Hans Asperger, a pediatrician known for his pioneering observations on autism, collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of disabled children, new research shows.
According to the New York Times, the Austrian doctor was actively involved with the Third Reich’s child euthanasia program, or Aktion T4, which would see the murder of 5,000 mentally and physically disabled children during World War II.
Although never officially a Nazi, Asperger benefited professionally from the initiatives of the Nazi Party, according to the research’s author, Herwig Czech, a medical historian at the University of Vienna. “The picture that emerges is that of a man who managed to further his career under the Nazi regime,” Czech wrote in his study, titled “Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and ‘race hygiene’ in Nazi-era Vienna.”
Asperger allegedly referred disabled children to Am Spiegelgrund, a clinic in Vienna that facilitated the killings — via gassing or lethal injection — of 789 patients. The clinic also hosted medical experiments on its disabled patients.
While Hans Asperger’s actions were contributory to the Nazi Party’s euthanasia program, there is no evidence of his “personal animosity towards Jews,” claims Czech in his paper.
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Hans Asperger’s work on autism, particularly on high-functioning autism, was only recognized after his death, due to the fact that most of his papers were written in German. An English psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, is credited for widely popularizing the term Asperger syndrome in 1981, based on Asperger’s 1944 paper that described the condition. Its diagnosis was only formalized in diagnostic manuals in the ’90s.
Asperger syndrome is a subtype of autism characterized by difficulties in social interactions, inability to read non-verbal cues and gestures, and repetitive behaviors and routines, among others. It differs from other types of autism in that those who have it don’t exhibit “general delay or retardation in language or in cognitive development,” according to the World Health Organization.
Herwig Czech’s paper on Hans Asperger’s history with the Nazi Party is published in the journal Molecular Autism.