Asperger’s column was misguided

Dear Editor,

The column on Hans Asperger, who gave “Asperger syndrome” its name, in the Cynic, Feb. 10, 2016, gets its history wrong. It relies on science journalist Steve Silberman, who in his most recent book, “Neurotribes,” devotes a chapter to Asperger.

Apparently relying on Silberman, the column concludes that Asperger may have used his “position to save children that otherwise would have been killed” and in doing so, “he may have saved many children’s lives in the process.”

This assessment amounts to a gross distortion of the historical facts. Silberman ignores a series of recent studies by the Austrian historian Herwig Czech, who shows that Asperger, head of the Department for Special Education/Ortho-Pedagogy at Vienna’s University Pediatric Clinic, in 1942 was part of small committee charged with assessing the “educability” of children in a nearby psychiatric facility.

A finding of “not educable” was practically a death sentence, for it meant that a child so-labeled would be transferred to Vienna’s Spiegelgrund, one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious “children’s euthanasia” facilities, specializing in the murder of disabled children.

Having been found “not educable” by Asperger and his committee, 29 children were transferred there in 1942, and not a single one of them was still alive at the end of that year.

In the previous year Asperger, by way of his expert recommendation, had knowingly affected a child’s transfer from his own clinic to the same facility, where the child died within a few months.

Dr. Hans Asperger was a willing participant in Nazi “racial hygiene” and its deadly consequences.


Lutz Kaelber

Associate Professor of Sociology,

University of Vermont