Crying Hands

Chapter One continued...
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Economic efficiency was the ultimate goal of German eugenicists, who believed that the "social burden" created by people with disabilities could be decreased through racial hygiene. Thus accounts from Switzerland of the sterilization of long-term female inmates were criticized as hardly sensible in economic terms because the program was voluntary. German eugenicists believed that only legally regulated compulsory sterilization would lead to effective measures, and they looked to the United States for a model.

In the German Medical Weekly (Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift), the physician O. Juliusburger described the sterilization program of an American prison doctor, H. Sharp, who sought to cure young men of excessive masturbation through sterilization. The alleged "good results," 456 sterilizations in nine years, led to legislation in the state of Indiana in 1907 that authorized the sterilization of "criminals, idiots, and the feeble-minded" without their consent. By 1911, Indiana had carried out this procedure on 873 men, "mostly criminals," according to Juliusburger.

An essay by the German physician G. Hofmann, "Eugenics in the United States of America," gave this topic greater publicity. Hofmann praised the United States "as a shining example in the matter of sterilization," but passed in silence over the fact that the legislatures of several states had decisively rejected bills that proposed the forced sterilization of persons with hereditary afflictions; only California and North and South Dakota had passed such bills.

In 1911, the German Parliament passed an important law concerning the schooling of blind and deaf children. This law did not mention the central tenet of the racial hygienists that "inferior" people need to be sterilized, but appended to the legislation was a sample questionnaire that devoted considerable space to eugenic matters. Eight of the twenty-nine questions specifically targeted the heritability of deafness. Nazi directors of schools for deaf children later utilized this questionnaire as a model to refer pupils suspected of hereditary disease to the health authorities and hereditary health courts.

German teachers of deaf students were aware of racial hygiene theories and often linked eugenics with their professional responsibilities. One of the most eager advocates and instigators of the Nazi sterilization law of 1933 was Herbert Weinert of Dresden. In an essay that appeared in 1934, he wrote that "educators of the deaf were and still are interested in eugenics problems," and he stated that under the provisions of the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases "much practical work has already been accomplished," that is, "drawing up genealogical charts, which even before [World War I] had been initiated on a tentative and trial basis in Leipzig and probably also at other institutions."

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