Inspired by the conference “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933–1945,” hosted jointly by Gallaudet University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1998, this extraordinary collection, organized into three parts, integrates key presentations and important postconference research.
Henry Friedlander begins “Part I: Racial Hygiene” by analyzing the assault on deaf people and people with disabilities as an integral element in the Nazi attempt to implement their theories of racial hygiene. Robert Proctor documents the role of medical professionals in deciding who should be sterilized or forbidden to marry, and whom the Nazi authorities would murder. In an essay written especially for this volume, Patricia Heberer details how Nazi manipulation of eugenics theory and practice facilitated the justification for the murder of those considered socially undesirable.
“Part II: The German Experience” commences with Jochen Muhs’s interviews of deaf Berliners who lived under Nazi rule, both those who suffered abuse and those who, as members of the Nazi Party, persecuted others, especially deaf Jews. John S. Schuchman describes the remarkable 1932 film Misjudged People, which so successfully portrayed the German deaf community as a vibrant contributor to society that the Nazis banned its showing when they came to power. Horst Biesold’s contribution confirms the complicity of teachers who denounced their own students, labeling them hereditarily deaf and thus exposing them to compulsory sterilization. The section also includes the reprint of a chilling 1934 article entitled “The Place of the School for the Deaf in the New Reich,” in which author Kurt Lietz rued the expense of educating deaf students, who could not become soldiers or bear “healthy children.”
In “Part III: The Jewish Deaf Experience,” John S. Schuchman discusses the plight of deaf Jews in Hungary. His historical analysis is complemented by a chapter containing excerpts from the testimony of six deaf Jewish survivors who describe their personal ordeals. Peter Black’s reflections on the need for more research conclude this vital study of a little-known chapter of the Holocaust.