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Nazi Racial Purity Exhibit

DW staff (th)October 11, 2006

Nazis murdered more than 200,000 physically and mentally disabled people starting in 1933. An exhibit at the German Hygiene Museum traces the history of the Nazi regime's sinister health policies.

Nazi propaganda promoted Aryan ideals while doctors were ordered to carry out plansImage: Presse

The high-ceilinged rooms of the Dresden museum display swastika-stamped posters praising Nazi racial theories that lead to the Holocaust.

During the Nazi era, the German Hygiene Museum was used to promote mass sterilizations and bans on what were considered interracial marriages. Many of the posters on display in the museum were designed there.

So it's appropriate that the museum would host the exhibit "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race," which opens Thursday.

"The Hygiene Museum was not a criminal institute in the sense that people were killed here," museum director Klaus Vogel said. But, he added, "It helped to shape the idea of which lives were worthy and which were worthless."

Exhibit on loan from U.S. museum

Kuratorin Susan Bachrach erklärt waehrend einer Vorbesichtigung am Donnerstag, 5. Oktober 2006, im Deutschen Hygienemuseum in Dresden Exponate der Ausstellung "Tödliche Medizin
Curator Susan Bachrach explains the museum exhibitImage: AP

"Deadly Medicine" was created by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and marks the first time one of the museum's exhibits has traveled abroad.

"This close relationship to the topic made it almost a requirement to bring the exhibit here," Vogel said.

The exhibit's opening comes just a week after mass graves were discovered in the western German city of Menden. The grave holds the remains of more than 20 people, many of them children, believed to have been killed by the Nazis because they were disabled.

Thousands of frail children were murdered as part of the Third Reich's "euthanasia" program. Children were killed after being deemed unfit to live.

Explaining murderous racial policies

"Deadly Medicine" traces the history of this systematic effort by Nazis to eliminate the "unfit" and create a "master race."

Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Ausstellung Tödliche Medizin
The Nazi-era Glass Man sculpture on displayImage: Deutsches Hygiene-Museum

The first section of the exhibit shows how eugenics, a pseudoscience which purported to improve the human species by controlling heredity, became a global movement. The second part picks up in 1933, when the Nazis began using eugenic theories to justify forced sterilizations and establish a "master race."

The third section explores how the Nazis used science as a weapon not only to murder some six million Jews in the Holocaust, but hundreds of thousands of others who died under euthanasia programs or were otherwise deemed unfit.

On Sept. 1, 1939 Hitler signed an order for doctors to kill the fatally ill and handicapped. Historians believe that doctors and nurses stood by as Nazis shot or gassed some 70,000 people from 1940 to 1941. While the program was officially abandoned after protests, the exhibit makes clear the mass killings continued in secret.

Tens of thousands of people were killed with medication in 1941 after the program had been ended or were simply starved to death.