The reputation of child psychiatrist Hans Asperger (1906-1980) comes under close scrutiny in this chilling and well-documented account of how the political and social values of Nazi psychiatry determined the fates of supposedly inferior children.
Sheffer (Modern European History/Stanford Univ.; Burned Bridge: How East and West Germany Made the Iron Curtain, 2011) reveals how the Nazi regime categorized children and examines Asperger’s role in its killing system. In its first conference in 1940 in Vienna, the German Society for Child Psychiatry and Curative Education established the doctrine of eugenicist selection and “the grandiose experiment of Nazi child psychiatry as a distinct field.” Experts would differentiate between children who were valuable to society and who, in the words of Paul Schröder, “the Reich’s ‘father’ of child psychiatry,” were “mostly worthless and ineducable.” Asperger, present at the convention, endorsed this doctrine and became director of the Curative Education Clinic at the University of Vienna Hospital, where, as a medical consultant for the Nazi administration, he assessed children. On numerous occasions—likely hundreds of times—he recommended transfer to Spiegelgrund, the clinic in Vienna where “inferior” children were killed under the state’s euthanasia program. Sheffer’s research demonstrates how Asperger’s diagnoses emerged from the values of the Nazi regime, and her account is filled with revealing notes from Asperger’s clinic and disturbing stories of the experiences of children who survived Spiegelgrund. The author examines Asperger’s writings and his career after the war, when he claimed that he was a resister of Nazism. She reports that he has been viewed in various ways: as “a resister who rescued children, as a determined perpetrator, or as a passive follower.” Her own conclusion—that he was a conscious participant—is persuasive.
A compelling picture of the evils of the Nazi regime and of the perversion of Nazi psychiatry.