The Nazi Doctor Who Discovered Autism

In 1981, a psychiatrist named Lorna Wing coined the term Asperger’s syndrome to describe a peculiar combination of normal or above-normal intelligence, obsessive interest in a few narrow topics, and a severe deficit of social skills. She had taken the name from the Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who did some of the earliest research on the connected condition of autism. In a new biography of Asperger, Edith Sheffer has uncovered his disturbing activities after Hitler took over Austria. Simon Baron-Cohen writes in his review:

Hans Asperger has long been recognized as a pioneer in the study of autism. He was even seen as a hero, saving children with the condition from the Nazi killing program by emphasizing their intelligence. However, it is now indisputable that Asperger collaborated in the murder of children with disabilities under the Third Reich. . . .

These findings cast a shadow on the history of autism, already a long struggle toward accurate diagnosis, societal acceptance, and support.

With insight and careful historical research, Sheffer uncovers how, under Hitler’s regime, psychiatry—previously, [at least in theory], based on compassion and empathy—became part of an effort to classify the population of Germany, Austria, and beyond as “genetically” fit or unfit. In the context of the “euthanasia” killing programs, psychiatrists and other physicians had to determine who would live and who would be murdered. It is in this context that diagnostic labels such as “autistic psychopathy” (coined by Asperger) were created.

Sheffer lays out the evidence, from sources such as medical records and referral letters, showing that Asperger was complicit in this Nazi killing machine. He protected children he deemed intelligent. But he also referred several children to Vienna’s Am Spiegelgrund clinic, which he undoubtedly knew was a center of “child euthanasia,” part of what was later called Aktion T4. . . . Sheffer argues that Asperger supported the Nazi goal of eliminating children who could not fit in with the Volk: the fascist ideal of a homogeneous Aryan people. . . . Nearly 800 children were killed in Am Spiegelgrund. Asperger went on to enjoy a long academic career, dying in 1980.

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Read more at Nature

More about: Euthanasia, History & Ideas, Medicine, Nazism, Psychology

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism