German Geneticists Condemn Nazi Eugenics Program | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.07.2008
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German Geneticists Condemn Nazi Eugenics Program

Geneticists in Germany on Monday marked the 75th anniversary of the "Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases Act," by condemning the euthanization of thousands of handicapped people during the Third Reich.

Prisoners standing in line outside concentration camp

200,000 "undesirables" were euthanized under the Nazi program

Deemed "undesirable," an estimated 400,000 people physically and mentally disabled people were sterilized without their consent during the Nazi regime. Many of those sterilized died as a consequence of the operation, and historians estimate that 200,000 were euthanized as part of the Nazi eugenics program.

The forced sterilization and euthanasia program developed as a consequence of the "law to prevent hereditary diseased offspring," which was enacted on July 14, 1933 and was based on the controversial theory that one could improve the human race through selective breeding.

"The new law served the NS (National Socialist) regime as a basis to brutally and systematically violate the fundamental human rights of targeted citizens whose lives the regime deemed 'unworthy'," said members of the German Society of Human Genetics in a statement released this week to coincide with the 20th International Congress of Genetics.

"In view of the state of knowledge of genetics at the time, their actions were indefensible,” continued the society. "It should have been clear that the eugenic measures planned were not only morally wrong but biological nonsense."

Hunt for Heim heats up

Black and white photo of a man's face

Nazi hunters believe Heim is in southern Chile

Meanwhile, the hunt for one of the doctors believed to have taken part in the systematic murder of thousands of people during the Third Reich has heated up. Representatives from the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) were in Chile this week to announce its new ad campaign for Operation: Last Chance.

The campaign aims to ensnare Aribert Heim, known to some as "Dr. Death" from Mauthausen, who's been on the run since 1962 when he was tipped off about his imminent arrest. The 94-year-old Austrian served as medical doctor at the Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen concentration camps. At Mauthausen, he murdered hundreds by administering lethal injections during the fall of 1941.

The chief Nazi hunter at SWC, Efraim Zuroff, said that the center had received two important tips about Heim's whereabouts, effectively tracking him to Chile or southern Argentina. Heim is believed to have visited the town of Bariloche, Argentina over 50 times in one year. Heim's daughter lives 350 kilometers (217 miles) away in the southern Chilean town of Puerto Montt.

While Zuroff can't say these tips will lead to Heim's immediate capture, he hopes that the ad campaign and a reward of 315,000 euros ($500,000) will eventually result in Heim's arrest.

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