Lessons from Our History - Disability and the Holocaust


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Building on my latest book The Unmaking of Man, this talk was the opening keynote presentation for the 2013 new Zealand Disability Support Network Conference in Wellington. Although there is some awareness that disabled people suffered during the Holocaust too few know how central were disabled people to the horror of the Holocaust. Nor are we sufficiently aware that many of the forces that preceded the Holocaust are still very real today. We need to think deeper about how to protect each other in all our diversity.

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Lessons from Our History - Disability and the Holocaust

  1. 1. Keeping the flame alive Reflections on our history, our present and our future Dr Simon Duffy ■ The Centre for Welfare Reform ■ 14th-15th August 2013 ■ Wellington ■ New Zealand Disability Support Network
  2. 2. Dr Simon J Duffy Worked with people with intellectual disabilities for 24 years. Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform, which works for equal citizenship for all. Philosopher and social activist and led development of self-directed support in the UK. Policy Advisor to the Campaign for a Fair Society and Chair of the Housing & Support Alliance.
  3. 3. Lessons from our history
  4. 4. At the end of the nineteenth and for most of the twentieth century it was common for people to think that people with intellectual disabilities were very different, hardly human, and certainly not equal citizens.
  5. 5. The powerful eugenic movement that spread across Europe, America and the British Empire led eventually to the murder of over 250,000 people with disabilities in Nazi Germany.
  6. 6. The process of de-humanisation that preceded the Holocaust had seven steps:
  7. 7. Three factors weakened people’s grasp of their shared humanity: 1. Mass Morality 2. Rootlessness 3. State Power
  8. 8. • Utilitarianism - all that matters is happiness • Relativism - moral rules are just habits • Communism - what matters is class • Nazism - what matters is race
  9. 9. Francis Galton: Theory of Eugenics - race improvement
  10. 10. Powerful ideas which undermine traditional moral codes, including respect for the sanctity of life. Humanity was swept into great movements, with utopian goals.
  11. 11. Graves at Hadamar, an institution that became a euthanasia centre
  12. 12. Without certain fundamental securities we become weak. We can be led to do evils that we would never believe ourselves capable of.
  13. 13. The lack of common interest so characteristic of modern masses is therefore only another sign of their homelessness and rootlessness. But it alone accounts for the curious fact that these modern masses are formed by the atomisation of society, that the mass- men who lack all communal relationships nevertheless offer the best possible “material” for movements in which peoples are so closely pressed together that they seem to have become one. Hannah Arendt
  14. 14. • Nationalism - centrality of the state • Tax & Welfare - growth in economic power • Control - growth of law and policing • Elitism - growth of the ‘professions’
  15. 15. The modern state is more powerful, more organised, more professional than any previous form of government. It is capable of doing great good or great harm.
  16. 16. In the fall of 1941, with the completion of the first major phase of the euthanasia operation, gas chambers at psychiatric institutions in southern and eastern Germany were dismantled and shipped east, where they were reinstalled at Belzec, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor. The same doctors and technicians and nurses often followed the equipment. Germany’s psychiatric hospitals forged the most practical link between the destruction of the mentally ill and handicapped and the murder of Germany’s ethnic and social minorities. Robert N Proctor
  17. 17. Inspired by the ideas of scholars like Binding, Hoche, and Ploetz, Adolf Hitler came to believe that the future volkish state should aggressively pursue pro-natalist policies based upon selective breeding and the eugenic elimination of the unfit in order to maintain the racial purity of the German state. Suzanne E Evans
  18. 18. Existing stereotypes and negative propaganda can be used to prepare groups to be scapegoats - sacrificial victims who can be blamed for problems that nobody knows how to solve.
  19. 19. “Life without Hope”
  20. 20. Even after the victim has been selected they have to be prepared for destruction. There are 3 steps: 1. Rightlessness 2. Poverty 3. Segregation
