Franz might have applied for exemption from the draft if he hadn't wanted to avoid bringing attention to his family. His brother, Heinrich, was a prisoner in the basement of their home. Why? Because one of the things Hitler brought with him to Austria was a eugenics program which would weed out the weak and "invaluable" members of society who needed food and shelter, but were unable to give back to their community. Heinrich had autism, and Franz was willing to risk his own life to save his brother's.
In the beginning, the general public didn't realize what was happening. They were asked to send any children with disabilities to a hospital where they would receive care specialized to their needs. Over time, however, it became obvious that those who went to "clinics" like Am Spiegelgrund in Vienna never returned home alive. Seven hundred and eight-nine patients were killed under the Nazi Regime's Child Euthanasia Program, also known as Aktion T4. Between 1940 and 1945, the clinic operated as part of the psychiatric hospital Am Steinhof. There, sick and disabled adolescents were unwitting subjects of medical experiments and victims of nutritional and psychological abuse. Some died by lethal injection and gas poisoning, others by disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, and "accidents" relating to their condition. The brains of up to 800 victims were preserved in jars and housed in the hospital for decades.
Beginning in the spring of 1938, an extensive network of facilities was established for the documentation, observation, evaluation and selection of children and adolescents, whose social behavior, disabilities, and/or parentage did not comply with the Nazi ideology. In my novel A PASSING MIST, to avoid Heinrich being sent to such an institution, Franz's family faked his death with the help of a pastor associated with Bonhoeffer's Confessing Church. They staged a funeral and hid the boy in the basement with the hope that one day Vienna would be free again and it would be safe for Heinrich to play in the sunshine and open air.
The ultimate purpose of this program was to desensitize the populace to the idea of euthanizing an unwanted group of people who had been assigned the value of "lesser than." When the value of life can be decided by certain individuals, the lives of all are endangered. Hitler's intended target was the Jews, and before he finished, he had killed six million of them and millions of others who posed a threat to his evil schemes.
When we buy into the belief that another person, or group of people, are lesser in value than others because of their age, mental capabilities, physical health, religious views, vocation, sexual orientation--or any other reason--we are opening the door for another Hitler to take the stage. And who will the target be this time? When the value of life isn't a fixed value that applies equally to anyone whose heart is beating, no one is safe.
At the conclusion of my novel, Hitler and the Axis powers were defeated and the prisoners of war were repatriated. After a time, Franz and his parents were able to obtain visas and bring Heinrich with them back to the United States, where they enrolled him in classes at the Benedictine School in Ridgely. There, he was able to learn and enjoy life in the sun as he always should have.