September 22, 2006
GERMAN HYGIENE MUSEUM TO HOST UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM EXHIBITION “DEADLY MEDICINE: CREATING THE MASTER RACE”
Deadly Medicine First U.S. Holocaust Museum Exhibition to be Displayed in Europe
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, an exhibition by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., examining the history of eugenics and “euthanasia” in Nazi Germany, will be on display at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden from October 12, 2006 to June 24, 2007. Deadly Medicine is the first U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibition to appear outside of North America.
On October 11, a special opening program will be held at the Hygiene Museum at 6:00 p.m. Scheduled to speak are Klaus Vogel, Director, German Hygiene Museum; Professor Georg Milbradt, Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony; His Excellency William R. Timkin, Jr., United States Ambassador to Germany; and Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble, German Minister of the Interior. While not attending the opening, Dr. Horst Köhler, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, is serving as the exhibition’s Patron. A press conference and exhibition tour with Vogel, Bloomfield and Bachrach will be held that afternoon at 1:00 p.m. More information can be found at www.dhmd.de. Journalists wishing to attend either event must RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“That the German Hygiene Museum chose to host Deadly Medicine now is courageous and important,” says U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “With rising antisemitism and Holocaust denial in Europe and neo-Nazism in parts of Germany, the exhibition could not be more timely. Its location—in an institution that actively promoted the Nazis’ theories of racial superiority and in a city not far from one of the centers for the murder of handicapped Germans—is quite significant.”
Deadly Medicine, which was seen by 720,000 visitors at the Holocaust Museum from April 22, 2004, to May 29, 2006, includes numerous photographs and objects from the Hygiene Museum’s collections, most notably a six-foot, transparent anatomical model known as the “glass man.”
“The Hygiene Museum was an early supporter of eugenic thought and later became a vocal supporter of the Nazi regime’s murderous policies,” continues Bloomfield. “Now, an exhibition utilizing many of the institution’s own collections displayed on its premises can serve as a warning about the potential consequences of the policies it once so fervently supported.”
Deadly Medicine was the first American exhibition to examine how scientists, doctors, political leaders and others in Nazi Germany vigorously pursued an extreme eugenics program that resulted in the forced sterilization of about 400,000 adults and youth deemed mentally ill or disabled. Following onset of World War II, the regime murdered 5,000 disabled or ill children and newborns and an estimated 200,000 institutionalized Germans, mostly psychiatric patients, in gas chambers of “euthanasia” facilities and by lethal injection and starvation. The “euthanasia” gassing program became a model for the later mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust.
“Support of eugenics was by no means unique to the German scientific community,” explains exhibition curator Susan Bachrach. “Leading scientific voices throughout the industrialized world supported eugenics, and sterilization laws were enacted in a number of countries including the United States. However, only in Nazi Germany was eugenic sterilization implemented on a mass scale, and only there did it pave the road to mass murder.”
Eugenics theory sprang from late 19th-century beliefs asserting that Charles Darwin’s theories of the “survival of the fittest” should be applied to humans. Proponents everywhere argued that by keeping the “unfit” alive to reproduce and multiply, modern medicine and costly care interfered with “natural selection.” Supporters, spanning the political spectrum, believed that through careful controls on marriage and reproduction, a nation’s “genetic health” could be improved.
Eugenics found receptive audiences in many countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Concerns about the spread of crime, alcoholism, disease, and social unrest preoccupied many leaders and citizens. In eugenics, science seemed to offer a solution. In Germany, support for eugenics grew in response to the economic, political and social upheaval following the nation’s 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, after the Nazi dictatorship was established in 1933, such opposition was silenced, and the Hitler regime was able to implement its radical version of eugenics.
“The Nazis believed that populations or ‘races’ possessed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ genes,” continues 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.”
At http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/deadlymedicine/ users can explore an online version of Deadly Medicine. The site also contains video of the Museum’s “Insights” programs held in conjunction with the exhibition. Program participants included disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson; Yale University medical professor and writer Sherwin Nuland; philosopher Dr. Leon Kass; and cultural critic Leon Wieseltier discussing the implications of the history of Nazi medicine and eugenics for contemporary bioethics. For information on the complete program of events that will be held in conjunction with the exhibition and exhibition photos, please visit www.dhmd.de/presse.
Situated among our national monuments to freedom, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of the moral obligations of individuals and societies. The Museum fulfills its mission through a public/private partnership in which federal support guarantees the institution’s permanence and hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. More than 23 million people – including more than 8 million schoolchildren – have visited the Museum since it opened in 1993, and through its Web site, traveling exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum reaches millions more every year. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.