Crying Hands

Crying Hands
Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany

by Horst Biesold

from Chapter One:
From Social Darwinism to National Socialism

THIS BOOK reconsiders deaf education during the era of National Socialism. A leading historian on the education of hearing-impaired children in Germany has written that "German deaf education was set back decades as a consequence of National Socialism and the war," but this is hardly an adequate explanation for the monstrous events of this period. Before reviewing the historical record connecting deaf education to the sterilization of deaf men and women, forced aborting of deaf women's fetuses, and killing of deaf people's children that characterized the Nazi period, I will discuss how the positive, humanitarian achievements of deaf education degenerated into the degrading form it took under Nazism in the 1930s—what must be called the deaf education of National Socialism.

In 1861, a prominent teacher of deaf pupils, Friedrich Hill, noted a growing tendency among German physicians to speculate on hereditary biology. Hill saw this as a threat to deaf people, whose basic human rights could be violated without justification. He suspected that "physicians in general were quite unqualified to provide well-founded assessments" of deaf people. In particular, Hill was concerned about doctors who denounced congenital deafness as a "moral deficiency." He wrote that these doctors were incompetent to judge the significance of the impairment they designated as "heritable." "These moral deficiencies [of deaf people] are simply illusory and exist only in the minds of such persons as do not recognize the nature of the infirmity under discussion and its consequences for the temperament of those so afflicted," Hill wrote.

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