Non-complicit: Revisiting Hans Asperger’s Career in Nazi-era Vienna

  • Dean FalkEmail author


Recent allegations that pediatrician Hans Asperger legitimized Nazi policies, including forced sterilization and child euthanasia, are refuted with newly translated and chronologically-ordered information that takes into account Hitler’s deceptive ‘halt’ to the T4 euthanasia program in 1941. It is highly unlikely that Asperger was aware of the T4 program when he referred Herta Schreiber to Am Spiegelgrund or when he mentioned that institution 4 months later on the medical chart of another (unrelated) girl, Elisabeth Schreiber. Asperger campaigned vigorously from 1938 to 1943 to have his specialization, Curative Education, take priority in the diagnosis and treatment of disabled children over other fields that promoted Nazi racial hygiene policies. He neither disparaged his patients nor was he sexist. By 1938, he had identified the essentials of Asperger syndrome and described an unnamed boy whom he later profiled (as Ernst K.) in 1944. Rather than doing ‘thin’ research, Asperger made discoveries that were prescient, and some of his activities conformed to definitions of “individual resistance.”


Asperger syndrome Euthanasia Forced sterilization Hans Asperger Nazi-era Vienna T4 



This paper was inspired by a conversation with Michael Brown, President of the School for Advanced Research (SAR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Laura Holt, SAR’s librarian, helped obtain sources from the German literature. I thank Elga Wulfert of the University at Albany, State University of New York, for expert advice about the translation of Asperger’s 1938 paper, and Uta Frith, University College London, and science writer Steve Silberman for providing useful feedback on an earlier version of this paper. Franz Waldhauser, University of Vienna, is acknowledged for providing information and helpful discussions. I am grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Author Contributions

DF conceived of the study, translated articles from the German literature, interpreted data, drafted the manuscript, and prepared the translation of Asperger’s 1938 article that appears in Electronic Supplementary Material Appendix 1.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

10803_2019_3981_MOESM1_ESM.docx (46 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 46 KB)
10803_2019_3981_MOESM2_ESM.docx (49 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 46 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.School for Advanced ResearchSanta FeUSA

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