April 7, 2004
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM OPENS DEADLY MEDICINE: CREATING THE MASTER RACE
First of Its Kind U.S. Exhibition to be Opened by NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni
“Nazism is applied biology.”
— Rudolf Hess, Deputy to Adolf Hitler
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nazi Germany’s genocide against the Jews and the murder and persecution of millions of others was founded upon the conviction that “inferior” races and individuals must be eliminated from German society so that the “fittest Aryans” could thrive. The Nazi state fully committed itself to implementing a uniquely racist and antisemitic variation of eugenic thought to “scientifically” build what it considered to be a “superior race.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new special exhibition, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race examines how the Nazi leadership, in collaboration with individuals in professions traditionally charged with healing and the public good, used science to help legitimize persecution, murder and, ultimately, genocide.
The exhibition opens to the public on April 22, 2004 and runs through October 16, 2005. National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni will open the exhibition at a special Museum program the evening of April 21.
“Deadly Medicine explores the Holocaust’s roots in then-contemporary scientific and pseudo-scientific thought,” explains Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “At the same time, it touches on complex ethical issues we face today, such as how societies acquire and use scientific knowledge, and how they balance the rights of the individual with the needs of the larger community.”
Eugenics theory sprang from turn-of-the-century scientific beliefs asserting that Charles Darwin’s theories of the “survival of the fittest” could be applied to humans, and that the “inferior” should be eliminated from the public body. Supporters spanned the political spectrum and believed that through careful controls on marriage and reproduction, a nation’s genetic health could be improved.
The proponents of this theory found ready audiences in many countries, including the United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Concerns about the spread of crime, alcoholism, disease and social unrest occupied many leaders and citizens. In eugenics, science seemed to offer a solution. Germany became particularly susceptible to these notions in the economic, political and social upheaval following its humiliating defeat in World War I.
Under the democratic Weimar government, eugenics largely focused on “positive” measures such as increasing the birth rate and improving the population’s health.
“Negative” measures, such as laws sanctioning the sterilization of the “feeble minded,” met with resistance. However, under the cover of war, such constraints disappeared, and the Nazi regime was able to implement its radical version of eugenics.
“The Nazis believed that populations or ‘races’ possessed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ genes,” says exhibition curator Susan Bachrach. “Jews were purportedly a threat due to their genetic composition, which is why even those who had converted to Christianity were targeted for destruction. Their outward behaviors could not compensate for their genetic shortcomings.”
By war’s end, six million Jews were murdered. Millions of others also became victims of persecution and murder through Nazi “racial hygiene” programs designed to cleanse Germany of biological threats to the nation’s “health,” including “foreign-blooded” Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), persons diagnosed as “hereditarily ill,” and homosexuals. In German-occupied territories, Poles and others belonging to “inferior” ethnic groups were murdered.
Deadly Medicine draws on 40 archival sources from around the world and is the first U.S. exhibition to present a history of the Nazi biological state. The exhibition features more than 200 artifacts, almost 200 photographs and photographic reproductions, and survivor testimony. An online version of the exhibition can be found on the Museum’s Web site at www.ushmm.org/deadlymedicine beginning April 22.
Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race has been sponsored in part by The David Berg Foundation, Lorraine and Jack N. Friedman, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, and The Viterbi Family Foundation.
Deadly Medicine is free and runs from April 22, 2004 through October 16, 2005, in the Museum’s Kimmel-Rowan exhibition gallery. The Museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., with extended springtime hours. The Museum is closed on Christmas Day and Yom Kippur. No passes are required to enter the Museum and visit its wide range of special exhibitions and educational resources. Timed passes are only needed for the Permanent Exhibition and can be obtained at the Museum or tickets.com. Visitation information can be found at the Museum’s Web site, www.ushmm.org.
Created by a unanimous act of Congress, the Museum is America’s national institution for Holocaust education and remembrance. As a public-private partnership, the Museum brings the history and lessons of the Holocaust to Americans from all walks of life through educational outreach, teacher training, traveling exhibitions, and scholarship. Since opening in April 1993, the Museum has welcomed more than 20 million visitors, including over 6 million children.