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  1. ITV Report

Autism research pioneer Hans Asperger 'complicit' in Nazi euthanasia programme

Hans Asperger was the first person to use the term 'autistic' to describe four children in his care. Credit: PA

Hans Asperger, a pioneer of Autism research, was 'complicit' in a Nazi euthanasia programme that killed hundreds of thousands of severely disabled children during World War II, a professor has claimed.

An Austrian medical historian has said Professor Asperger referred hundreds of children, including those who had profound mental health issues to a clinic in Vienna that "snuffed" out the lives of at least 789 children.

Minors at the Am Spiegelgrund clinic were killed mostly by lethal injection and gassing.

Others were subjected to medical experiments or died from disease and starvation.

Professor Asperger was the first person to use the term 'autistic' to describe four children who were in his care in 1944.

Herwig Czech, from the Medical University of Vienna, made the claims after going through unexamined personnel files and patient records from the Nazi era.

"These findings about Hans Asperger are the result of many years of careful research in the archives," he said.

"What emerges is that Asperger successfully sought to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded with career opportunities in return.

"This is part of a broader effort by historians to expose what doctors were doing during the Third Reich."

However, a Canadian expert has said the findings should be viewed "in context."

Anthony Bailey, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said: "Virtually all doctors in Germany at that time were members of the Nazi Party and there was almost no opposition to the euthanasia programmes for the mentally ill and handicapped, except from one or two heads of asylums and a very small number of Catholic bishops."

The "Aktion T4" euthanasia programme was authorised by Hitler to wipe out those who had disabilities.

At least 300,000 children were murdered in clinics across Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic between 1939 and 1945.

Carol Povey, a spokesperson from The National Autistic Society, said "no-one with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome should feel tainted by this very troubling history."

However she added: "We expect these findings to spark a big conversation among the 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their family members, particularly those who identify with the term 'Asperger'."