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Deadly Medicine - Creating the Master Race

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During the Nazi era in Europe, Adolf Hitler led a broad effort using German physicians and others to racially “cleanse” European society of people seen as biologically inferior, including those with birth defects, mental illness, inherited diseases and those perceived as racial enemies of the German people.

A travelling exhibition from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” highlights how physicians, geneticists, anthropologists and others in the healing professions were major participants in the Holocaust. The exhibit was on display at the Bernard Becker Medical Library from August 8 until October 30, 2011.

The exhibit is designed to help us understand how our contemporary world came to be and the human stakes involved in trying to improve the human race, says Stephen Lefrak, MD, director of the Humanities Program in Medicine and professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“If history teaches us anything, it is that what has happened, can in fact happen,” Lefrak says. “It certainly behooves an engaged citizen to comprehend that National Socialist Germany was a biological state that sought humankind’s perfection through racial and biological selection. Therefore, for medicine in the age of genomics, in vitro fertilization and the search for wonder cures, the exhibit is a striking billboard warning us to be wary of the promise of biological utopian fantasies.”

The exhibition includes photos of physicians examining patients for “fitness,” including measuring their skulls and checking the color of their eyes against a chart. It also includes videos and copies of documents and illustrations.

A series of lectures and discussions were held in conjunction with the Bernard Becker Medical Library's hosting of "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” the travelling exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The series was sponsored by the Bernard Becker Medical Library, the Center for the History of Medicine, and the Program for Humanities in Medicine.

Lecture and Discussion Videos: