Nazi-era eugenics research and racial purification programs were depicted through images of child-subjects and a speech by a Holocaust survivor at yesterday’s opening of the exhibit “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”
At Harvard’s Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, the exhibit examines the implications of the participation of mainstream physicians, public health officials, and academics in the Nazi Party’s grisly human experimentation programs.
“We thought it would be interesting to show how science and medicine, though very important and useful, have no inherent moral compass,” said Susan D. Bachrach, curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which created the exhibition.
The exhibit stressed the role of science in legitimizing the racial policies of the Nazi Party during the Holocaust.
“The individuals conducting these policies weren’t quacks,” Bachrach said.
“Doctors and scientists—some with prominent international reputations—supported eugenics long before Hitler came to power.”
These physicians expanded their research agendas under the Nazi regime to include the mass murder of those considered mentally ill and criminally-minded, in addition to children born with incurable birth defects, according to Bachrach.
“The Holocaust was man-made,” said Boston University Professor Michael A. Grodin, who spoke at the event.
“Nothing was inevitable. People made choices.”
The exhibit also warns about the implications of these policies in medical research today.
“It’s easy to make very glib comparisons between eugenics now and then,” Harvard Medical School Professor Scott H. Podolsky ’93 said.
“It’s also easy to say we’ll never behave like that, but it’s important to remember that the Nazi physicians didn’t think they were doing evil.”
HMS Lecturer Robert S. Blacklow ’55 commented on the parallels to today’s genetic selection practices, such as contemporary eugenics screenings which can provide parents with the choice to abort babies with cystic fibrosis.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Blacklow said.
“We’re not saying that we’re like the Nazis. What we are saying is that there are similar issues [today]. We’re hoping that college students, medical students, and the general public as a whole will be very reflective of these topics.”
Boston University sophomore Rachel G. Tesler reflected on what she described as the universality of the exhibition’s message.
“It’s completely global,” she said.
“It’s important that people learn about this and prevent it from happening now and ever again.”
The exhibit will remain open until July 17.