Washington, D.C. was so nice Dr. Christopher Huff wanted to visit twice. This time, the Beacon College historian will return in January to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a faculty seminar exploring how Nazis also targeted the disabled for genocide.
“Disability, Eugenics, and Genocide: Nazi Germany, Its Antecedents and Legacy,” the centerpiece of the 2019 Jack and Anita Hess Faculty Seminar — presented by The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum — examines the history of persecution of persons with disabilities, according to the museum. The seminar will explore how “eugenics theories framed the debate about the treatment of individuals with disabilities and how that discourse had deadly consequences during the era of the Third Reich and the Holocaust,” the museum notes. Academics will also discover how the Nazi legacy colors modern medicine, science, and ethics.
Huff emerged from a competitive application process as one of the few who will review foundational texts and recent scholarship on the Nazi racial state, the Holocaust, and the disabled’s place in Nazi society. Historians also will study strategies of resistance and survival, among other issues.
“My participation this past summer in a faculty seminar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was an invaluable experience and has help me rethink and redesign some of my courses,” Huff said referring to his experience at the museum’s 2018 Curt C. and Else Silberman Seminar for Faculty in June. “I fully intended to apply for additional seminars at some point in the future but the topic of this upcoming seminar proved too compelling to let the opportunity pass by.”
Edward and David Hess endow the seminar in memory of their parents, Jack and Anita Hess. The couple trusted in the power of education to overcome racial and religious prejudice, the museum’s website notes.
What also made the seminar compelling is how the Nazi strategy was so diametrically opposed to the mission of Beacon College — America’s first accredited college or university conceived to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences.
“While it is well known that Nazi Germany killed more than six million Jews during the Holocaust it is less known that in their pursuit of racial purity the Nazis also targeted and killed thousands of children and adults with mental and physical disabilities,” Huff noted. “Given that Beacon College not only provides a higher education to students with learning disabilities and differences but also has a wider role to play in helping the general public understand the unique contributions that our students can make to society, it seemed imperative that I become better informed about the history of disability.”