A new paper sheds light on the possible support of autism pioneer Hans Asperger to the Nazi program, which led to the deaths of children. Who is Hans Asperger?
A new paper by Herwig Czech provides a review of the life and career of Dr. Asperger during World War II, showing that the pioneer managed to further his career by aligning himself with the Nazis and even actively participated in the eugenics program wherein children with disabilities were killed in Am Spiegelgrund, a concealed killing center.
Evidently, contrary to previous claims that Asperger was protecting the children from being sent to concentration camps, the paper suggests that he sympathized with Nazi politics and played an active role in certain programs that led to the children's deaths. It is said that it was because of this alleged involvement that he was rewarded with excellent career opportunities.
However, while there are other publications that allege Asperger's Nazi-sympathizing ways, there are also others that describe him as a soft-spoken man who really cared for the children, even to the point of lauding their special abilities.
"We believe that the value of Czech's scholarship is that it establishes the necessary evidentiary framework for future discussion," wrote the editors of Molecular Autism in an editorial regarding Czech's paper.
Who Is Hans Asperger?
Hans Asperger is an Austrian pediatrician who was born on Feb. 18, 1906. He is most known for his 1944 paper where he identified a behavioral pattern he described as "autistic psychopathy," which includes a lack of empathy, clumsy movements, intense absorption in certain interests, having one-sided conversations, and lack of ability to form friendships. Interestingly, Asperger is said to have expressed all these symptoms when he was a child.
He was the first person to describe the tenets of what would eventually be called Asperger's syndrome in 1981 and even reportedly called children with the syndrome "little professors" because of their ability to discuss their special interest in great detail. He also reportedly believed that they could use their abilities in adulthood and even followed one patient who eventually became a professor of astronomy.
However, Asperger reportedly also went on to classify some children with autistic psychopathy in contrast with each other instead of highlighting their individual potentials. For instance, in his 1939 paper, he went on to describe one child as being capable of great intellectual achievements, while another child's "autistic originality" was described as being "bizarre, eccentric, and useless."
Asperger continued to work and professionally thrive in Vienna after the exclusion of Jewish doctors and psychiatrists from their professions, especially with the support of fervent Nazi Franz Hamburger. After the war, he criticized the moral failings by the Nazi regime but not its violence, destruction, and persecution, though this supposed unwillingness to deal with the past was not atypical of the Austrian post-war society.
The debate continues regarding Asperger's alleged contributions to Nazi politics, and Czech's paper does not just open up the conversation yet again but also provides the evidence that could help find the truth on whether Asperger was merely complying with the Nazi rule to protect himself and the children or if he was indeed complicit.
"Regarding Asperger's contributions to autism research, there is no evidence to consider them tainted by his problematic role during National Socialism. They are, nevertheless, inseparable from the historical context in which they were first formulated, and which I hope to have shed some new light on," said Czech, author of the paper published in Molecular Autism.