First they killed the "crazies" and "cripples" : the ableist persecution and murders of people with disabilities by Nazi Germany 1933-45 : an anthropological perspective / Sandy O'Neill.
The Nazis not only initiated their campaign to systematically persecute and murder people with disabilities in the earliest days of their regime; the murders continued during and even after World War II had ended. Yet, knowledge about this aspect of Nazi atrocities has not permeated the dominant cultural consciousness to any appreciable degree. While the facts of these crimes and murders do not represent new information as such, the accounts that do exist show an abiding lack of clarity as to the underlying prejudices toward people with disabilities that allowed the murders to occur. Today disabled survivors are rarely recognized or compensated. Most of the history of these events has been done in the field of Holocaust studies. Yet too often, such limited and/or routinized accounts of the campaign against people with disabilities are given, that a useful analysis of its particular features and underlying causation becomes difficult to extract. On the other hand, commentaries written from within the disability rights framework can fail to contextualize these murders in the regime's overall worldview and therefore lack clarity as to the role that anti-semitism played in the events of sixty years ago. The gulf between the areas of Holocaust and Disability Studies needs to be bridged. Laying a part of the groundwork for this bridge building, utilizing what will be defined as Liberation Theory is the project this paper addresses. Examining ways in which specific types of oppression overlap, as well as where they differ is a key element of this work. This is done not to develop situations of competing truth claims about which groups are more or less oppressed or whose oppression was codified first. Rather, this work aims toward more clarity through viewing questions through a lens allowing for multiple and differentiated explanations. Deepening this understanding requires looking at the relationship of disabled people, Jews and other populations in the Nazis' social construction of reality. For example, the Nazi designation of Jews as “diseased” and therefore undesirable has an underlying prejudice toward the diseased/disabled while designating the disabled as “useless eaters” parallels the labeling of Jews as a parasitical population. Exploring available source material and reading texts as cultural artifacts enable the insertion of the reality of ableism into the discourse of Holocaust studies thus reconfiguring aspects of current understandings of the Holocaust. How Holocaust and Disability Studies engage in dialogue is an issue of critical importance to furthering the efforts of both in utilizing events of the past to educate about ongoing oppression in the present.
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