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Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe

Donna F. Ryan and
John S. Schuchman, Editors

Published in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

View the table of contents.
Read survivor testimonies here.
Read reviews: Revue Générale de Droit, Review of Disability Studies.

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From Revue Générale de Droit, cont’d.

       As we understand from the Introduction, there is a commonality in suffering and a commonality in the scholarship that studies such suffering. The efforts of researchers and students of the Holocaust leading to books such as Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe have brought together survivors and scholars who might not otherwise have met, to our collective loss. In the ultimate analysis, we are given signal insights about the nature of life (and death) as a Deaf person under Hitler, and of life as a Deaf Jew under Nazism, and of the perversions that were enacted and implemented as part of legislation.

       As for the other three parts, the reader is provided with a useful introduction. As we read, broad pseudoscientific theories, social policies, and metal images of an ideal population for the thousand year Reich informed the legislative scheme and governed the treatment of deaf people during Hitler’s regime. Indeed, Henry Friedlander’s essay, Holocaust Studies and the Deaf Community points to the origins, development and deadly dénouement of Racial Hygiene: how from a philosophy imbued by eugenics the treatment of the deaf and other challenged groups moved from concern as to their relative lack of contribution in the new world view to their lack of worth to the final belief that they were an outright organic blight that had to be eradicated. The historical context for the persecution of deaf people explains and foreshadows the persecution of many other groups, notably the Jews. In this respect, this often-overlooked feature of the treatment of the regime’s first victims, being the ill, the insane, the deaf and so many others, may yield significant insights into the development of such barbarism, under the cloak of legality. As we read at page 22 and page 25, by way of limited example, congenital deafness was identified as so disturbing an “ailment” that to permit such persons either to bear children, or to remain alive, was contrary to the needs of the community. If a society can sacrifice its best citizens in armed conflict, it must sacrifice its least deserving ones in equal measure, at the very least…

       The second essay, Eugenics in Hitler’s Germany, by Robert Proctor, highlights the signal role played by the medical profession in characterizing passive disabilities as active manifestations of a disease process requiring radical intervention, not unlike the need for an amputation. Once again, we are made to understand that the perversion of morality and ethics in the treatment of deaf persons and others labouring under certain more or less significant challenges eased the way for the widespread loss of any sense of mercy and compassion during the war years. Stated more bluntly, the capacity to view a deaf or otherwise disabled child as a person whose life was without intrinsic worth and could be ended by passive or active means, including gassing, merely paved the way for a global view that entire communities were without redeeming features and could be expunged without hesitation.

       Although many more examples might be advanced to make plain how barbarism came to enjoy a legal status under Hitler, these few will suffice to highlight how the fundamental purpose of lawyers must be to protect those who are unable, for whatever reason, to defend themselves against injustices. Au demeurant, our failure to recall and to understand the lessons of the past in this respect may well condemn many more to suffer the victimization that was visited upon the deaf people of Germany, and then Europe, under Hitler.

Gilles Renaud,
Juge, Cour de Justice de l’Ontario

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

$28.95s

E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-201-8

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