Massacre of the innocents

18 May 2017 | by Mark Lawson


Massacre of the innocents

Bishop is hero of little-told, real-life horror story

Mark Lawson

All Our Children
Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Between the scenes of the world premiere of Stephen Unwin’s play All Our Children, Schubert’s Winterreise soars hauntingly. But although the drama is set in Germany and one of the characters has made a winter journey of the kind in the music’s title, there is another German song cycle that comes to mind when contemplating the horrifying subject-matter and emotional impact of this production: Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, or “Songs on the death of children”.

In 1939, the Hitler government introduced Aktion T4, a programme similar in rationale and execution to the Jewish Holocaust. It categorised children with a wide range of conditions – from congenital quadriplegia to what would now be called learning difficulties – as Lebensunwertes Leben (“lives unworthy of life”). Around 100,000 were taken to what their parents believed to be paediatric clinics across Germany, then driven in buses with blacked-out windows to be either lethally injected or, later, gassed.

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