May 17th – July 28th, 2019
“The national state . . . must set race in the center of all life. It must take care to keep it pure. It must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. It must see to it that only the healthy beget children. . . . The state must act as the guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing. . . . It must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge.”Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925)
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibition Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race examines how the Nazi leadership, in collaboration with individuals in professions traditionally charged with healing and the public good, used science to help legitimize persecution, murder, and ultimately, genocide.
From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany carried out a campaign to “cleanse” German society of people viewed as biological threats to the nation’s “health.” Enlisting the help of physicians and medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists, the Nazis developed racial health policies that started with the mass sterilization of “hereditarily diseased” persons and ended with the near annihilation of European Jewry.
Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race traces this history from the early 20th-century international eugenics movement to the Nazi regime’s “science of race.” It also challenges viewers to reflect on the present-day interest in genetic manipulation that promotes the possibility of human perfection.
Eugenics theory sprang from turn-of-the-20th-century scientific beliefs asserting that Charles Darwin’s theories of “survival of the fittest” could be applied to humans. Supporters, spanning the globe and political spectrum, believed that through careful controls on marriage and reproduction, a nation’s genetic health could be improved.
“Deadly Medicine explores the Holocaust’s roots in then-contemporary scientific and pseudo-scientific thought. At the same time, it touches on complex ethical issues we face today, such as how societies acquire and use scientific knowledge and how they balance the rights of the individual with the needs of the larger community.”Exhibition Curator Susan Bachrach
The Nazi regime was founded on the conviction that “inferior” races, including the so-called Jewish race, and individuals had to be eliminated from German society so that the fittest “Aryans” could thrive. The Nazi state fully committed itself to implementing a uniquely racist and antisemitic variation of eugenics to “scientifically” build what it considered to be a “superior race.” By the end of World War II, six million Jews had been murdered. Millions of others also became victims of persecution and murder through Nazi “racial hygiene” programs designed to cleanse Germany of “biological threats” to the nation’s “health,” including “foreign-blooded” Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), persons diagnosed as “hereditarily ill,” and homosexuals. In German-occupied territories, Poles and others belonging to ethnic groups deemed “inferior” were also murdered.
Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race is a traveling exhibition produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Through reproductions of photographs and documents, films, and survivor testimony, it traces how the persecution of groups deemed biologically inferior led to the near annihilation of European Jewry. It also challenges viewers to reflect on the present-day interest in genetic manipulation that promotes the possibility of human perfection.
This exhibition is made possible through the support of The David Berg Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Lester Robbins and Sheila Johnson Robbins Traveling and Temporary Exhibitions Fund established in 1990, and The Dorot Foundation.
Header Image: Head shots showing various racial types. Most western anthropologists classified people into “races” based on physical traits such as head size and eye, hair and skin color. This classification was developed by Eugen Fischer and published in the 1921 and 1923 editions of Foundations of Human Genetics and Racial Hygiene.–US Holocaust Memorial Museum