A disabled campaigner is hoping that his film project exposing how tens of thousands of disabled people were murdered in Nazi Germany will help to educate today’s younger generation about disability hate crime.
Berge Kanikanian first began working on the project four years ago, after attending a leadership course run by Inclusion North, and deciding that more people needed to know about the horrors of the Aktion T4 programme.
Since then he has pushed for support and funding for the documentary, directed by film-maker James Hills, and has travelled across Poland and Germany to help research it.
The film shows Kanikanian visiting the notorious Fort 7 concentration camp in Poznan, Poland, where scores of disabled people from a psychiatric hospital in nearby Owinska were taken to be killed in a gas chamber in the autumn of 1939.
The film describes how more than 10,000 patients from institutions in Poland were shot or gassed simply because the Germans needed to use the buildings.
Kanikanian is also shown visiting Hadamar in Germany, where more than 10,000 disabled people were bussed into a psychiatric hospital and then killed.
He says in the film: “I don’t know how you could treat these people like this… I don’t really know what to say. Nobody helped these people.”
This week, Kanikanian was in the House of Commons for an invitation-only screening of the film – hosted by the all party parliamentary group for young disabled people – which he features in and narrates.
He told the MPs, campaigners and other people with learning difficulties who attended the event: “I hope it will raise awareness of disability hate crime and will help stop the bullying.”
The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who attended the screening, said it was an “incredibly moving film” and was “certainly worth a wider distribution”, and could be used to “educate the young today about how they should treat disabled people with respect”.
Kanikanian appealed at the screening for ideas about how he could show the film to more young people, through schools, colleges, universities and youth centres. He hopes to develop a social enterprise around showing the film and talking about its relevance to modern-day disability hate crime.
He is also hoping that more MPs will take an interest in the film, and even debate the issues around it in the Commons.
Kanikanian said afterwards that he had experienced disability hate crime in Ealing, west London, where he lives.
He also said that he had not been able to understand much of the film himself during the Commons screening, because it was inaccessible to him.
He said he wanted to see a version of the film made which had a dubbed English translation of the foreign interviewees, rather than English subtitles, which were not accessible to many people with learning difficulties.
18 June 2013