New research into the life of Hans Asperger, the pioneer of the eponymous syndrome, details his considerable collaboration with the Nazi party’s (NSDAP) “race hygiene” apparatus, including active cooperation with the party’s child “euthanasia” program. The research was published in the journal Molecular Autism.
Since the 1980s, when his research on the condition gained international recognition, a story of Asperger as an active opponent to “National Socialism” and the Nazi party was perpetuated and took hold. To examine the validity of this view, Herwig Czech, PhD, a historian of medicine at the University of Vienna, conducted a qualitative analysis of Asperger’s life that included his personnel files, political assessments by Nazi authorities, medical case records from various institutions (including the child “euthanasia” clinic Am Spiegelgrund) and Asperger’s Heilpädagogik ward.
Before the Anschluss (Austria’s annexation to Germany) in 1938, Asperger was a member of the Austrian Bund Neuland, a Catholic youth organization identifying as Pan-German; it was in sharp opposition to everything perceived to be Marxist-leftist and liberal, which then included parliamentary democracy. The Bund has been cited (Kontinuitäten, 2009) as one of Nazism’s most prominent bridgeheads in the years leading to Anschluss.
“Asperger’s political socialization in Neuland likely blinded him to National Socialism’s destructive character due to an affinity with core ideological elements,” writes Czech.
He also benefited professionally from the virulent anti-Jewish stance of Austrian universities. In 1935, he took charge of the Heilpädagogik ward at the Vienna University Children’s Clinic, ahead of considerably more qualified Jewish colleagues.
Medical records of 48 children examined by Asperger show that he specifically called for 12 of the children to be transferred to the Am Spiegelgrund facility, the “euthanasia” institution founded in 1940. It became known as a collection point for children who did not conform to the regime’s criteria of “hereditary worthiness” and “racial purity.”
In another 4 cases, he recommended an “institution under curative pedagogic leadership.” Czech writes that this also points to Spiegelgrund.
The analysis found “no evidence” that Nazi authorities considered Asperger as an opponent of their race hygiene agenda or that he ever faced reprisals such as attempts of arrest by the Gestapo, which he claimed in a 1974 interview had happened on 2 occasions for refusing to hand patients over to officials. The only documented source of the claim comes from Asperger himself.
This article originally appeared on MPR