Saving One Child. Saving One Life.

{This post hurt to write. I spent many nights awake thinking about what to write. How to write it. What it came down to is that I couldn’t do the subject justice, so I’m going to do my best just to get the words out there. It’s probably not an easy post to read. It’s heavy. It’s not funny. But it needs to be talked about. Now.}

Abby and Casey

While Erin was here we visited the Holocaust Memorial in Washington D.C. We both have read a lot on the subject and decided to go. I wasn’t prepared for it. I don’t know if I ever could have been. I want to write about the first victims of the Holocaust- people with disabilities and mental illnesses. In doing so, I hope that you will see that I’m not forgetting or glossing over what happened to the 6 million Jewish people who were also murdered during this time. Theirs is a story I cannot tell.  I felt SO much when I saw the faces of the children with special needs in the pictures before they were killed. I thought about how half of my children would be seen as unfit to live in such a time and place. I can’t imagine being Jewish and feeling all of that and more. Knowing that ALL of my children would have been victims; myself, my husband, my family. No matter what our faith, our culture, our heritage- we cannot forget them. We cannot allow for this history to be repeated. And yet in many countries, on smaller scales, it is repeated. I want to address a small portion of that in this post today.

When you go to the Holocaust Memorial you are given a card that tells the story of someone who lived during that time. You turn the page with each floor you go down. It isn’t until the end that you find out what happened to the person you are standing as a proxy for.  The top floor talks about the rise of the Nazi party and the propaganda used to put them into power. The propaganda used to change the thinking of the people- slowly, but surely. Words. How powerful WORDS are! How quickly they changed the minds of the people during that time.

At the end of the top floor Hitler is now in power. You turn the corner just before the stairs to the second floor- and you see a little area that talks about the first victims of the Nazi movement- people with disabilities. There are pictures of children. I saw one and then could not see the others through my tears. Children. Children like Casey. Like Abby. The program was called T4.  Basically, it called for the killing of those who were to believed to be, in their words, “life unworthy of life.”  To “cleanse” the German population of “racially unsound” elements, which included people with disabilities. This started the evolution in the policy toward the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe.

photo does not carry a copyright.

When I saw the face of one of the soon-to-be victims- a little boy- I felt as though my whole soul screamed from inside me. I lost it. I thought about my kids being taken to an institution and euthanized. Euthanasia (literally meaning, “good death”). That’s the word they used. They also used the term “mercy killing.” Mercy.  The words of those who defend the choice to terminate a pregnancy because the baby has Down syndrome rang through my ears. “I don’t want my child to suffer.”

A poster I saw made me think of something else I’ve heard from REAL people who live in OUR world TODAY.  They believe that people with special needs are a drain on society. That THEY shouldn’t have to pay for MY choice (I didn’t have a choice, Abby’s diagnosis was post-natal, but I still would have chosen life).

This poster reads: “60000 RM.
This is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the Community of Germans during his lifetime.
Fellow Citizen, that is your money, too”

In the beginning, T4 was a secretive operation. Thousands and thousands were killed either by gas, by medicine, or by starvation. The ashes of the victims were taken from a common pile and put in urns to be sent to the families. They listed fictional causes of death.  Eventually, the deaths of thousands of institutionalized people started to raise suspicions. But instead of this stopping the killing, it just brought it out in the open.  People then knew it was happening, but chose not to believe it.

Schönbrunn Psychiatric Hospital, 1934. Photo by SS photographer Franz Bauer-

Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
The next floor down was the real horrors of Nazi Regime. You know what happened there. The trains. The concentration camps. The terror. The exhibits used real artifacts from that time. Bricks that people died carrying. A wall that held people in a concentration camp. A train that 100 people had to stand in for days and days without rest. Thousands and thousands of shoes that were taken from the feet of those who were to be murdered in a room where they thought they would be showering.   It made it real. Tangible. It hurt to see. It hurts to talk about.

As if they knew your soul could not take any more, the war ends. You go down to the last floor to something quite unexpected. A big wall with thousands of names of those who helped the Jews during this time. Those who saved them by hiding them, feeding them, finding false identifications for them.  A theater is set up with a movie that plays on repeat all day long.  It shows survivors talking about the people who took them in. It talks about the people who risked their own lives to save someone they didn’t know.

I couldn’t help but think over and over again, “I would have helped them! I would have done whatever it took!” and then in my mind I saw the faces of the children on Reece’s Rainbow. The children who are left in orphanages by parents who cannot or will not take care of them. The pictures of the children who are aging out of those orphanages. Who will soon be sent to adult mental institutions. Institutions like the one in the following video where many children with Down syndrome die within their first year.

The video is the entire story of the Cox family. The beginning shows you one of the institutions that these kids are sent to.  (You’re super lucky. I was going to post a news report of an adult mental institution in Serbia that made me cry for two hours. But I have to draw the line somewhere…you should still see it though. Makes you want to do something RIGHT NOW.)

