On March 13, I attended a program at the University of Maryland’s Health Sciences Library in conjunction with a traveling exhibition that the Library is hosting, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. This exhibit, created by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, has been traveling throughout the country for several years. The exhibition explores the rise of eugenics in Nazi Germany and how the quest to create a master race resulted in a public campaign to rid society of “undesirables” including those with mental and physical disabilities as well as individuals who were considered members of inferior races, such as Jews.
The exhibition’s curator, Susan Bachrach, gave a lecture to a crowd of medical students, University of Maryland administrators and professors, and community members. Dr. Bachrach’s riveting talk included background on the history of the eugenics movement, both in Weimar Germany as well as in other countries including the US. Many in the audience were unaware of the fact that forced sterilization was legal in several states in the US in the first half of the 20th century. While Maryland did not have such a law, in one notable 1927 Supreme Court case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion upholding Virginia’s law in the 1927 case against Carrie Buck. (For more on this case, check out www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/VA/VA.html.)
Although the exhibit is difficult to view from the point of view of its deeply disturbing content and imagery, the subject matter is incredibly important and relevant for contemporary audiences especially in light of current debates on medical ethics. Dr. Bachrach’s lecture included video testimony from Holocaust survivors including siblings who were sent to Auschwitz where they were subjected to the notorious Dr. Mengele’s experiments on twins. Following this emotional testimony, it was hard to look at a photograph of Dr. Mengele in which he looks like a “normal” doctor going about his business. We so often think of the perpetuators of the Holocaust as evil monsters and it is difficult to grapple with the fact that their appearance does not always conform to this characterization.
The USHMM has created a virtual exhibit on their website that features more information as well as images.
The JMM and BJC are co-sponsoring a teacher training workshop taking place at the University of Maryland’s Health Sciences Library on April 2. The program is open to educators of all backgrounds.
Deadly Medicine is on view through April 30.
A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah, click here.