The Austrian doctor who first identified Asperger syndrome was an active proponent of the Nazi regime and its euthanasia program, a historian has revealed in a new study. For so many autistic adults, including myself, "Asperger syndrome" was the first label we had when we got our diagnosis - the first name we had for the many years of challenges, of frustrations, of not fitting in and not knowing why.
A new study by Herwig Czech, from Vienna's Medical University, overturns previous claims that the doctor shielded his child patients from the Nazi regime in Vienna where he worked.
Czech studied the previously unnoticed documents that reportedly provide evidence that Asperger "publicly legitimized race hygiene policies including forced sterilizations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated with the child "euthanasia program"".
It says Asperger referred severely disabled children to Vienna's notorious Am Spiegelgrund clinic, where nearly 800 children died under the Nazi program - many of them by lethal injection or by being gassed. The strongest claim supporting this view, the paper states, alleges that the Gestapo twice tried to arrest Asperger because he did not report patients with certain "deficiencies".
Carol Povey, director at the Centre of Autism for the UK's National Autistic Society, said she expected Czech's findings to "spark a big conversation among the 700,000 autistic people in the United Kingdom and their family members, particularly those who identify with the term "Asperger". Through his work, he gained a reputation amongst the leaders of the Nazi party as "someone willing to go along with race hygiene policies", documents cited in the study suggests.
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. "While the euthanasia killings at Spiegelgrund (as elsewhere) were officially a secret, and parents were routinely deceived about the true nature of the institution and the fate awaiting their children, rumors nevertheless abounded, and Asperger was in an exceptional position to know the truth", Czech writes.
In the case of one three-year-old child, Herta Schreiber, Asperger wrote "the child must be an unbearable burden to the mother, who has to care for five healthy children".
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"Permanent placement at Spiegelgrund seems absolutely necessary".
The commission selected 35 children and categorized them as being "uneducable", which resulted in their being killed at Am Spiegelgrund.
Vocally, Dr. Asperger was a stern opposer of the Nazi regime, claiming to shield his patients from unwanted interference.
The study was published April 19 in the journal Molecular Autism, and was accompanied by an editorial written by the journal's two editors-in-chief and two of the study reviewers.
Co-editor Professor Joseph Bauxbaum, from Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City, said: "We are persuaded by Herwig Czech's article that Asperger was not just doing his best to survive in intolerable conditions, but was complicit with his Nazi superiors in targeting society's most vulnerable people".
In 1944, he used the term "autistic psychopathy" to describe the disability.
Past papers made no reference to the historical context of Aspergers' work. But it also opened opportunities for Dr. Asperger, he added.