Ernst Klee (15 March 1942, Frankfurt am Main – 18 May 2013, Frankfurt am Main) was a German journalist and author. As a writer on Germany's history, he was best known for his exposure and documentation of the medical crimes of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, much of which was concerned with the Action T4 or involuntary euthanasia program. He is the author of The Good Old Days': The Holocaust Through the Eyes of the Perpetrators and Bystanders first published in the English translation in 1991.
Life and work
Klee was first trained as a sanitary and heating technician. Afterwards, he caught up on his university entrance requirements and then studied theology and social education.
As a journalist in the 1970s, he looked at socially excluded groups, such as the homeless, psychiatric patients and the disabled. During this period, he collaborated with Gusti Steiner, who laid the foundation for the federal German emancipatory movement of the disabled at that time.
In 1997, he received the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis ("Scholl Siblings Prize") for his book, Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer (Auschwitz, Nazi Medicine and Their Victims). In 2001, the city of Frankfurt am Main honored Klee with the Goetheplakette (Goethe Medal) for his book, Deutsche Medizin im Dritten Reich. Karrieren vor und nach 1945 (German Medicine in the Third Reich. Careers before and after 1945). The explanation states that Klee's works "are suitable to support civil freedom, moral and intellectual courage, and to give important impetus to current awareness." Klee's commitment to the importance of disabled people was the decisive factor in the former Westfälische Schule für Körperbehinderte (Westphalian School for the Physically Disabled) in Mettingen being renamed the Ernst-Klee-Schule in his honor in 2005.
Klee wrote for the weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. There were 27 articles by him between 1974 and 1995. In 2003, he wrote an article criticizing the omission of Nazi activity in the career details of those mentioned in the Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie ("German Biographical Encyclopedia") or his description of the relationship of German artists to the Nazi extermination camps in German-occupied Poland. Contemporary author Karl-Heinz Janßen wrote on 27 February 1987 about Klee, "Contemporary historical research ignores this subject [of medical crimes during the Nazi period]; [...] if it were not for the free-lance journalist, Ernst Klee, who went to the effort of reading thousands of case files and rummaging through archives of institutions, almost nothing would be known today about one of the most horrible atrocities of this century."
Klee died in his hometown of Frankfurt am Main at the age of 71 after a long and severe illness.
- Die Hölle von Ückermünde. Psychiatrie im Osten. ("The Hell of Ückermünde. Psychiatry in the East") Report, 43 min., Book and direction: Ernst Klee, Production: ARD, First broadcast: 1993
This report was broadcast by ARD in 1993. The development of psychiatry in "the third year after the German reunification", shown in the examples of two institutions in the former East Germany. The film shows shocking treatment of disabled people. The commentary uses the view of those affected. Fifty years after the "euthanasia" in Germany, this documentation reminds the viewer of it again. Within the setting of criticism of psychiatry, Klee's documentation occupies equal importance with the feature films, "Freaks", "Shock Corridor" and "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest".
- 1971: Kurt-Magnus-Preis of ARD
- 1981: Television prize of the Deutsche Akademie der Darstellenden Künste
- 1982: Adolf-Grimme-Preis
- 1997: Geschwister-Scholl-Preis
- 2001: Goetheplakette der Stadt Frankfurt am Main
- 2007: Wilhelm-Leuschner-Medaille