On 27th January it was holocaust memorial day. I went to my local park as the Autistic Conservative to represent disabled people killed in the Nazi Final Solution. It was a sombre event where our thoughts and prayers were with all the victims of the biggest mass genocide of the 20th century. It was a lesson from the past that had to be learned by the present to stop such barbarism from happening in the future.
Of the 6 million people killed in the Holocaust most of them were Jews. But there was a minority of 250’000 that were disabled people with physical and mental conditions. The extermination and concentration camps like Auschwitz Berkineau, Sobibor and Treblinka killed the majority of the prisoners on a mass scale. But the disabled were killed much earlier on in smaller and less elaborate ways. In fact disabled people were the first to be killed by the Nazis.
Hans Asperger and the Nazi Connection
Before I go into the details of the killings I would like to share a story about an autism connection to the holocaust. It was around this time that autism was discovered. There were two people who found out about autism. One was by an American called Leo Kanner in 1943 in Maryland, USA and the other was an Austrian in 1938 called Hans Asperger. These two never communicated their neuroscience discoveries together because the war and the rise of facism cut them off from one another so they couldn’t share information and collaborate with each other.
Asperger may have been ahead of Kanner but they ended up making different definitions and analysis of the autistic parapsychology to one another. Aspeger’s story is interesting in the case of the Holocaust. He had made his discovery at the time when Hitler annexed Austria, this led to his country coming under Nazi rule almost a year before the war.
Asperger had been studying children with strange patterns of behavior in which they displayed brilliant intelligence in certain subjects, but had poor and awkward social skills. At that time Asperger was working for the University of Vienna’s children’s hospital and was studying young patients with intellectual disabilities. He published a number of papers on his research and noticed that some children had what he called ‘autistic psychopathy’ went onto use their talents into adulthood. One paper mentioned a boy who carried his talents into adulthood went onto become a professor of astronomy and solved an error in Newton’s work that he identified as a student.
Asperger could have become a leading name in the field of autism studies, but his research was mostly ignored in his lifetime long after the war. Some of his research was destroyed was also lost in the war either from bombing campaigns or theft from the Nazis. In 1981 autism psychologist Lorna Wing found his research and started to give him credit by campaigning for his recognition by naming the high functioning side of the autism spectrum as Aspergers Syndrome.
Last year a history professor looked at the work of the Nazi’s ‘racial hygiene’ policy and found that Asperger was a Nazi collaborator who sent autistic people to be euthanised under the Nazi’s involuntary euthanasia law known as Aktion T4. When the Nazis came to power they enacted eugenics policies and they paid doctors and scientists across the Reich to seek out incurable illnesses and diseases and to have them sterilized and then later racially cleansed from society. There was anti-disability propaganda as well as antisemitic propaganda. One poster that is shown here reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘A New People’, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.”
Where do I stand on this now that Asperger is being painted as a villian whose side of the spectrum for which is named for? Asperger’s circumstances would not have allowed him to resist the Nazi regime. He was acting under the threat of death and being keeping his family alive as with all citizens of a dictatorship do. But most scientists like Asperger are not politically motivated people. In fact they are indifferent to politics and they like to associate themselves with people who allow them to practice their profession with huge financial backing. So he was acting only under the direction of his rulers as most of the other doctors were also doing at the time.
Asperger would have had to comply with the Nazi’s T4 euthanisa programme just so that he could carry on with his research into autistic people. Now as I said earlier most of the Holocaust victims were killed in the death camps but disabled people were killed a lot closer to their homes. In the towns and cities small micro extermination centres were set up where they were gassed in airtight rooms and some of them were injected with lethal cocktails. The people of my kind as neurodivergents and other disabled people were like guinea pigs for the evil and destructive nature of the Nazi regime. By 1940 care homes for the disabled became holding areas where the residents were systematically judged as unfit for living. Today disabled people try to keep themselves visible so that the public are aware of their existence, but back then the social order of the day dictated that disabled people were hideous and disgusting creatures that should be kept out of sight. The killings of disabled people under T4 happened with no one knowing at all.
I think Asperger probably would have attempted in some way to protect some children with the condition that he is now named after. Not by himself but by getting other people to hide them. He wouldn’t have been able to keep them himself because of the close associations he had with the Nazis made them vulnerable to being exposed in his care. The depressing part of this that makes me upset is the number of intelligent aspies that have been destroyed like sick dogs. How many geniuses have the Nazis dismissed and killed under their regime? Their evil minds would have lacked the imagination of what aspies have that the could build a better Germany through peaceful and creative ways rather than through destruction. Destroying people with autism makes the world a much worser place.
Solidarity with the Jews
I think that Europe is now a better place for disabled people. In the years after the war Human Rights legislation has made us better people. We now respect and value disabled people in many western nations. The disabled are now embraced and autism now a widely recognised medical condition. I find comfort in making solidarity with Jews and I am glad that they have their own state in Israel. They are a race whose religion teaches that freedom and self determination is the birthrite of every living individual. I am not a property of a state science institute and I am not a hopeless, useless spastic. I am a free man and no one has any right to my life and I am a creative individual seeking the pursuit of his own happiness.
Hans Asperger believed that autistic people had a gift to give to the world and that we should accept all classes of citizens. He once said ‘It seems for success in science or art a dash of autism is essential’.