How Neurotribes made the Holocaust personal for me

14 Nov

I firmly believe that all people are my people. That I have to accept that my people were both the victims and the villains of history. I weep for my people who have suffered, and I feel shame for the actions of those who perpetrated those crimes.

I firmly believe this. Now, it’s one thing to say, “the people who suffered in the Holocaust were my people” and to feel that very real pain. But, as I found out, there is a whole different level when it really becomes personal.

And that’s what happened when I read Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes. Actually, it happened when I Steve was writing the book and shared some of his research with me.

You see, I am not Jewish. I am not Roma. I am not gay. My disability is not major. In short, I am not any of these or the other peoples targeted by the Holocaust.

I am, however, the father of a child who would never have made it through the Holocaust. And it never really struck home until Neurotribes.

Steve lays out in his book how the framework for the Holocaust was built starting with one person. A disable child. A disabled child in a time when the culture (and not just in Germany) made having a disabled child a shame for a family. A burden. Someone to be rid of.

Generally, being “rid of” meant institutionalization, although there appears to have been an unofficial euthenasia program going on in maternity wards. In 1939, one set of parents took the next step: they asked their doctor to “put to sleep” their disabled child. Years before a researcher had surveyed parents of disabled children and found that many would approve of their child’s death, but didn’t want to officially know. This step was something different. His own parents asked for his death. There was no law that would allow that, but in approving this child’s death, the legal framework was created that would grow into the murder of millions of people.

Let me pause for a moment here. I can’t read that, hear that, think about that and not see my kid’s face. Not see the look of absolute trust, of love, that I see in that face every day.

And think of betrayal. And think of the face of kids as they were taken from their families. The faces of kids as they landed in horrible places before their deaths. Faces like my own child’s face.

It’s horrible, absolutely horrible, to think about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Those who died have been and always will be my people. But, yes, this makes it more personal. Much more painful to me. I wish I were a better person and didn’t need that personal connection to feel this pain.

Steve called me at one point when he was writing his book. He read me some of the material he had found, about how children like mine were so disregarded that their own parents gave them over for death.

I went silent for a long time. Not because I was being solemn, but I literally could not speak. My child’s face. That’s all I could think of. Love. Trust. And, yes, betrayal. A look I can, thankfully, only imagine.

We will never let this happen again. Of course I believe in that. Strongly. And I weep for the fact that, yes, genocide has happened in my lifetime and, yes, my America has not acted vigorously. I have not acted vigorously. But with the story of Gerhard Kretschmar, my connection goes beyond belief. It now goes to my heart and soul. Again, I wish I were a better person and it didn’t take his story to drive this home so deeply.


by Matt Carey

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6 Responses to “How Neurotribes made the Holocaust personal for me”

  1. Eileen M Riley Hall November 14, 2016 at 19:11 #

    This is so true and so sad. Made me cry, but thank you.

  2. Kathryn November 14, 2016 at 22:54 #

    I agree.

    This also reminded me of a spoiler for Man in the High Castle (the Amazon series based on the PK Dick novel). I’ll just say I’m surprised they made it a plot point. Haven’t read the book, but even if the author put it in, adaptations often change things.

  3. Dr Mitzi Waltz November 15, 2016 at 15:22 #

    Unfortunately, this practice is not in the past. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/where-the-prescription-for-autism-can-be-death/2016/02/24/8a00ec4c-d980-11e5-81ae-7491b9b9e7df_story.html . So far none of the cases that I am aware of have involved children with autism (only adults), but as we allow euthanasia here for children with other “incurable disorders,” I would say it’s just a matter of time.

  4. Judith December 21, 2016 at 03:00 #

    T4 The first to be exterminated were the mentally and developmentally disabled. The last to be memorialised were the mentally and developmentally disabled. Berlin 2014 memorial for those who were deemed useless burdens by the Nazis. 300,000 most vulnerable children and adults experimented on and gassed. From this one of the most civilized and cultures nations

  5. Tynette December 26, 2016 at 16:12 #

    It will happen again, I’m sad and sorry to say. As a whole we don’t do all or even a the little we can. And like you said most people need a direct connection to feel someone else’s pain, but even that isn’t enough for most.

  6. Judith January 9, 2017 at 15:46 #

    I just read about Streeps speech at the Golden Globe awards. It was about Trump mocking a disabled reporter. Many comments followed. Her speech wasn’t about politics. It seems to me that it was more about respect for our fellow human beings. If anyone thinks that a holocaust could never happen again, think again.

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