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Hans Asperger

(1906 - 1980)


Hans Asperger, the namesake of Asperger's Syndrome, was an Austrian pediatrician and medical professional who cooperated with the Nazi’s eugenics program. Although he was not an avowed Nazi himself, Asperger joined affiliated organizations, played into the German public’s legitimization of Nazi race politics and, at times, actively participated in the Nazi child euthanasia program. Speaking about the National Socialist (Nazi) movement in 1974, Asperger stated that one could well go along with many let’s say quote unquote ‘national’ things, but not with the inhuman [ones].

Asperger was born on February 18, 1906, on a farm in rural Vienna, Austria, and studied medicine at the University of Vienna. He earned his medical degree in 1931 and began working at the Vienna University Children’s Clinic under Dr. Franz Hamburger. Hamburger was a fanatical member of the Nazi Party. Although he had not obtained his specialist doctor qualifications for pediatrics, Asperger was promoted in 1935 to head of the Children’s Clinic. His promotion may have been related to the anti-Jewish and misogynist tendencies which dominated Austrian political life in the 1930’s. This prejudice made him the clear choice over his Jewish and female colleagues. Following the Anschluss in March 1938, 65 percent of physicians in Vienna were deemed to be Jewish, and no Jewish doctors were working at the Vienna University Children’s Clinic.

While working at the Vienna University's Children's Clinic, Asperger referred hundreds of severely disabled children to Vienna's notorious Am Spiegelgrund Clinic. It was known that Am Spiegelgrund participated in the Nazi eugenics child euthanasia program.  

In June 1939, the Nazi Party deemed Asperger politically acceptable following their decree to remove all Jews and politically undesirable individuals from their posts. This assessment concluded that Asperger was in conformity with the National Socialist racial and sterilization laws.

Asperger never joined the Nazi Party, but he joined many affiliated organizations such as the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front, DAF), the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization, NSV) and the Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Ärztebund (National Socialist German Physicians’ League, NSDÄB). Asperger likely joined these organizations to protect himself and further his career while still keeping a distance from the official Nazi Party.  Despite this, Asperger regularly signed papers and reports with Heil Hitler.  

After obtaining his Habilitation (the academic qualification necessary to become a lecturer) in 1943, Asperger publicly declared his dedication to the tenets of Nazi medicine during his lectures. Asperger’s statements were frequently published in journals controlled by Nazi loyalists.

In 1944, Asperger published a paper that for the first time identified a pattern of autistic psychopathy in four young boys, including a lack of empathy, inability to form friendships, extremely specialized individual interests and clumsy or oafish movements. Asperger observed these qualities and found that some of his patients used their unique traits to transition into successful careers later in life. Asperger once said that for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential ... the necessary ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world, from the simply practical, an ability to rethink a subject with originality.

Following World War II, Asperger found work as a tenured professor at the University of Vienna, where he was eventually named chair of the University Pediatrics Department. Asperger worked for the University of Vienna for 20 years, obtaining the rank of Professor Emeritus in 1977 and dying three years later in 1980.

Asperger's research was not translated from German into English until the early 1990’s, and Asperger's Syndrome was finally added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th revision (DSM-IV) in 1994.

Throughout his medical career there is scant evidence that Asperger was guided by a personal animosity towards Jews, and his opinions of his Jewish patients appear ambiguous.

Sources: Steve Silberman.  Was Dr. Asperger A Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism, NPR, (January 20, 2016); 
Hans Asperger, Wikipedia;
Herwig Czech, Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna, BioMed Central, (April 19, 2018);