Dr Asperger 'actively cooperated' with Nazis: study

April 19, 2018

Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger, after whom Asperger's syndrome is named, "actively cooperated" with the Nazi euthanasia programme, according to a new study published Thursday.

"Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities," Herwig Czech, a historian of medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, wrote in the study.

Asperger "publicly legitimised race hygiene policies including forced sterilisations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated" with the Nazis' child euthanasia programme, according to Czech.

Asperger joined several organisations affiliated with the Nazis, although not the Nazi Party itself, Czech added in the report, published in the journal Molecular Autism.

Czech said he consulted a "vast array" of contemporary publications and previously unexplored archival documents including the doctor's personnel files and case records from his patients.

He quotes a Nazi document from 1940 as saying Asperger "was in conformity with National Socialist [Nazi] ideas in questions of race and sterilisation laws".

In public lectures Asperger declared his allegiance to the tenets of Nazi medicine. From 1938, when the Nazis "annexed" Austria into the Third Reich, he would sign diagnostic reports with "Heil Hitler".

According to Czech, Asperger recommended the transfer of two girls, one aged two and the other five, to the notorious Spiegelgrund facility inside Vienna's Steinhof psychiatric hospital.

This was where nearly 800 children lacking "hereditary worthiness" and "racial purity" died, many of them killed by poisoning and other methods. The two girls were among those who perished, officially from pneumonia.

Asperger was also a member of a committee tasked with deciding the fate of around 200 patients in a children's ward at another hospital, 35 of whom were deemed "uneducable" and later died, according to Czech.

Czech told AFP via email that the evidence he uncovered "bel[ies] the notion that [Asperger] tried to protect the children under his care by embellishing their diagnoses."

Posthumous recognition

Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, typically involves deficiencies in social and communication skills and is often seen in people of average or above average intelligence.

Asperger first identified children as "autistic psychopaths" in 1944 but his work was only recognised and the syndrome named after him following his death in 1980.

In an accompanying editorial in Molecular Autism, joint editor-in-chief and cognitive neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen said that he is aware that the article will be controversial.

But he said: "We believe that it deserves to be published in order to expose the truth about how a medical doctor who, for a long time, was seen as only having made valuable contributions to the field of pediatrics and child psychiatry, was guilty of actively assisting the Nazis in their abhorrent eugenics and euthanasia policies."

Carol Povey, director at the Centre of Autism for the UK's National Autistic Society, said she expected Czech's findings to "spark a big conversation among the 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their family members, particularly those who identify with the term 'Asperger'."

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Edith Sheffer, senior fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, called for a halt to the term "Asperger".

"Naming a disorder after someone is meant to credit and commend, and Asperger merited neither," said Sheffer, author of the book "Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna".

"His definition of 'autistic psychopaths' is antithetical to understandings of autism today, and he sent dozens of children to their deaths."

Explore further: What happened to Asperger's syndrome?

More information: Herwig Czech, Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and "race hygiene" in Nazi-era Vienna, Molecular Autism (2018). dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13229-018-0208-6

Related Stories

What happened to Asperger's syndrome?

March 9, 2018
I often get asked "Does my child have Asperger's?" in my clinical work. Or, "Do I have Asperger's?"

Experts: No link between Asperger's, violence

December 16, 2012
(AP)—While an official has said that the 20-year-old gunman in the Connecticut school shooting had Asperger's syndrome, experts say there is no connection between the disorder and violence.

Adults with Asperger Syndrome at significantly higher risk of suicidal thoughts than the general population

June 25, 2014
Adults with the autism spectrum condition known as Asperger Syndrome are nine times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than people from the UK general population, according to the first large-scale clinical study ...

Effects of Asperger's syndrome noticeable in babies

June 28, 2011
People with Asperger syndrome have problems with social interaction and attentiveness, and are also sensitive to noise and light. Several of these characteristics were evident to parents during their child's first two years, ...

The level and nature of autistic intelligence II: What about Asperger Syndrome?

September 28, 2011
Autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome, have generally been associated with uneven intellectual profiles and impairment, but according to a new study of Asperger individuals published in the online journal ...

Youths with gender dysphoria have higher rates of Asperger syndrome

January 14, 2016
A new study provides clinical data to support growing evidence that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is more prevalent in children and adolescents with gender dysphoria than in the general population. Among youths seen at a ...

Recommended for you

Yes, you can put too much chlorine in a pool

June 2, 2018
(HealthDay)—Before you take a dip in the pool this summer, be sure there's not too much chlorine in the water.

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Squirrel
not rated yet Apr 19, 2018
"Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and "race hygiene" in Nazi-era Vienna" Herwig Czech
Abstract: https://molecular...8-0208-6
open access pdf: https://molecular...8-0208-6

Editorial "Did Hans Asperger actively assist the Nazi euthanasia program?" Simon Baron-Cohen, Ami Klin, Steve Silberman and Joseph D. Buxbaum
Abstract: https://molecular...8-0209-5
pdf: https://molecular...8-0209-5

Note, both pdfs download minus the ending ".pdf" affix which needs to be added by renaming; the contents of the pdfs are otherwise below the abstracts.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.