- In Memoriam:Ernst Klee
Ernst Klee, a German journalist and author known for his important work uncovering the history of the Nazi euthanasia program, has passed away after a long illness. He was 71.
Klee was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1942. He trained as a plumber and technician before he decided to take the university entrance exam. He was then accepted to Frankfurt Technical College, where he took courses in Protestant theology and social work. He also taught several courses there on education for the disabled.
Klee’s book “Euthanasie” im NS-Staat: Die “Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens” (Euthanasia in the Nazi State: The Destruction of Life Undeserving of Life), published in 1983, boldly exposed the willing participation of German medical professionals in the mass murder of mentally ill and men, women, and children with disabilities during World War II. Complicit doctors who had reintegrated into postwar society kept silent, denied their guilt, or blamed others. Klee’s book quickly became a bestseller. He followed it up with a collection of related documents indicting lawyers and judges, priests and pastors, and soldiers and army officers for their role in Nazi war crimes.
Another of Klee’s major publications was “Schöne Zeiten”: Judenmord aus der Sicht der Täter und Gaffer (1988), written with Willi Dressen and Volker Reiss. Based on diaries, letters, and other personal documents, it recounts incidents of murder and brutality carried out by SS-men, soldiers, administrators, and others in Eastern Europe during the war. It was translated into English as Those Were the Days: The Holocaust as Seen by the Perpetrators and Bystanders (1988).
In 1997 Klee was awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis, one of Germany’s most distinguished literary awards (named after young resisters Hans and Sophie Scholl), for a book on medical experimentation in Auschwitz (Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer). In 2001, he received the Goethe medal of the city of Frankfurt.
Klee played an important role in bringing young Germans face to face with the previous generations’ participation in the Nazi regime, challenging their complacency by revealing details about the postwar lives of his specific research subjects. Motivated by his Protestant faith and the belief that those involved in the Nazi regime—especially in the state euthanasia program—were morally culpable, he dedicated himself to opening a way for German society to emerge from its Nazi past. [End Page 562]