A Past Still Present: disability discrimination and eugenics from the Nazi Third Reich to COVID-19

Does the Nazi persecution and murder of people with disability in the mid-twentieth century continue to echo in the present day?

The Nazi killing of around 300,000 people with disability or chronic illness was rooted in a longer history of eugenic ideas. Today, there is debate about whether, or to what extent, these ideas were dismissed after the end of WWII or alternatively still influence attitudes to people with disability, including in the form of a covert (and sometimes overt) reluctance to recognise the human rights of people with disability.

This is a complex and controversial topic. In this symposium and webinar series, we stimulated thinking about this topic without necessarily assuming the answer to the question above. These presentations and discussions placed disability rights in dialogue with the past and present of eugenic thinking.

Watch the event recordings via the pages below.

Hear from Dr Darren O’Brien about the roots of scientific racism and from Associate Professor Michael Robertson (University of Sydney) about the history of the Krankenmorde, followed by a panel discussion featuring other speakers from the series.

Amanda Tink explores the conditions that made the murder of disabled children possible, and their continiung relevance to autistic people in particular, and disabled people in general.

Using the memorial sites located at former T4 killing centre at Pirna-Sonnenstein and the decentralised euthanasia centre at Großschweidnitz as exemplars, Michael Robertson, Darren O'Brien and Christoph Hanzig discussed how German historians and museologists commemorate not only this history, but also the present day importance of the Krankenmorde.

Karen Soldatic explores the ways in which settler-colonial states employ techniques of population governance via distinct immigration categories of disability that remain fairly consistent since their original framing in eugenics "science" with the rise of the "modern" settler-colonial state.