Psychologist Hans Asperger may have been part of a Nazi programme that euthanised children

Credits: Herwig Czech/Molecular Autism

The term “Aspergers Syndrome” will never again be viewed in the same way, following a study published by a medical historian. The paper suggests that the famous Austrian paediatrician, whose name is given to a form of Autism, participated in a euthanasia programme for the Third Reich, as well as in racial hygiene policies. 

A new study published in the scientific Journal Molecular Autism shows that Asperger wasn’t the man he made himself out to be. The fact that he had worked among the Nazis was no secret, but after the Second World War, he claimed that he was no friend of the Nazis. He even pretended to have been tracked by the Gestapo for having refused to hand over profoundly disabled children. But eight years of research by Herwig Czech of the University of medicine in Vienna, found no proof of such claims. The popular impression of Asperger is thus false. The brutal reality, according to the researcher, is that he was both a Nazi sympathiser and a doctor who “actively contributed” to a Nazi eugenics programme.

In order to reach this conclusion, the historian delved through previously unexplored archival documents, some of which had been destroyed, including Asperger’s personal files and clinical evaluations of his patients. The history also analysed contemporary publications to see where the false image of Asperger as an adversary of the Nazis came from. It turns out that Asperger, who died in 1980, and who worked in the paediatric clinic in the University of Vienna during the war, collaborated with the Nazis during this period. He directly and indirectly sent profoundly disabled children to the ‘Spiegelgrund’ facility in Vienna, a clinic for children, where almost 800 children were killed as part of a Nazi child euthanasia programme between 1940 and 1945 (Aktion T4).

According to the historian, Asperger knew exactly what was going on in the clinic – that the children were being assassinated as part of a Nazi eugenics programme. Motivated by Hitler’s fanatic racial ideology, the Nazis were in fact trying to create a genetically “pure” society by practicing “racial hygiene”, which consisted of eliminating those considered too much of a burden on the state, or those deemed “not worthy”. At the ‘Spiegelgrund’, hundreds of children were killed by lethal injection, while others starved to death. According to the study, Doctor Asperger had recommended the transfer of two little girls, aged two and five years old respectively, to the same centre. The two little girls were officially recorded as having died of pneumonia.

According to Czech, Asperger supported the Nazi regime and was “rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities”. Dr. Asperger (1906 -1980) “publicly legitimized race hygiene policies including forced sterilizations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated with the child ‘euthanasia’ program”. Based on available evidence, Czech indicates that it is impossible to know whether Asperger refrained from documenting certain children who met the criteria for euthanasia. “However,” he writes, “it is documented that he personally referred a number of children to the Spiegelgrund ‘euthanasia’ facility.”