Autism Pioneer Said He Kept Kids Safe From Nazis. He Didn't

Hans Asperger 'publicly legitimized race hygiene policies,' says historian
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2018 9:05 AM CDT
A memorial honoring victims of the Nazi-era Am Spiegelgrund clinic is seen in Vienna.   (Wikimedia)

(Newser) – Before his death in 1980, Dr. Hans Asperger said he kept his adolescent patients safe from the Nazis, a claim repeated years later by autism experts. The pediatrician—for whom Asperger's Syndrome was named in 1981—even went so far as to say he'd become a target of the Nazis himself for those actions, reports the BBC. All that has been upended by a study of his personnel files and patient records, published Thursday in Molecular Autism. Medical historian Herwig Czech writes that Asperger not only "publicly legitimized race hygiene policies" and signed his diagnostic reports with "Heil Hitler," per the Local, but also sent several children to the Am Spiegelgrund euthanasia clinic, where the Guardian reports 789 children were killed between 1940 and 1945.

Czech says "there is no evidence to show his contributions to autism research were tainted" or that he deliberately earmarked kids for euthanasia. But he found that Asperger in 1939 wrote it was necessary to "carry out restrictive measures" to stop "the diseased ... from transmitting their diseased hereditary material." In one case, Asperger ordered a 2-year-old with acute inflammation of the brain be sent to Spiegelgrund on the basis that "she must be an unbearable burden to her mother." The girl died there three months later. Czech argues Asperger was "rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty [to the Nazis] with career opportunities" and concludes that "the narrative of Asperger as a principled opponent of National Socialism and a courageous defender of his patients ... does not hold up in the face of the historical evidence." (Read more Nazism stories.)

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