It must have been overwhelming to live in Europe during the Holocaust. I’m sure many people felt like there was too much to do, too many people to save. They didn’t know what to do or where to start. I’m sure others felt as though if they didn’t read about it, didn’t think about it, then they wouldn’t have to act. I’ve had both of these feelings in relation to these children. At first, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to feel that pain. I knew it was out there, but I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to hurt.  I couldn’t help but see these kids. I have facebook friends who post their pictures every single day.  At first I was frustrated by it. “I can’t do it right now! I can’t adopt one of these kids! I already have a child with autism and one with Down syndrome…” and then the Cox families story changed my mind.  When I started researching the steps to adopt Ashlyn, I was overwhelmed by all of the children who need help. It was too much. When my focus was forced to switch from our adoption to other people adopting, I again felt overwhelmed. There are SO many wonderful families who are working tirelessly to bring home these children. God acted and brought the Dirkes family into my life. I will tell that story another time. But I was shown that I can’t save ALL the orphans, nor could the people in the 1940’s save all of the victims. But I can help save this one.

photo courtesy of Kelly Dirkes

It may seem like I’m being over-dramatic. It may seem tacky to compare the deaths of innocent people in Nazi Germany to children in orphanages.  There are big differences. The battle is different. We don’t have one common enemy. And no, these children don’t die because someone is physically killing them. They die because the orphanages are overcrowded, under funded and definitely understaffed. These orphanages are overcrowded because there’s such a stigma there about having a child with special needs. The parents are persuaded by doctors and social workers that their child is better off, the whole family is better off, if they institutionalize their child. The doctors and social workers are misinformed.  The governments pretend it is not happening when there is clear evidence that it is. When a child is sent to many, if not most, of these institutions, they no longer get any sort of medical care. They are not held. They are not loved. They are warehoused until they die. Death comes within the first year for too many of these children. Adequate records are not available, so we don’t know the numbers for sure.

You don’t have to be in a position to bring one of these children home yourself. I realized that too this week when we learned that we cannot adopt Ashlyn (she needs a home! Please. If you have space in your heart, I will find a way to get you the money you need to bring her home). The timing isn’t right for us… yet. But until it is, I’m going to work like crazy to help bring children home to families who will treasure them just as we do Abby. And you can, too! You can donate. Right now we’re really working to help bring home Charlotte to the Dirkes family.

If you are not in a position to donate right now, you can share her story with your friends. Facebook. Email. Twitter. Blogs. Boards. I don’t care. Just share it. They leave in FIVE DAYS! They need the money now.

The last place you go to in the Holocaust Memorial is a big light-filled room called the Hall of Remembrance. The rest of the museum is pretty busy, pretty loud. There are groups from schools, tourists, and the like. But the minute you walk into that room it is calm. It is quiet. The walls are lined with candles and the names of the concentration camps. In the center of the room is this:


We walked around the room. We lit a candle. Across the room I watched as a boy came in and sat down on a bench and put his head in his hands. He couldn’t have been much older than Carter. He seemed out of place in such a place. But he was there for a reason. I could see that he felt something profound. I watched as his hands went from cradling his head, to being held in a moment of prayer. He then crossed himself. The sweetness of that moment is more than words can ever convey. And it’s the last message I want to leave with you.

Even if there’s nothing else you can do, you can always pray. Always. I know God loves his orphans. I know he will move mountains to bring them to their families.

Much love,


PS…Don’t forget to share. The link to their donation page through Reece’s Rainbow is: http://reecesrainbow.org/9184/sponsordirkes  ALL donations are tax deductible. 

Their blog is: http://www.chasingcharlotte.blogspot.com/

The contest with all of the cool prizes is:  

Please click the “share” button below, too.

To read more about T4 please visit: http://www.ushmm.org/education/resource/handic/handicapped.php?theme=educators 

Special thanks to the Holocaust Museum for allowing the use of the pictures. Also to Melissa McKrola, dabomb, who worked so hard on this post and added so much to it. Her’s good and smart.

6 thoughts on “Saving One Child. Saving One Life.

  1. That was beautiful and wonderful. It's so hard to believe that even today those with disabilities are treated so worthlessly in some areas and how nations and governments can turn a blind eye. I posted in December on my blog about how I got involved with Reece's Rainbow last year and it all started with a picture Landon found 6 years ago when Grant was born of a child with DS bound and tied to their crib – it haunted me and brought me such pain until I found RR and realized I could do *something!* to help. There is another organization that works to bring attention to the terrible conditions in institutions/orphanages – I'll have to send you the link when I find it. I need to go see that museum when we move to VA next year.

  2. http://www.disabilityrightsintl.org/Just found it – should warn you that the first story listed is very disturbing (6 month old left to die) but hey – this is disturbing stuff. It's not pretty, happy, and it won't change if we pretend we don't know about it. I haven't looked at the site in some time, and don't know a whole lot about them, but it's just one more group out there that's working for the rights of these precious children.

  3. Lexi, thank you for sharing this. I too have been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. and it completely changed me as a person. The things that happened then are horrific, but the things happening in Eastern European orphanages are horrific as well. Thank you for bringing awareness to this awful tragedy taking place in modern times!

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