German physicians' reactions to the Nazi sterilization law of 14 July 1933 / by N.S. Jil Beardmore.
During the prewar years in Nazi Germany, thousands of physicians were involved in eugenic programs aimed at the civilian population. They were directly responsible for the forced sterilization of 350,000–400,000 men and women between 1933 and 1939 for a variety of conditions deemed “undesirable” by the Nazis. After World War Two, the bulk of the German medical community was able to dissociate itself from the misdeeds of the Nazi era, claiming that the vast majority of doctors remained loyal to their patients, the unwritten tenets of their profession and the Hippocratic Oath, and were in no way responsible for medical atrocities committed under the Nazis. This paper contributes to a growing body of work which challenges this assertion and explores the true role of Germany's physicians. Until recently, German physicians' part in such eugenic programs was largely ignored because historians focused on those doctors working on the fringes of the medical establishment in the death camps in Poland. In line with a shift in the historiography, this is a study of discussions between doctors in Germany regarding the 1933 “Sterilization Law” in two medical journals, Volk and Rasse and the Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift. Not only is it apparent that doctors clearly understood their role and personal responsibilities in the process, but also that they were active in defining diagnoses they felt the Nazis had failed to clearly describe in the law. This paper aims to investigate the mindset and context in which German physicians were able to perpetrate invasive procedures on their patients.
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