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Posted on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 8:13 a.m.

U-M Taubman Health Sciences Library exhibit presents chilling look at Nazi ideology

By John Carlos Cantu

Note: A panel discussion on the "Deadly Medicine" exhibit is scheduled for 3-5 p.m. Thursday, March 29, at the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Research Science Building, 109 Zina Pitcher Place. Details can be found here.


"Edith F. was a victim of the children's euthanasia program" from the "Deadly Medicine" exhibit.

courtesy of the U-M Health Sciences Taubman Library

The 1938 words of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda, stand above the display panels of what is undoubtedly the most somber exhibit Ann Arbor will see this year, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” at the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library.

This 25-panel display of posters, photographs, charts, and maps—equipped with four television monitors showing vintage film clips drawn from the Nazi Germany era—has been crafted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a 2004 traveling exhibition. Through the co-sponsorship of a dozen U-M colleges, departments, and programs, it’s here in Southeast Michigan.

And what are those words mentioned above?

Goebbel’s quote runs as follows: “Our starting point is not the individual, and we do not subscribe to the view that one should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, or clothe the naked…. Our objectives are entirely different: We must have a healthy people in order to prevail in the world.”

These words are chilling and they’re more than an adequate rationale for this heart-rending investigation into a politics that sought to implement one of the most perverse policies in history.

As Mary Beth Reilly, writer for the U-M’s Center for the History of Medicine, says in the display’s gallery statement, “The Nazi regime was founded upon the conviction that ‘inferior races’ and individuals had to be eliminated from German society so that the fittest ‘Aryans’ could thrive.

“By the end of World War II, six million Jews and millions of others—among them Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), people with disabilities, homosexuals, and others belonging to ethnic groups deemed inferior—had been persecuted and murdered.”

And as Alexandra Minna Stern, Zina Pitcher Collegiate Professor of the History of Medicine and Associate Director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the U-M Medical School, adds, “The exhibition is a visually powerful experience for viewers that shows how the doctrine of racial hygiene was taken to its most heinous extremes.”

Indeed. And as the exhibit pointedly illustrates, there’s more than enough blame to go around. For the exhibit begins with a panel illustrating the various programs from countries around the world (including the United States) advocating various eugenic schemes at the turn of the 20th century whose “racial hygiene” included programs in population policy, public health education, and government-funded research whose ends (even if they weren’t remotely the same) clearly showed an undeniable bias.

The rediscovery of Austrian botanist Gregor Mendel’s genetics experiments in 1900 coupled with the increasingly fashionable “Social Darwinism” of British philosopher cum sociologist Herbert Spencer, whose catchphrase “survival of the fittest” was being bandied about, led to increasing public prestige in the efforts to stabilize public policy issues that emerged with increasing industrialization and urbanization. This was, in retrospect, a philosophical and political slippery slope that was in part absorbed in the ideology and practice of the newly emergent Nazi party of the 1920s.


"Hygiene" (1911 exhibition poster of the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden)

From the early 1930s through the balance of the Nazi regime, there were repeated campaigns to rid German society of what they viewed as biological threats. As “Deadly Medicine” clearly shows, this policy absorbed the efforts and energies of many of the nation’s most talented doctors, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and medically trained geneticists, as well as social planners and party functionaries at every level.

What started as a secret campaign to eliminate the weak and infirm disguised as medical assistance metastasized into a full-fledge program of eradication under the pressure of World War II. Ultimately, this so-called “sanitary campaign” finally took form as a genocide that we now know as the Holocaust, resulting in the near total annihilation of Europe’s Jewish population.

To its credit, “Deadly Medicine” doesn’t pull any punches. Its juxtaposition of scientific certitude and racial hatred are handled as responsibly as the topics deserve.

By naming names, dates, and events—as well as providing significant visual evidence—the exhibit takes the full measure of this circumstance where those in charge of healing and sustenance distorted their responsibilities until their lifework turned into a horror whose pain continues to this day.

It’s certainly enough pain for Professor Stern to remind us that the example of this massive failure of science, technology, tolerance, and ultimately compassion, “raises weighty questions about the potential benefits and harms of genetic and reproductive technologies today.” And it’s on this cautionary note that the solemn exhibit rightfully concludes.

“Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” will continue through April 13 at the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library—Fourth Floor, 1135 E. Catherine Road. Library hours are 8 a.m.-1:45 a.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-1:45 a.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m.-1:45 a.m. Sunday. For information, call 734-936-1394.



Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

What was done to these children was absolutely heartbreaking. I look at my child and can't imagine the loss to the family members it's just tragic. These victim's must never be forgotten.

Dog Guy

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

"I'm from the government and I am here to help you."

Peter Nyikos

Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Unfortunately, that leash is being undermined by Obama's claim that striking down the mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance would be a case of "judicial activism." On the contrary: it would be a resistance to further broadening of the "interstate commerce" clause. Note that there is nothing in the US Constitution prohibiting states from requiring health insurance, and that has been done by several states, with mixed results.

Michigan Reader

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 10:22 p.m.

The government needs a leash, and its got one in the Supreme Court.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

How ironic that the comments to this article are a forum for modern right-wing propaganda.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Seldon, please share your opinion so that the balance can be restored to this forum. With only 1 or 2 comments posted so far it does not appear to be a vast right wing conspiracy yet. To start you off do you think that do we are headed towards a more socialist society that might impact individual freedoms or in a more extreme form lead to decisions based on race or other criteria that were demonstrated in the 30's/40's?


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

There is no propaganda,just the respect for all humans, born and unborn and the oath that our medical professionals take to protect all life. To use medicine in this way is not ethical or humane. It wasn't then and it isn't now.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

This is one of many tragedies of what we see with control of socialism. This is comparable to the agenda that Margret Sanger started with the start of Planned Parenthood. If you truly educate yourself on the issue and read it in her own words, she describes a perfect world of only "the white" race. It's a fact that her push for reproductive rights was a cover to rid the world of black people. This is comparable to Hitler and the elimination of the Jews, along with many others. I can't understand why people support such groups and organizations with an underline hate for certain people and no respect for life. I am afraid of what this country would be like if we gave our government control over health care. Think about it....we are one step away from this kind of socialism. We can do without it!

Michigan Reader

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 10:20 p.m.

@bobslowson--Planned Parenthood has killed FAR more people than the Nazis.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

Comparable to planned parenthood? Sorry...that is just crazy right wing rhetoric!