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The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in ) was a Nazi designation for the segments of populace that, according to the racial policy of the Third Reich, had no right to live and thus, were to be "exterminated." This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually led to the Holocaust.

The expression first occurs in the title of a 1920 book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens, (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche.

Nazi categorization

Those considered to be "deviant" or a "source of social turmoil" in Nazi Germany and the occupied Europe fell under this designation. The "deviant" category included the mentally ill, people with disabilities, political dissidents, homosexuals, intermarriage partners, and criminals. The "social turmoil" category included the clergy, Communists, Jews, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, "non-white" or non-Caucasian peoples, and a variety of other groups in society. More than any other of these groups, the Jews soon became the primary focus of this genocidal policy.

The concept culminated in Nazi extermination camps, instituted to systematically murder those who were unworthy to live, according to Nazi ideologists. It also justified various human experimentation, and eugenics programs, as well as Nazi racial policies.

Development of the concept

According to the author of Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, the policy went through a number of iterations and modifications:

"Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the principle of "life unworthy of life," coercive sterilization was the first.
There followed the killing of “impaired” children in hospitals; and then the killing of “impaired” adults, mostly collected from mental hospitals, in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide gas.
This project was extended (in the same killing centers) to “impaired” inmates of concentration and extermination camps and, finally, to mass killings in the extermination camps themselves."


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