Austrian researcher Asperger 'actively co-operated' with Nazis, study says

Hans Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who pioneered research into autism and after whom Asperger syndrome is named, "actively co-operated" with a Nazi program under which disabled children were killed, according to a newly published academic paper.

The article by medical historian Herwig Czech was published Thursday in the journal Molecular Autism. It says Asperger referred severely disabled children to Vienna's notorious Am Spiegelgrund clinic, where almost 800 children died under the Nazi program — many of them by lethal injection or by being gassed.

After reviewing archive documents including Asperger's personnel files and patient records, Czech found that although Asperger did not join the Nazi party itself, he did join affiliated groups and "publicly legitimized race hygiene policies," including forced sterilization.

"Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities," the paper said.

It added, however, that nothing suggested Asperger's work on autism was tainted. He first described a group of children with the condition as "autistic psychopaths" in 1938, thus, Asperger syndrome was named after him. 

People with the syndrome, which is a mild form of autism, are considered to be on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Asperger is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication, as well as repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

Vienna's medical faculty was purged and its ranks filled with Nazi ideologues after the country's annexation by Hitler's Germany in 1938.

The paper said that after that annexation, Asperger tried to prove his loyalty to the Nazi regime, giving public lectures in which he declared his allegiance to central elements of Nazi medicine, including "race hygiene." He also signed off on reports with "Heil Hitler."

His involvement in the Nazis' child "euthanasia" program included being on a commission that screened more than 200 patients at a home for mentally disabled children, the report said. Of those, 35 were deemed "uneducable" and sent to be killed at Spiegelgrund, where they died, it added.

"The [child euthanasia] program served the Nazi goal of eugenically engineering a genetically 'pure' society through 'racial hygiene' and the elimination of lives deemed a 'burden' and 'not worthy of life,'" the report's publishers said in a statement.

Asperger, who died in 1980, also recommended the transfer of two girls, one aged two and the other five, to Spiegelgrund, it said.

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