|Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe|
From Revue Générale de Droit
Jurists from varied backgrounds and specializing in different areas touching upon civil liberties, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and those who hold an interest and respect for the Rule of Law, cannot ignore the signal instruction found in this exemplary publication. Indeed, all of us who are trained in the law must recall the examples in recent history in which the law was an instrument of domination, oppression and aggression. One of the foremost examples is drawn from the early years of Hitler’s ascendancy in Germany, and the regime of laws that subverted justice and introduced tyranny. In this respect, Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe provides a contemporary study of the legal system that introduced compulsory sterilization of the deaf, entre autres, and led the way to such other perversions as passive euthanasia and the destruction of “useless eaters”.
The Preface, penned by Professor History Donna F. Ryan of Gallaudet University, discloses how the impetus for this book was a conference held in 1998 entitled Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933-1945, but that the result is not merely a record of proceedings. Instead, the editors have compiled an anthology of essays by means of which they bring life to the various struggles and hardships visited upon the deaf communities of Europe as a result of Nazism, and having their genesis a carefully crafter code of law. The book is meant not only to honour the courageous deaf survivors of the Holocaust by underscoring their experiences as deaf members of a community under the most systematic attack recorded in the annals of history, but to make plain for us the no less noble members of the deaf community in Europe that did not survive the horror. At the end of the day, these editors are to be commended for they have achieved much more than the modest assertion of having strung together several threads of investigation and scholarship: they have produced a timely and thought-provoking collection of articles and essays that reveal how the victimization of the deaf resembled and differed from that of the non-deaf community and in so doing, have overcome the many barriers in communication that confront the deaf. And, in addition, they have pointed to legal historians of the Holocaust (and jurists dedicated to the protection and promotion of liberty) an area of scholarship that has been under explored over the years.
In particular, I wish to underscore the value of the Introduction. It serves to make plain that recent historiography has recognized how often actions undertaken against people with disabilities were categorized as peripheral to the Holocaust and yet, our renewed understanding of Nazi eugenics leads to the conclusion that people with physical and cognitive abilities were targeted for special measures, from forced sterilization to outright liquidation, but always under the umbrella of legislation.
Hence, one is left with the belief that the book would have been different in quality and kind had it been written some years earlier. The focus of the Holocaust now embraces more than its principal victim, European Jewry, and touches upon new elements of inquiry. In addition, previously unknown documents have been made available from former East Germany and from the Soviet Union. The focus of historical research now embraces the plight other groups, be they political opponents, religious minorities, or persons with challenges such as the Deaf. One recent example of this broadened scope of reference is Raul Hilberg’s Perpetrators Victims Bystanders, Harper Collins: N.Y., N.Y., 1992.
Donna F. Ryan was a professor of history at Gallaudet University.
John S. Schuchman is Professor Emeritus of History at Gallaudet University.
Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-132-5, 6 x 9 paperback, 246 pages, photographs, 3 tables, 43 figures, sidebars
E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-201-8
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