Diminished professor
January 19, 2016 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Pediatrician Hans Asperger is known worldwide for the syndrome he first diagnosed. The rest of his story – in Vienna during WWII – has only recently come to light: The Doctor and the Nazis
posted by Joe in Australia (14 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
posted by ocschwar at 7:11 PM on January 19, 2016

Czech spoke for only 20 minutes or so that day at the Vienna City Hall. Then he stopped to take audience questions. In that pause, Dr. Arnold Pollak, the director of the clinic where Asperger had worked for much of his career, leapt to his feet, clearly agitated. Turning to the room, he asked that everyone present stand and observe a moment of silence in tribute to the many children whose long-forgotten murders Herwig Czech had returned to memory. The entire audience rose and joined in wordless tribute.

In an article full of difficult things, this one stuck out. Way to handle what had to be an incredibly fraught moment with dignity and respect, Dr. Pollack.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:19 PM on January 19, 2016 [24 favorites]

posted by jenkinsEar at 7:32 PM on January 19, 2016

IIRC the DSM-V doesn't list Asperger's syndrome anymore; as far as I know people that would have received that diagnosis just get an ASD diagnosis. I wonder if the investigations outlined in the article spurred the removal of Asperger's from the DSM.
posted by Jpfed at 7:45 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

"IIRC the DSM-V doesn't list Asperger's syndrome anymore; as far as I know people that would have received that diagnosis just get an ASD diagnosis."

The DSM-5 no longer includes Aspergers, there are just three levels of Autism Specturm Disorder. People who previously would have been identified as having Aspergers are instead identified as ASD Level 1.

"I wonder if the investigations outlined in the article spurred the removal of Asperger's from the DSM."

Probably not. None of the communications about changing the criteria mentioned this and the APA has a long history of ignoring the past.
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:59 PM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

As I recall, the APA removed Aspergers because one of the goals in the DSM-5 was to streamline multiple diagnoses that could be considered on the same spectrum, with the potential to move to a dimensional model in later versions. So, since Aspergers is generally considered a mild form of autism, it'd make more sense to diagnose it from that perspective.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:15 PM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, damn.
posted by tilde at 3:49 AM on January 20, 2016

Fucking Nazi baby-killer. May his name be blotted out. That's all.
posted by mermayd at 5:41 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It was over ten years ago when I first learned about Asperger, and the fact that he was working in Vienna through the war years immediately rang alarm bells. At the time I tried to find out more, but everything was so vague - he'd helped the children in his study, but how? And what about other children? I honestly thought at the time that it was a whitewash, but I'd assumed that it was a whitewash of passivity, rather than him actively participating in the T4 programme.

(And while a number of syndromes have had their names changed due to Nazi associations, such as Wegener's and Reiter's, Aspergers has long been felt by a large section of people working in the field of autism to not be useful as a separate diagnosis - even if research on Asperger had shown him to be the antithesis of a Nazi, Aspergers as a diagnosis would not have continued.)
posted by Vortisaur at 6:22 AM on January 20, 2016

Factsheet from DSM5

NPR article on Neurotribes which presents this in a different light.

Note: I haven't researched this I am just currently reading Neurotribes, so I wanted to mention the different views.
posted by typecloud at 6:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fucking Nazi baby-killer. May his name be blotted out. That's all. mermayd

I've got some really bad news about the US space program for you, too.

and a whole lot more
posted by k5.user at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Interesting. In Neurotribes, Silberman presents it more like this: Asperger's research wasn't focused on eugenics, and the pressure the Nazi Party was putting on him to narrow his research and align it with Party aims was not to his liking (also, intellectuals were being murdered by the score at the time for reasons like that) so Asperger fled Vienna just in time.

At least, that's what I remember from the book, but I read it awhile ago.

In the end, though, the sad truth is a lot of our best scientific research, especially in medicine, came out of the horrific abuse of victimized peoples. For example, the Tuskegee experiments...but that list goes on and on.
posted by epanalepsis at 7:30 AM on January 20, 2016

I just finished Neurotribes. There are background details in the book's chapter that deals with Dr. Asperger (titled "What Sister Viktorine knew") which aren't included in this essay, but some may find enlightening.

Hitler first issued a decree demanding that anyone who delivered a baby (doctors or midwives) report if the child had any kind of congenital abnormality. Those who filed reports were given a monetary reward. A couple of months later, in October 1939, the Aktion T-4 Programme was started.

The Action T-4 program ordered any institution which cared for patients to report and euthanize those with incurable diseases: genetic abnormalities and chronic disabilities. The Vienna Medical School was gutted of faculty. (Most of the doctors there were Jews.) When the dust settled, the school had been Aryanized. Medical students were taught the principals of eugenics, and to euthanize their "inferior" patients. Clinics were established that specialized in slaughtering children. The Nazis built crematoriums next to hospitals, with conveyer belts carrying the bodies from one to another. And everything was referred to euphemistically, so consciences could remain clear. "Final medical assistance," etc.

The program was responsible for over 200,000 deaths during WWII. At the Am Spiegelgrund Children’s Clinic, mentioned at the end of this essay, over 750 children (most of whom were probably autistic -- a diagnosis that didn't exist back then) were killed by Dr. Erwin Jekelius, Asperger's former mentor. Their brains were saved in the Clinic's cellar and used in medical research for decades after the war ended.

In that horrific environment. Dr. Asperger wrote reports for the Nazi government that emphasized the better qualities of his patients. Their intelligence, rather than their deficiencies. That shouldn't be ignored. Neither can the incontrovertible fact that he sent children to be murdered at Am Spiegelgrund.

The truth about Dr. Asperger's beliefs and ethics is complex, and probably impossible to parse.
posted by zarq at 8:24 AM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

Silberman on NPR today: Was Dr. Asperger a Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism
posted by purpleclover at 8:36 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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