U-M Taubman Health Sciences Library exhibit presents chilling look at Nazi ideology
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.
courtesy of the U-M Health Sciences Taubman 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.
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.