Why did the Nazis sterilize the blind? Genetics and the shaping of the sterilization law of 1933

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Abstract

The introduction of blindness into the Sterilization Law passed by the Nazis in July 1933, was exceptional, even by the standards of the time. Prior sterilization bills had focused on mental and nervous disorders, and they almost always excluded blindness as a category. The wish to sterilize the blind cannot be explained solely as stemming from the eugenic or economic threat that they allegedly posed to German society; such threats were acknowledged to be marginal, and they paled in comparison to the perceived menace attributed to the so-called feeble-minded and mentally ill. What made blindness of special significance for Nazi lawmakers was its disciplinary status among geneticists as an indisputable demonstration of the validity of the laws of heredity to human maladies. Together with two additional disease categories—deafness and Huntington’s chorea—blindness provided Nazi legislators with scientific legitimization that helped pave the way for the sterilization of the mentally ill. For the blind, it was therefore not the fanaticism of the Nazis but rather their aspiration to ground their policy in biological teaching that ultimately proved fateful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-309
Number of pages21
JournalCentral European History
Volume52
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2019

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