide to have themselves killed – and the next step, of course, is having the State make a decision about this supposed right on behalf of those whom it finds incapable of making a decision for themselves. One wonders how long will it be before it becomes acceptable thinking to say that those who cannot possibly recover from a debilitating mental or physical handicap should be euthanized by the State.

Too often those of us who are Pro-Life are slammed for being more concerned about the child than the mother, and that somehow we are a one-issue interest group. Yet being Pro-Life is about caring for our entire species: it is about respecting the lives of the poor, the aged, and the mentally and physically handicapped. It is about those whose lives are themselves increasingly under threat, thanks to polices and philosophies which tart up evil in the trappings of personal freedom and economic efficiency. It is about getting women like Gertrud and Elfriede the care and love that they need, when they are not able to care for themselves, so that they can continue to astound us with their remarkable art – art they managed to create notwithstanding their handicaps, or their economic undesirability.

Self-Portrait by Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler

Still Life of Roses by Gertrud Fleck

>Further Down the Slippery Slope

>In case you missed it, a recent policy decision on assisted suicide in Great Britain was announced by the increasingly baffling – baffling in the sense of why it remains in power given its multitude of missteps, unpopularity, and mass defections – Labour government of Gordon Brown. (Though truth be told, equally baffling is the somewhat wishy-washy response to this announcement by Roman Catholic Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, as quoted in this article.) The Director of Public Prosecutions has laid out the circumstances under which helping someone to commit suicide will not be prosecuted by the Crown, something Lefties have been pushing for for quite some time. Aside from the clear moral problems with these guidelines, let alone giving sociopaths an instruction manual as to how to commit murder and get away with it, it creates a constitutional crisis, as pointed out by well-known British pro-life campaigner Phyllis Bowman.

As the British government continues down the road to the legalization of euthanasia, fortunately there are still voices raised against this action such as in this well-worded opinion piece appears in the Torygraph from Dr. John Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York, England. No doubt His Grace is concerned after a piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post which predicts that Britain may take on Switzerland’s mantle of necro-tourism, which I have written about previously. According to the YP article, “the Australian-based pro-choice group Exit International suggested Britain could replace Switzerland, where hundreds have visited the Dignitas clinic to die, as the country of choice for terminally ill people wanting to end their lives. A spokesman said Australians would be “much more comfortable” travelling [sic] to London to die.”

As it happens, today is the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, the great medieval Marian pilgrimage shrine of England. The shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII – natch – but in recent years has been rebuilt. Let us hope that she will bless her children in this very distressing time with not only charity toward the infirm, the handicapped, the elderly and the dying, but with a renewed appreciation for the value of all human life.

>More Murder by Swiss Euthanasia Group

>As regular readers will recall, I previously wrote about the so-called Schwerzenbach Clinic run by the euthanasia group Dignitas and their horrific practices. Today it has been reported that prestigious conductor Sir Edward Downes, who worked with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Sydney Opera House among other classical music institutions, was killed by Dignitas at this clinic, along with his wife Joan. News reports indicate that Sir Edward, who was 85 years old, was nearly blind and losing his hearing while his wife was 74 years old and suffering from cancer. Their family, in a statement released to the press, appear to accept the decision of the couple to have themselves killed. London’s Metropolitan Police are investigating the deaths, but British law does not, apparently, allow them to do much about the situation.

This is yet another sad example of the neo-pagan culture of death in which we have found ourselves. Two intelligent, accomplished people, who are suffering to some degree, decide to take a road to destruction with the help of those who are all too willing to oblige, for a fee. Today, the actions of groups like Dignitas are increasingly treated, not as the crime which they are, but rather a statement about personal choice and preference to the point of absurdity, as if one were selecting between different types of melon at the supermarket.

The creep of nihilism and selfishness into our culture continues unabated, and to what logical end no one can authoritatively say. As the Church teaches, those who decide to commit suicide, assisted or not, are very often so emotionally distressed that we must rely on God’s mercy with respect to the fate of their immortal souls. However, this does not mean that we should sit back and allow a group such as Dignitas, which makes a mockery of the very concept of dignity, to run unchecked. I hope that parliamentarians in Britain finally take a serious look at redrafting the applicable laws of their country so that something can be done to go after this heinous organization.