Hans Asperger assisted and supported a Nazi program that killed disabled children, previously unseen records have shown.
Asperger has been hailed as a pioneer for his work on identifying a number of characteristics he called "autistic psychopathy", which became the basis for the diagnoses of the condition that became known as Asperger's.
The Austrian doctor claimed during his lifetime that he had protected his patients from the Nazi regime, the BBC reports, saying he was wanted by the Gestapo for refusing to turn over children under his care. He had been seen as an opponent of Nazi ideology before his death in 1980.
In an interview, he publicly stated that he saw Nazi treatment of the mentally ill and handicapped (his word) as "inhuman".
"I was never willing to accept [Hitler's concept that the lives of the mentally handicapped are worthless] in other words, to notify the Health Office of the mentally deficient – this was a truly dangerous situation for me," he said. He went on to credit his mentor for protecting him from the Gestapo, despite his anti-Nazi views.
However, a new study of records by medical historian Herwig Czech has shown that Asperger sent patients to the Am Spiegelgrund clinic, the "euthanasia" clinic where 789 children were killed, mainly through lethal injection or gassing.
Other children at the clinic, many of whom had severe mental problems or disabilities, died through starvation and diseases picked up there, or were subjected to inhumane medical experiments.
Documents previously thought to have been destroyed show that Asperger "actively cooperated" with the child euthanasia program, and was rewarded by the Nazi regime for it. In exchange for his loyalty and active participation in the program he received career opportunities, the study published in Molecular Autism concludes.
As well as that, he publicly legitimized "race hygiene" policies including forced sterilizations. Through his work, he gained a reputation amongst the leaders of the Nazi party as "someone willing to go along with race hygiene policies", documents cited in the study suggests.
The news has obviously caused some people with Asperger's, previously considered a stand alone diagnosis but which now falls under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), some discomfort.
Speaking of the decision to publish the article, the journal's editors told the Huffington Post: "We are aware that the article and its publication will be controversial.”
More than 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with ASD, who may now feel stigmatized being associated with a condition that bears his name.
"We believe that it deserves to be published in order to expose the truth about how a medical doctor who, for a long time, was seen as only having made valuable contributions to the field of paediatrics and child psychiatry, was guilty of actively assisting the Nazis in their abhorrent eugenics and euthanasia policies."
The National Autistic Society has since released a statement, reassuring everybody: "Obviously no-one with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome should feel in any way tainted by this very troubling history."