Wiener Library Blog
Posted by Terry Philpot
In 1940 34 year-old Hans Asperger was an unknown delegate among the hundreds who attended the first (and only) conference of the German Society for Child Psychiatry and Curative Education in Vienna. Of the 14 speakers only three (two of whom were Swiss) are known not to have perpetrated crimes against children, from medical experiments to forced sterilisation; murder to internment. Asperger was to speak glowingly almost to the end of his life about how the speakers had inspired him.
In his post-war life (he died in 1980), he wrote a best-selling textbook and more than 300 papers and held top medical posts, as well as, a year after his death, having his name attached to the eponymous syndrome defining a certain kind of autism. Yet Asperger sent at least dozens of children to death at the Spiegelgrund Youth Welfare Institution, where 789 were killed, most from induced pneumonia.
Edith Sheffer’s meticulously researched book, Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, draws on case notes, interviews with perpetrators and victims, and scholarly papers. It illuminates not only the life of one of the most horrifyingly interesting of Nazi war criminals but also the dark cavern of medical murder and cruelty, one of the monstrous aspects of Nazi social policy.