Between 1940 and 1941, German Nazis murdered 70,273 mentally and physically disabled people. To commemorate those whose lives were so cruelly lost, Cashiers-based writer and artist Jeanne Hewell-Chambers launched “The 70273 Project,” a worldwide collaborative art project.
“Though they never even laid eyes on the disabled person they were evaluating,” explains Jeanne, “the Nazi doctors read the medical files and, if from the words on the page, the person was deemed ‘unfit’ or an ‘economic burden on society,’ the doctor placed a red X at the bottom of the form. Three doctors were to read each medical file, and when two of them made a red X on the page, the disabled person’s fate was sealed. Most were murdered within one to two hours.”
Jeanne’s plan is to gather 70,273 quilt blocks created by people around the world. Each block will contain white fabric, which symbolizes the medical record. Two red Xs on each block represent the death sentence for one person.
Some participants create the blocks, while others have offered to piece the blocks into quilt tops. Eventually, quilters will take the tops, add batting and backing, and create the quilts. Once all of the blocks are collected and stitched into more than 700 quilts, the quilts will begin traveling around the world. On the back of each finished quilt will be a label naming those who made each block.
Although Jeanne just launched the project this past February, she says the response has been tremendous with people in 55 different countries already reaching out to participate. “Many people are reading the directions and sending the stories and photos with their blocks that I asked for and, as you can imagine, every story is quite moving. I declare, I never knew I had such well-stocked tear ducts,” she says.
She adds that, although she’ll never lose sight of the original intent to remember those who were killed, she hopes that “The 70273 Project” will commemorate those souls in ways beyond the quilts—“That this project will move us towards a day when we drop words synonymous with disabled and speak only of people.”