Last Updated on 10/12/20 by Rose Palmer
X marks the spot. On a treasure map, a large X means potentially good things in the form of gold coins or jewels. On a contract, X indicates where you sign your name which makes the requirements on that piece of paper legally binding. For the Nazis in WWII, two red X’s on a disabled patient’s medical form meant death.
Over the course of a mere 18 months, from Jan. 1940 to Aug. 1941, records at six different German crematoriums show that the Nazis killed 70,273 physically and mentally disabled men, women and children. A secret program called “Operation-T4” targeted patients in sanatoriums and nursing homes. Three Nazi doctors read a questionnaire about each person, and then just based only that description and without any personal evaluation, decided if that patient was a burden on society. A failed assessment produced a red X on the bottom of the page. Two red X’s on the form doomed the patient to death by gassing in the crematorium.
With their ashes buried in mass graves, these many faceless victims are easily forgotten. But one woman will not let us forget.
Jeanne is a teacher, a story teller and a fiber artist. Jeanne’s life has also been personally and deeply touched by her mentally disabled sister-in-law. While watching a documentary in January 2016 about the T4 program, Jeanne had an epiphany. She decided to commemorate each one of the 70,273 victims with a quilt block – a block made of white fabric representing the medical form and two red X’s symbolizing the sentence that committed all those innocent people to death. The blocks would then be sewn into quilts – many, many, many quilts. Maybe as many as 1200 quilts.
This type of project cannot and should not be done alone. Sharing the goal spreads the awareness and shares the sense of justice and fulfillment. Through her website, her presentations at quilt shows and her special exhibits throughout the world, Jeanne has spread the word of her project. In just three years, Jeanne’s persistence has achieved over 56,000 blocks contributed from all over the globe: all of the US and Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, the Middle East, South America and places in between.
Just like the 70,273 people they will represent, each block is unique. Jeanne provides guidelines for the block size, but the white fabric can be anything. The greatest diversity is with the red XX’s – ribbon, fabric, yarn, paint, stitches – any form of expression is acceptable as long as it is red.
I met Jeanne and her unique red and white quilts at the Portland, OR Northwest Quilt Show. Her display was moving and her passion about this project was intense. Beside displaying quilts, Jeanne and her supporters also offered visitors to the show the opportunity to make a double XX quilt block. She supplied the white fabric and a variety of red ribbons and fabric. I designed my block, picking fat and skinny pieces of red ribbon for a wonky XX look. A volunteer stitched it all down and my block was done in no time.
Yet so impactful.
One of those 70,273 nameless souls was now remembered and honored.
As the project has grown and Jeanne’s collections of red and white XX quilts multiply like rabbits, she has had requests to display her work in locations throughout the world. The first major European exhibit was in Lamaze, France in June 2017. In 2018 Jeanne has exhibited her quilts at the Durham Cathedral in the UK, at Rochester Cathedral in the UK, in the Channel Islands in Scotland, and throughout Germany. For 2019 she has requests for more shows in Scotland, France, Italy, and Austria.
You do not have to travel to these far flung destinations to provide a quilt block. Jeanne has instructions on her website for making and sending quilt blocks, as well as for other volunteer opportunities.
You can read more about Jeanne and the 70273 project at http://www.thebarefootheart.com/
You can learn about how to make a block and send it at http://www.thebarefootheart.com/making-blocks-for-the-70273-project-fabric-info/
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