  21. 21. 7 April 1933 - Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service - dismissal of Jews from government 25 April 1933 - Law against Overcrowding of German Schools - no more than 1.5% of non-Aryans to be admitted to public schools and universities 14 July 1933 - Law on the Revocation of Naturalisation and Annulment of German Citizenship - withdrawal of citizenship from ‘undesirable,’ especially East European Jews 15 September 1935 - Nuremberg Laws: Reich Citizenship Law and Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour - the Jew defined and separated legally, socially and politically. 14 November 1935 - First Ordinance on Reich Citizenship Law - Jews denied citizenship 15 October 1936 - Jewish teachers banned from private education of Aryan children 12 June 1937 - Secret directive of Heydrich, head of Security Police that ‘race-violators’ be put in ‘protective custody’ after serving their sentences. 26 April 1938 - Registration of all Jews with assets exceeding 5,000 RM 14 June 1938 - All Jewish business have to be registered and credit refused by public savings bank 15 June 1938 - June Action sends 1500 Jews to concentration camps 6 July 1938 - Termination of certain Jewish businesses 23 July 1938 - Special identification cards for Jews 25 July 1938 - Jewish doctors can only treat other Jews 27 September 1938 - Jewish lawyers removed from the bar 12 November 1938 - 1 billion RM fine on the Jews following Reichkristallnacht 15 November 1938 - Jewish children excluded from German schools 28 November 1938 - Movements of Jews restricted 14 December 1938 - Decree replaces the Jewish owner or director of a firm with an Aryan general manager1 January 1939 - All Jews have to carry the middle name of Israel or Sara 30 April 1939 - German landlords can evict Jews and other Jews must accept homeless Jews into their households 1 September 1939 - German attack on Poland, beginning of World War II
  22. 22. The Jews had to be stripped of their rights, their resources and their place in society. People with disabilities were already rightless, impoverished and incarcerated within the institution
  23. 23. Bodies being cremated at Hadamar
  24. 24. Lennoxcastle Hospital in the 1920s
  25. 25. From “Christmas in Purgatory” (1974)
  26. 26. In the UK the peak population for the institutions was in the 1970s.
  27. 27. But the journey away from the institutions has been neither straight nor fast.
  28. 28. This shows spending in one part of England after the institutions were closed:
  29. 29. Often English de-instutitionalisation was institutions without the park
  30. 30. Yet people keep breaking through the barriers placed in front of them. Social innovation by people with disabilities, families and their allies has changed the lives of many.
  31. 31. There is not just one kind of institution we bring the institution with us
  32. 32. The creation of the welfare state and social rights has helped lift people from poverty and increased the capacity for wider citizenship. But today the welfare state and social rights are under attack.
  33. 33. The UK Response to ‘Austerity’
  34. 34. In the UK we have seen a very rapid unravelling of the language of rights and inclusion - back towards the language of shame and stigma.
  35. 35. This is in turn leading to new more radical and political expressions of the need for change.
  36. 36. Many are questioning the role and competence of the state.
  37. 37. Pruitt–Igoe (St Louis) 1955-1972
  38. 38. We need a new appreciation of the value of community.
  39. 39. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be a beast or a god. He is no part of a state. (Politics 1.2) Aristotle
  40. 40. We must also welcome human diversity, and yet treat each other as equals.
  41. 41. Aristotle explains that a community is not made out of equals, but on the contrary of people who are different and unequal. The community comes into being through equalising, 'isathenai.' [Nich. Ethics 1133 a 14] Hannah Arendt
  42. 42. Q: What’s wrong with Hayley? A: Absolutely nothing.
  43. 43. Three reasons to be optimistic.
  44. 44. 1. The Danes...
  45. 45. 2. Families...
  46. 46. 3. People...
  47. 47. Suzie Fothergill
  48. 48. I’m a woman who has talentThat they can’t take away.They tried with drugsAnd needles to dope me every day. Institutions stink,They make you want to puke,The doctors think they’re itAnd they’ll read you like a book. I was kicked around and usedInsulted and abused;They messed my mind right from the startTreated me like a dirty tart. But it was them that did that,It was them that scarred my mind,It was them that corrupted my innocence,And left me feeling that no one cared. They shoved me in a hostelAs a guest of the Salvation Army,With the company of drunks and punksIt was enough to send a poor lass barmy. I wonder why it had to be that all my lifeNo one to love meNo one to careNo one to seeNo one to listen properly. So now my second life begun -A new chance to live life through my son;A reason for living I have foundAnd it’s going to be better second time round. So now I tell youI’ve got a voiceI’ve got a right to make a choice.I’m not a toy for you to abuseI’m a woman of spirit and now I’ll refuse…To take that abuse anymore.
  49. 49. If you found these slides interesting you might like to read...
  50. 50. Lots of free resources on all these topics and more: @simonjduffy and @cforwr - follow www.centreforwelfarereform.org.uk - subscribe like The Centre for Welfare Reform on Facebook