Crying Hands

Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany

By Horst Biesold
Introduction by Henry Friedlander

Categories: Deaf History
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Paperback : 9781563682551, 208 pages, March 2004
Ebook : 9781563681967, 256 pages, September 2014
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“Horst Biesold’s Crying Hands treats a neglected aspect of the Holocaust: the fate of the deaf in Nazi Germany. His book covers a story that has remained almost unknown. In the United States, even in Germany, few are aware that during the Nazi era human beings–men, women, and children–with impaired hearing were sterilized against their will, and even fewer know that many of the deaf were also murdered.”

—From the Introduction by Henry Friedlander



When the Nazis assumed power in Germany in 1933, they wasted no time in implementing their radical policies, first by securing passage of the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases. Among those designated by this law as “congenitally disabled” were deaf people. Horst Biesold’s newly translated book examines this neglected aspect of Nazi “racial hygiene” through interviews with more than 1,000 deaf survivors of this brutal law that authorized forced sterilizations, abortions, and eventually murder.
Crying Hands meticulously delineates the antecedents of Nazi eugenics, beginning with Social Darwinism (postulated in the mid-nineteenth century) and tracing the various sterilization laws later initiated throughout the world, including many passed and practiced in the United States. This exceptional scholarship is movingly paralleled by the human faces fixed to the numbing statistics, as in story after story those affected recount their irretrievable loss, pain, and misplaced shame imposed upon them by the Nazi regime. Through their stories, told to Biesold in German Sign Language, they have given voice to the countless others who died from the specious science practiced by the Third Reich. And now their own trials have finally been acknowledged.


Horst Biesold was a professor and teacher of deaf students in Bremen, Germany.



"In 1934, 32,268 people were sterilized against their will under the Reich Ministry of Interior’s new law: Law for the Prevention of Offspring with hereditary Diseases. This law was in conjunction with eugenics, the science of the betterment of the human race through improved breeding. Eventually this law led to 375,000 German nationals being sterilized. Part of this number was the deaf. In Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany, author Horst Biesold, a former teacher of deaf students, describes the heartache of these deaf victims. He interviewed through sign language 1,215 people. Their hands tell a painful story of mutilation and lifetime suffering."

— ForeWord Magazine

Advance Praise

"Biesold documents the execution of deaf Germans through injection, sentencing to primitive conditions, and work in forced labor as well as sterilization of deaf men and women, boys and girls. The testimony of some of these surviving victims more than 50 years after the crimes inflicted upon them is stark. He demonstrated that the popular myth that educators and others protected their deaf charges simply was not true in too many cases. Teachers and school administrators frequently turned in their students and Protestant ministers to the deaf formally called upon their parishioners to submit to sterilization for the good of the race. Even some deaf leaders, whose deafness was not heredity and who often were members of the Nazi party, participated in the persecution of deaf Germans.

Biesold, a German educator of the deaf, is to be applauded for his courage, determination and scholarship in obtaining the information necessary to complete his work, often in the face of official non-cooperation more than half a century after the Holocaust. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his perseverance."

— Donald Moores, Professor in the Department of Exceptional Student and Deaf Education at the University of North Florida