Author Archives: Ebony Brown


Exhibit Explores Eugenics, Nazi Medicine

Students at the Berlin School for the Blind examine racial head models, circa 1935. Students were taught Gregor Mendel’s principles of inheritance  and the purported application of those laws to human heredity and principles  of race. During the Third Reich, German-born deaf or blind, like those born with mental illnesses or disabilities, were urged to submit to compulsory sterilization as a civic duty. (Blinden-Museum an der Johann-August-Zeune-Schule für Blinde, Berlin)

Students at the Berlin School for the Blind examine racial head models, circa 1935. Students were taught Gregor Mendel’s principles of inheritance and the purported application of those laws to human heredity and principlesof race. During the Third Reich, German-born deaf or blind, like those born with mental illnesses or disabilities, were urged to submit to compulsory sterilization as a civic duty. (Blinden-Museum an der Johann-August-Zeune-Schule für Blinde, Berlin)

The idea of eugenics, the study and practice of improving mankind through selective reproduction, was widespread in the scientific community decades before the Nazis took power.

Many credit 19th-century British anthropologist Francis Galton as the father of eugenics, which was popular before much was known about hereditary traits.

“He had a very positive vision focusing on people considered more desirable to have more babies,” said Susan Bachrach, curator of special exhibitions at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “and more desirable meant people like him, more educated types.”

The early history of eugenics and its role during the Nazi reign and Holocaust is chronicled in “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” which is exhibited at the Health Sciences and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland, Baltimore through April 30.

Not only did eugenics inspire racist marriage laws and permit sterilization in the U.S., but some scholars say it laid the groundwork for the Nazis to carry out genocide of the Jewish people.

“They were concerned about the health of the German nation, and the way they defined nation was a very ethnically exclusive idea,” said Bachrach, curator of the exhibit.

“I think few people walk through here and leave with the same sense of mind they came in with,” said Aphrodite Bodycomb, associate director for administration and operations at the library.

The exhibit captures the sobering truths about the spread of eugenics, which got support from the German government and medical community in the 1920s, as well as the doctors and nurses who killed disabled adults, children and, later, Jewish people under what was once a widespread scientific idea.

“We show [the doctors] as respectable, sometimes even prominent, figures in their profession to show people, to try to dispel the myth that Nazi doctors were fringe quacks, these ideas that distance us conveniently from this history because we don’t want to think these were normal people engaging in their work,” said Bachrach.

In the U.S., eugenics spread, especially among Americans paranoid about immigrants adding to their gene pools. In 1924, Virginia enacted a law prohibiting Caucasians from marrying those of “other blood.”  A book titled “Mongrel Virginians” was printed in 1926 by the Williams & Wilkens Company, based in Baltimore. By 1933, 26 states had laws permitting sterilization. About 16,000 Americans were sterilized between 1909 and 1933, half of them in California.

“We printed this stuff,” said Bodycomb. “We were talking about this stuff in the U.S.”

In 1927, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics opened in Berlin, raising German health officials’ confidence in eugenics.

“Many physicians and scientists who embraced eugenics legitimized and helped implement Nazi policies,” an exhibit display said. “Many also collaborated in purging Jews and political ‘unreliables’ from universities, research institutes, hospitals and public health care.”


The Nazis sponsored eugenic research, public education campaigns — some of which included information about the dangers of alcohol and nicotine — and implemented sterilization of adults and children with disabilities. Around 400,000 Germans were sterilized between 1934 and 1945. Propaganda included items such as the “Ten Commandments of Choosing A Mate” and charts defining Jews and “hybrids,” people with Jewish blood.

Under Nazi rule, Germans began a program they called “euthanasia.” Between 1939 and 1945, 5,000 Germans boys and girls born with physical and mental disabilities were killed through starvation, medical overdoses and other means. Some doctors, many of whom were never brought to justice, saw this as a research opportunity.

“[One doctor] commented on what a wonderful opportunity this was to get a hold of hundreds of brains of children with different kinds of conditions you would never have access to,” Bachrach said. “So, it was an opportunity for his career and science.”

An estimated 200,000 adults were killed in similar ways. Between 1940 and 1941, 70,000 institutionalized German adults, most of whom were not Jewish, were killed in gas chambers disguised as showers in Germany and Austria. The idea of using chambers to gas people and crematories to dispose of corpses would extend to concentration camps, with many medical staffers from “euthanasia” facilities manning the installations of gas chambers.

The exhibit features films of women who were sterilized recounting their experiences, photos of disabled children who were killed in the name of eugenics, photos that were used to point out facial features and information on the doctors who took part in eugenics.

Bodycomb said the exhibit serves as a great education piece for students at the university, who are from all over the world and have varying degrees of knowledge about this piece of history.

“There’s no built-in moral compass in these fields, so we need people thinking about ethical issues related to use of medicine in science,” said Bachrach.

The message resonated with visitors. Some wrote that they cried over the lives lost, while others wrote that it was difficult but important to see.

“We cannot forget,” one post wrote. “We must educate and stop these practices.”

Las Vegas? Really?

I congratulate the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) on its  choice of venue for its recent annual get-together (“What happens in Vegas,”  “A spectacle for King Sheldon,” April 4).

After all, what U.S. city resonates better with Torah and rabbinic values such as mitzvot (commandments), gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) and tzedaka (charity), but especially taharat ha-mishpacha (family purity) and tzniyut (female modesty), than Sin City, aka Las Vegas?

