October 23, 2018

Holocaust Lecture Series Begins with conversation on Hans Asperger and Autism

The Jewish studies department launched a series of lectures regarding the Holocaust beginning with two by Drs. Edith Sheffer and Herwig Czech on Oct. 4 at McKenna Theatre, moderated by professor Venise Wagner of the journalism department.

Both lecturers presented the subject and controversy of autism and Hans Asperger’s association with the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. Czech, a postdoctoral at the University of Vienna Medical School, began the lecture with his research findings on Asperger’s association with the Nazis.

Likewise, Sheffer, a senior fellow at the Institute of European Studies at UC Berkeley, had released a book earlier this year titled “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna,” presenting a similar claim that Asperger cooperated with the Nazis in the mission of race purification.

Both speakers wanted to address the attention their revelation on Holocaust history and developmental disorder has had since the release of their findings this spring; Sheffer’s book release and Czech’s academic paper both on Asperger’s work and the atrocities surrounding the children of Nazi science.

Asperger worked at the University of Vienna Children’s Hospital. While there, he worked under Franz Hamburger, whor was a controversial, right-wing figure of the hospital according to Sheffer. Furthermore, Czech’s discovery of documents on Asperger show that he had sent children to Am Spiegelgrund, a clinic used by the Nazis for child euthanasia. Before Czech’s unearthing of these documents, they were thought to have been destroyed by Asperger.

“I think it would be great if people had gotten a sense of how complex many of the questions involved are, how relevant they are for today. I hope that as many people as possible will feel encouraged to dig deeper, to read,”Czech said.

The lecture series was put together by professor and department chair of Jewish studies Kitty Millet, who recently received the Morris Weiss award for Holocaust education. Millet was anonymously nominated for the award by one of her students. Her hope is that the series invites students from all majors to realize their studies will shape the future of how the Holocaust is perceived.

“This is a really big, big moment here for campus,” Millet said. “It’s not just about preserving it in terms of the history of the Holocaust, but it’s also about thinking about the ways we know knowledge.”

For the disciplines of autism spectrum and special education, the discovery of Asperger’s association with Nazism is controversial. Sheffer views the history of Asperger as a lesson to acknowledging injustices despite popular belief.

“I think for going forward, I’ve called first not to use the ‘Asperger’ label anymore, so that’s concretely what I would want people to think about,” Sheffer said.

The third lecture in the series will be on Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m. in the Humanities Building and is titled “Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz: Coexistence and Violence in an East European Town,” with professor Omer Bartov of Brown University.

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