Nurses, medical records and the killing of sick persons before, during and after the Nazi regime in Germany


Thomas Foth, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1H 8M5. E-mail: < >


During the Nazi regime (1933–1945), more than 300 000 psychiatric patients were killed. The well-calculated killing of chronic mentally ‘ill’ patients was part of a huge biopolitical program of well-established scientific, eugenic standards of the time. Among the medical personnel implicated in these assassinations were nurses, who carried out this program through their everyday practice. However, newer research raises suspicions that psychiatric patients were being assassinated before and after the Nazi regime, which, I hypothesize, implies that the motives for these killings must be investigated within psychiatric practice itself. An investigation of the impact of the interplay between the notes left by nurses and those by psychiatrists illustrates the active role of the psychiatric medical record in the killing of these patients. Using theoretical insights from Michel Foucault and philosopher Giorgio Agamben and analyzing one part of a particularly rich patient file found in the Langenhorn Psychiatric Asylum in the city of Hamburg, I demonstrate the role of the record in both constructing and deconstructing patient subjectivities. De-subjectifying patients condemned them to specific zones in the asylum within which they were reduced to their ‘bare life’- a precondition for their physical assassination.