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Sometimes in order to heal, we need to bear witness to where we were.  To develop an appreciation and gratitude for the progress that has been made and the progress that still needs to be accomplished.  But that can only occur if we know where we’ve been, were we are now, and the work that we need to do together to recognize and celebrate the diversity of each individual.

From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany carried out a campaign to “cleanse” German society of individuals viewed as biological threats to the nations “health.”  The Nazi persecution of persons with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily “unfit” Germans from the national community. These strategies began with forced sterilization and escalated toward mass murder. The most extreme measure, the Euthanasia Program, was in itself a rehearsal for Nazi Germany’s broader genocidal policies.

On July 14, 1933, the German government instituted the “Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases.” This law called for the sterilization of all persons who suffered from diseases considered hereditary, including mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism. With the law’s passage the Third Reich also stepped up its propaganda against the disabled, regularly labeling them “life unworthy of life” or “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden upon society.

Nazi Germany was not the first or only country to sterilize people considered “abnormal.” Before Hitler, the United States led the world in forced sterilizations. Between 1907 and 1939, more than 30,000 people in twenty-nine states were sterilized, many of them unknowingly or against their will, while they were incarcerated in prisons or institutions for the mentally ill. Advocates of sterilization policies in both Germany and the United States were influenced by eugenics. This sociobiological theory took Charles Darwin’s principle of natural selection and applied it to society. Eugenicists believed the human race could be improved by controlled breeding.

Freedom Friday, November 22, 2013 will look at North Dakota’s sterilization laws.

Freedom Friday, November 29, 2013 will look at the Minnesota’s sterilization laws.

Freedom Friday, December 6, 2013 will look at current sterilization laws.

Freedom Friday, December 13, 2013 will address the current view of disabilities.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (

University of Vermont.  Presentation on “eugenic sterilizations” in comparative perspective at the 2012 Social Science History Association. (

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