Exhibition Examines Role Of Scientists And Doctors In Holocaust

Holocaust, eugenics
This is a poster for the Nazi eugenics program. Printed in 1936, it proclaims, “We are not alone.” The column on the left shows the countries that already had forced sterilization for certain “social undesirables.” The columns on the bottom and right show countries considering eugenics programs.

Note the American flag on the left. Various U.S. states practiced compulsory sterilization as early as 1907, when Indiana instituted sterilization of “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapists.” The law was overturned in 1921, only to be replaced in 1927 with a law requiring sterilization of the “Insane, feeble minded or epileptic.” That law stayed on the books until 1974. Many states had similar laws and this “social cleansing” program heavily influenced the Nazis.

The Nazis instituted their Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power. Many scientists and doctors were quick to jump onto the Nazi bandwagon and began “studies” to prove how the Germanic peoples were superior to all other races. This gave a scholarly stamp of approval to the forced sterilization, and eventual killing, of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and physically and mentally disabled.

This unseemly link between science and the Holocaust is being examined in a new exhibition at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. “Deadly Medicine: Creating The Master Race” brings together posters, leaflets and photos of scientific examinations to show how the scientific community became complicit in the greatest crime of the 20th century.

It also shows how these ideas were sold to the German people. One picture in a high school textbook shows a German man bent under the weight of an alcoholic and a brutish-looking man, perhaps meant to portray a mentally disabled person, with the caption, “You are sharing the load! A hereditarily ill person costs 50,000 Reichsmarks on average up to the age of sixty.”

“Deadly Medicine: Creating The Master Race” runs until October 15, 2012.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]