Hans Asperger, the Austrian paediatrician whose name describes a form of high-functioning autism, actively assisted in the murder of disabled children by the Nazis, a new report claims.
Asperger’s Syndrome, marked by an impaired ability to interact socially with others, tends to affect people of average or above average intelligence.
It was first identified by Professor Asperger in 1944 who used the term “autistic psychopathy” to describe the condition of four children under his care.
In 1981, the British psychiatrist Lorna Wing, who helped establish the National Autistic Society in the UK, introduced the diagnosis of “Asperger’s Syndrome” in honour of her predecessor.
But according to new evidence, the pioneer of autism research whose reputation is that of a strong opponent of Nazi ideology, had a hidden dark past.
Documents uncovered by an Austrian medical historian suggest Asperger ingratiated himself with the Nazi regime and participated in its euthanasia program.
Asperger is said to have referred profoundly disabled children to the notorious Am Spiegelgrund clinic, where their “unworthy” lives were snuffed out.
An estimated 789 children, many with severe mental problems, were systematically killed at the Vienna clinic, mostly by lethal injection and gassing.
Others died from disease and starvation, or were subjected to harsh medical experiments.
“Aktion T4”, the horrific euthanasia program personally authorised by Adolf Hitler, set out to cull the incurable and severely disabled.
Up to 300,000 victims, including children, were exterminated at clinics in Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic between 1939 and 1945.
Herwig Czech, from the Medical University of Vienna, set out the claims against Asperger after trawling through previously unexamined documents from the Nazi era including personnel files and patient records.
“These findings about Hans Asperger are the result of many years of careful research in the archives,” he said.
“What emerges is that Asperger successfully sought to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded with career opportunities in return.”
The allegations are reported in the journal Molecular Autism, whose editors explained why they believed Asperger to be guilty as charged.
One of them, British autism expert Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, from Cambridge University, said the article would be controversial.
“We believe that it deserves to be published in order to expose the truth about how a medical doctor who, for a long time, was seen as only having made valuable contributions to the field of paediatrics and child psychiatry, was guilty of actively assisting the Nazis in their abhorrent eugenics and euthanasia policies.”
But Canadian expert Anthony Bailey, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, said virtually all doctors in Germany at that time were members of the Nazi Party.
“There was almost no opposition to the euthanasia programs for the mentally ill and handicapped, except from one or two heads of asylums and a very small number of Catholic bishops.”