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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Was Autism a Nazi Invention?

Sheffer’s account of the “program of systematic child killing” that grew out of this mind-set is chilling. Starting in the summer of 1939, a Nazi decree mandated that all physicians, nurses, and midwives report any child under 3 with mental or physical disabilities. Sheffer goes on to explain: “The children would enter one of the Reich’s 37 ‘special children’s wards’ for observation and, regularly, medical murder.” Her descriptions of children’s pleading letters home or parents’ confusion as to their children’s sudden deaths are devastating in their routine matter-of-factness.
Sheffer’s pivot from describing deadly Nazi conceptions of community to Asperger’s complicity with the Reich’s killing machine is less effective. Because Asperger did not have a direct hand in any of the more than 700 children who were murdered in the regime’s child euthanasia program, she is left relying on conditionals and suppositions: An educational society Asperger helped found “may have disseminated the child euthanasia directive behind the scenes”; surviving documents “suggest” Asperger “had a hand” in transferring dozens of children to a killing pavilion. On one page, Sheffer states that a transfer to Am Spiegelgrund was a “lethal prescription”; on another, she writes that seven out of nine children the “staff” on “Asperger’s ward” transferred there did not die, although “it is possible that Asperger’s clinic still marked some of them for death.”