27 January 1945 was a day of dramatic events: it was the day on which Allied troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, which later became a symbol of horror and crimes against humanity. Since 2005, the United Nations General Assembly has made 27 January the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(This article is a translation of original in Hungarian)
Much is known about the Holocaust and its background. But beyond that, do we know who and when this evil ideology was actually created? Do we know that the Nazis were nowhere to be found on the stage of history when this worldview was already beginning to take hold in society? Looking deeper behind the curtain, a chilling picture emerges of the roots of the Holocaust – the shoots of which, though often more hidden, are still rampant in our society today, reaching far beyond the Jewish community.
The birth of a destructive ideology
To understand the beginnings, we need to go back to the end of the 19th century.
In 1883, the English psychologist Francis Galton coined the word ‘eugenics’ – a term meaning ‘good stock’ or ‘good genes’. The basic idea of materialist eugenics was to allow only those who deserved it to reproduce and to prevent the reproduction of the ‘bad stock’. This destructive ideology, disguised as science, spread widely throughout the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1896, for example, the US state of Connecticut enacted a law forbidding ‘lunatics’ to marry; in other states, mental patients were threatened with a $1000 fine or up to 5 years in prison if they married. Forced sterilisation was introduced in many countries to prevent the reproduction of “undeserving” people.
In Germany, Dr. Alfred Plötz introduced eugenics in 1895 and coined the word “racial hygiene”. In 1905, he and his brother-in-law, the psychiatrist Ernst Rüdin, founded the German Society for Racial Hygiene (note: it is 1905, and not even the Second World War, let alone the First World War, has yet to happen!). Plötz’s work and the book by the German geneticist Fritz Lenz, The Foundations of Human Genetics and Race Hygiene, played an important role among the materials studied by Hitler. In 1936, Plötz was awarded the Göthe Medal, the highest award for scientific achievement in Germany. Ernst Rüdin commented on the subject:
“The importance of racial hygiene did not become apparent to all informed Germans until Adolf Hitler’s political activities, and it was only during his work that our 30-year dream of putting racial hygiene into practice became a reality”.
By 1933 some 40% of German psychiatrists had joined the SS – not because they were forced to, but because their views were so similar.
Crippled children and mentally ill people were targeted
On 18 August 1939, two weeks before the invasion of Poland, a committee drew up a plan to murder all crippled children; psychiatrists and doctors were effectively empowered to give patients a ‘mercy killing’. By October of the same year, the first official requests for adult euthanasia had arrived at psychiatric institutions, where 48 psychiatrists assessed them and decided who should be killed. The first gassing trial was carried out in January 1940 at the Brandenburg Institute. Twenty people were killed while psychiatrists and nurses watched the process. Institutes were subsequently set up in many other cities for the same purpose. The euthanasia operations were directed from Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, hence the code name T4.
In total, some 300,000 “mentally ill” persons, 94% of all German mental patients, died at the hands of psychiatrists. The euthanasia programme was then extended to include Jews, Gypsies, certain religious minorities and any group deemed by decision-makers to be ‘unworthy of life’. The rest, unfortunately, are already well known.
The outcome of the Nuremberg trial
Despite all this, only 23 doctors were indicted at the Nuremberg trials, only 16 were proven to have committed crimes against humanity, and only five of them were psychiatrists. Most of the psychiatrists who planned and participated in the ideological basis of the Holocaust returned to their high positions in psychiatric practice after the war. Arthur Caplan, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Committee on Medical Ethics, said:
“Some of the most unscrupulous psychiatric eugenicists simply returned to their former positions, either in Germany or sometimes in the United States”.
And because these psychiatrists were never identified and brought to justice, they continued to spread the theories of eugenics around the world, the consequences of which are still felt today.
Exposing the sins of German psychiatry
An important change occurred in the early 1990s, when the German affiliate of the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), an international human rights organisation (which specialises specifically in exposing psychiatric violations), began research to uncover all the psychiatric threads linked to the Holocaust. The result of this extremely thorough research was a book, The People Behind Hitler, published in 1994. The book caused a huge sensation in Germany, as it revealed for the first time in full detail who were the architects of Nazi ideology and the foundations of the Holocaust. A few years ago, a documentary film on the same subject, The Age of Terror, was made, also based mainly on German research.
In 2010, the President of the German Psychiatric and Psychotherapeutic Association, Professor Frank Schneider, said the following as part of a longer public speech on the subject:
(A film of the testimony is included in the above-mentioned documentary.)
The survival and spread of Nazi ideology
With the fall of the Nazi empire, eugenics did not disappear from the world. A good example of this is the apartheid system in South Africa, where the then South African Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd – who actually maintained apartheid in his country – studied eugenics as a psychology student in Nazi Germany at the University of Leipzig in the 1920s.
But we can also recall the South Slavic war of the 1990s, which started with the Serbian psychiatrist Jovan Raskovic telling the Serbs that they must rule over the Croat and Muslim minorities because they were psychologically inferior. To spread his views more widely, Raskovic founded the Serbian Democratic Party. Years later, he said:
His ideology was carried forward by his pupil, the psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic, and later by his patient, Serbian Prime Minister Slobodan Milosevic. The result is also known here: more than 110,000 people died and one and a half million were driven from their homes.
We can also mention that in many countries in Europe, but especially in Germany, children are now being separated from their families in droves on the basis of psychiatric assessments that have their roots in the psychiatric ideology of the Holocaust.
It is a curious coincidence to think that the psychiatric methods and treatments used today treat man as a soulless ‘animal’, just as the doctrines of eugenics did in those days, where the solution to the problems of this ‘soulless being’ is now mere chemical and physical interventions.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is a way of remembering – but there is still much to be done to ensure that this shameful ideology is truly consigned to the past.