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Medicine

Famed paediatrician Hans Asperger ‘actively cooperated’ with Nazis during second world war, according to new research

From 1938, when the Nazis ‘annexed’ Austria into the Third Reich, Asperger took to signing his diagnostic reports with ‘Heil Hitler’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 9:33pm

Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger, after whom Asperger’s syndrome is named, “actively cooperated” with the Nazi euthanasia programme, according to a new study published on 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 open access 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.

Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty
Herwig Czech, historian

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 took to signing his 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 Am 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.

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 it as “autistic psychopathy” but his work was only recognised and the syndrome named after him following his death in 1980, although its designation has long been contentious.