A World War II museum exhibit about the role scientists and doctors played in the Holocaust, which is on a national tour of the US, includes a drawing from a brochure.
It shows a young, blindfolded couple at the edge of a jagged precipice. The German-language text says: “Don’t go blindly into marriage!” The image is in a section of the display about mainstream ideas from which Adolf Hitler’s twisted policies grew.
Benjamin Sachs, dean of the Tulane University School of Medicine, said the exhibit shows that “there was a slippery path toward the extermination program” and said it holds key lessons for today.
The traveling US Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibit, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, is to be on display at the New Orleans museum until mid-October. Tulane plans a series of related lectures.
Sachs said the exhibit fits in with recent discussions about sterilizing people on Medicaid and people who are uninsured. The exhibit also goes a long way to help medical students understand why there are so many restrictions on human medical research.
Millions of Jews — as well as people of other ethnic groups deemed undesirable by Hitler’s Nazi Party — died in a genocide that has become known as the Holocaust.
Among the topics covered in the exhibit is eugenics, the concept that medicine and social programs were letting “unfit” people reproduce to humanity’s detriment.
In the turbulent Europe of the 1920s and 1930s, a movement spread in many countries that mentally ill or handicapped people, alcoholics and others with disabilities should be sterilized. People considered healthy and intelligent were encouraged to have large families, the base of what the Nazis framed as the creation of a master race.
A Nazi-era image in the exhibit — used in schoolbooks and educational displays at the time — shows a young blond man bowed under the combined weight of a scrawny man with a flask in his pocket and a thuggish-looking man who may have been meant to represent the disabled. The caption reads: “You are sharing the load! A person with hereditary illness costs 50,000 reichsmarks on average up to the age of sixty.”
The exhibit is a distillation of one first shown in 2004 at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. A traveling exhibit, with artifacts, was shown in about 20 museums, starting in Dresden, Germany.
Displays include photographic panels interspersed with black-and-white footage from the times. Movie footage includes film of German scientists using calipers to measure faces and bodies and of early experiments with gassing. In the latter footage, emaciated German psychiatric patients are made to undress and are then led into a sealed building into which exhaust from a vehicle is piped.
At the end is a color video of survivors, including a twin brother and sister, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In touring the exhibit this week, retired teachers Rita Colburn and JoAnn Arceneaux looked at a 1936 German newspaper graphic titled: “We do not stand alone,” showing flags of a dozen other nations where forced sterilization laws had been passed or proposed. The US flag is at the top left: Indiana had passed a law allowing sterilization in 1907 and 20 years later the US Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s law allowing sterilization of the “feeble-minded.” More than 30 states enacted such laws. Other flags include those of Denmark, Canada and England.