Indeed, given Halachah’s extremely low opinion of gambling and everything that is associated with it, what better location than America’s historic and premier gambling mecca?

Forsooth: A circumcised Bill O’Reilly might even characterize such in-your-face Orthodoxy-bashing behavior as evidence of a deliberate RJC “war on Judaism”!

Stas Cohen
Newark, Del.


A Seder is not enough

041814_editorialThe hungry, like the poor, have always been with us. At our Seders this week we declared, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” But can our words alone fight hunger? That is the question raised by the National Hunger Seder, held April 9 at the U.S. Capitol.

Being against hunger is easy. Doing something about it is much more difficult. At the Hunger Seder, one of 27 held around the country, a number of elected officials were on hand to speak out against food insecurity. In attendance were Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern, (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) as well as Matt Nosanchuk, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement for Jewish Outreach. The Seder was sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, which has been the Jewish voice fighting hunger for nearly 30 years.

And that’s part of the problem. Mazon, the food banks and the other fine groups that are trying to ease hunger in this country and around the world can go on collecting checks and stacking canned goods, but they will never solve the problem. The solution must come from the very building in which the Hunger Seder was held — the Capitol … and the U.S. Congress.

It is our elected officials in Congress who are best able to address the persistence of hunger and poverty in this country. It was Congress that earlier this year cut $9 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also called food stamps. And, incredibly, the $9 billion cut was considered a victory for food stamp supporters, because the Republican-led House had proposed slashing up to $39 billion.

Why has Congress seemingly forgotten the extent of hunger in this country? One answer may be that the needy don’t really have that strong a voice in the halls of government. So it is hard to get the attention of lawmakers on the issue. And officials within government who speak out on these issues don’t find significant support from lobbyists and large donors who try to influence the national agenda.

A true national hunger Seder would need to begin by confronting these issues squarely. If we want to defeat hunger, we need to do something about it. Declaring “let all who are hungry come and eat” at the Capitol sounds nice. Following up with a serious commitment on the issue and programs designed to break the cycle of poverty and the pain of hunger would be a wonderful result.

Let’s hope the men and women inside the U.S. Capitol get the message and get to work.

The knockout of Ali

What do we make of the incident of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken critic of Islam whose invitation to receive an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University was revoked following protests? The school’s actions drew howls of protest from The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and others on the right and generated discomfort from just about everyone else.

The Somali-born Ali is a complex person, with views on some issues with which the vast majority of the Western world agrees and views on other issues that are more divisive. Ali has been a forceful proponent for women’s rights and an opponent of the genital mutilation practiced on girls in some Muslim countries. But she has also been unyielding in her condemnation of Islam, the religion she was born into and later abandoned. Thus, she told Reason magazine in 2007 that Muslims are “not interested in peace” and went on to say, “I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

It is her harsh, uncompromising condemnation of all streams of Islam that makes people uncomfortable. Even Daniel Pipes, a hardline critic of radical Islam who defended Ali last week, was not steadfast enough for her. Reason asked Ali if Pipes was wrong in his contention that “radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution.” “He’s wrong,” Ali answered. “Sorry about that.”

Much of the blame for the Brandeis pivot is directed at Brandeis itself, which apparently didn’t do much analysis or inquiry to determine whether Ali might become the lightning rod she has turned out to be. Brandeis reportedly reneged on its promised honor after 85 of its 350 faculty members wrote a letter in protest. And an online petition created by Brandeis students collected thousands of signatures from inside and outside the school, all critical of the planned honor. So it appears that Brandeis relented under pressure. That may have been the right decision, but it didn’t have to play out as it did.

Such events seem to be happening with greater regularity, and they are beginning to have a sameness to them. A scheduled speaker, performance or honoree is deemed to be offensive in some way by a group of vocal, well-intentioned and well-organized critics. Because of the orchestrated uproar, the sponsoring organization cancels the event or modifies it. Meanwhile, those in the middle, who belong to no extreme, have the event agenda hijacked by more vocal ideologues. As a result, an event that would otherwise have passed largely without comment becomes a place for rhetorical sparring, accusations and disputes. Public discourse and civility suffer.

While it may be difficult to predict every complaint or uproar which particular planning decisions may evoke, there is no question that more careful vetting of programs and activities by event sponsors would go a long way toward avoiding such divisive disputes.

My Dear Friend, Len

After reading the beautiful words of Barbara Bloom in the JT about her late husband, Leonard Bloom, I had to add a tribute to my friend. Len and I had been friends for more than 70 years. We grew up in the same neighborhood at North Avenue and Payson Street and began a friendship that lasted until his passing (Nov. 23, 2013).

Len was a brilliant scholar, who had a wonderful character. He graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute first in his class and earned a four-year scholarship to the Johns Hopkins School of Engineering, where he pursued electrical engineering. At graduation he was just a few points shy of being first in his class. He served in the Army during World War II as a lieutenant. He then worked for Black and Decker in the patent office. He attended law school at night at the University of Baltimore, and shortly after passing the bar, he became the chief patent attorney at Black and Decker. Years later, he started his own successful patent law firm.

Regardless of his success and intelligence, he was a humble person and treated everyone fairly. He always had a sense of humor, always had a joke to make you laugh. After all these many years of friendship, I miss my friend. My best wishes to his lovely wife, Barbara, and her family.

Harold Surosky
Owings Mills