The Early Nazi History of Autism

It is by now clear that Asperger partook a role in the Nazi regime and was responsible for the death of many children. The person who discovered the connection and made it public was the Austrian historian of war atrocities Herwig Czech. Mr. Czech is a permanent research fellow at the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance and the recipient of an APART Fellowship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The focus of academic interest for Mr. Czech has been the medical crimes committed at psychiatric hospitals during the occupation of the Nazi regime. His writings impugn the role of Austria during World War II and call for remembrance of the many victims that, although dead, still have to receive justice.

Several years ago Mr. Czech provided a lecture asserting the complicity of Asperger in the murder of dozens of children. Many people have claimed ever since that it is too early to take heed of Mr. Czech’s findings, as the same has not been published and properly scrutinized. Some people, like Steve Silberman, have gone as far as to condone Asperger’s actions despite, if proven, any possible involvement in murdering children during World War II. According to Mr. Silberman: “The most important lesson is not that brutal regimes like the Third Reich enable evil men to do evil, but that they are able to compel even well-intentioned people to do monstrous things” (n.pr/1NlHQ0r). From my standpoint there is no defense to the murder of dozens of innocent children whose only crime was to suffer from some type of physical or mental disability.

Mr. Silberman’s attitude and work ethics are in clear contradiction to those of Jon Donvan and Caren Zucker the authors of “In a Different Key”. For the purpose of writing their book Donvan and Zuker communicated regularly with Czeck and then went to meet with him personally in Austria. During their stay in Austria Czech accompanied them to the historical registries where the pertinent documents were archived. In part, the purpose of the trip was to examine the documentation detailing Asperger’s involvement in war atrocities and to personally verify Asperger’s signature in documents that condemned children to their death.  To say that there is only hearsay evidence of Asperger’s involvement in war crimes is either extremely naïve or self-serving.

It does seem that Asperger’s reported series of cases that now bear his name was very biased. The series (and his hospital population) reported a number of socially handicapped  children who were all boys and exhibited gifts of various nature. The clinical series can’t be explained by statistical chance alone; rather, it appears possible that those children who were truly handicapped or whose only crime was being of the female gender may have been “euthanized” (murdered).

Asperger was the most prominent physician connected to the history of autism and Nazi war crimes. However, he is not the only one. Andreas Rett was an Austrian neurologist whose main claim to fame was the description of a syndrome that now bears his name. This syndrome affects primarily females and is manifested by a period of normal development (6 to 18 months of age) followed by loss or stagnation of developmental milestones, deceleration in brain growth, repetitive stereotyped movements, gastrointestinal disorders and seizures. Patients with Rett syndrome have intellectual impairment and typically lack verbal skills. It has been proposed that males may express a more severe condition and consequently die shortly after birth. A majority of patients with this condition exhibit a mutation in the gene MECP2. In the DSM-IV Rett syndrome was classified as a subtype of autism.

According to Wikipedia, after his death, Dr. Rett: “… received some criticism for having been listed as a member of the Hitler Jugend and the Nazi Party as a child and young adult. Andreas Rett was only nine years old when the Nazis came to power in Germany and 21 years old at the time of the regime’s demise. In recent years he has also been criticized in Austria of using research data derived from Action T4, although he himself was never involved in Action T4.” Note: Action T4 was a program sanctioned by Hitler to euthanize individuals deemed incurable, including many intellectually challenged individuals.

I participated in the first Rett syndrome center in this nation directed by Dr. Hugo Moser Dr. Moser was the famous physician whose work was depicted in the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil”. Through Dr. Moser I was able to interact with Dr. Rett who was always available to guide our efforts. Due to my training in both neurology and neuropathology I shared a common interest with Dr. Rett. Overall, I found him to be very knowledgeable and otherwise, given his fame, to be unassuming. As a clinician he pioneered “treatment based on the belief that disabled children also have a right to fulfillment of their physical, emotional, and psychological needs” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Rett ). Back then I was not aware of his participation or support of the Nazi regime.

As a curiosity, back in the 1980’s while training at Johns Hopkins I was able to investigate many neuropathological studies coming from Germany/Austria. Many of the researchers never cared about the origins of the samples used in their studies. I always thought that if the individual had died during the 1940’s and they had a diagnosis of schizophrenia or were twins, the tissue could have probably come from concentration camps or euthanized patients in psychiatric hospitals. In many cases the patients were tortured and neither they nor their relatives provided consent for tissue removal. Still their organs and tissues remained in jars without hope for proper burial. It took the German and Austrian government nearly 4 decades after the war to raise consciousness and stop using this tissue (and only after being questioned on ethical grounds by scientists from other parts of the world).

References

Steve Silberman and his tribe of Nazi sympathizers: https://corticalchauvinism.com/2016/01/23/steve-silberman-and-his-tribe-of-nazi-sympathizers/

On Silberman, Austria and on re-writing the history of autism. https://corticalchauvinism.com/2016/03/14/on-silberman-austria-and-on-re-writing-the-history-of-autism/

One response to “The Early Nazi History of Autism

  1. Pingback: James Harris Discusses the Books Neurotribes and In a Different Key | Cortical Chauvinism·

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