Thursday, 13 February 2014

Breath (2013) Venice

Francis Galton like his cousin Charles Darwin wrote a book to do with evolution. Galton's book was titled The Hereditary Genius and its subject was eugenics. According to the author unsuitable persons such as the deaf would be put in places of assisted living to prevent them from reproducing. He also claimed that it would be possible to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations. 

Another supporter of eugenics was Alexander Graham Bell who suggested blocking the immigration of deaf persons into the United States. In 1896 in Connecticut a law was passed forbidding marriage between persons suffering from epilepsy and mental illness. In 1909 sterilization was introduced in California and Washington following its introduction a couple of years earlier in Indiana.

Galton's dangerous idea took root in Germany and became known there as racial hygiene. Alfred Ploetz who had spent 5 years studying racial genealogies in the United States established a German Eugenics Society and Francis Galton became its honorary president.

Soon there were several German writers on the eugenics bandwagon. The wish to emulate the United States was strong. In 1920 the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche and the jurist Karl Binding published a book with the alarming title Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living. 

The Rockefeller Foundation supported German research with cash donations. One of the main beneficiaries of American money was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Psychiatry, which institute was to supply doctors for the mass extermination of disabled people and the genocide of the European Jews and gypsies.

In 1929 the American Paul Popenoe published Sterilization for Human Betterment: A Summary of the Results of 6,000 Operations in California. The work was translated into German and came to be used by the Nazis to support the claim that sterilization was beneficial.

In 1934 Joseph Goebbels the head of the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propoganda organized collective visits by thousands of SS officers and other interested tourists to various institutes such as the infamous Eglfing-Haar Clinic, mentioned in the Nurenburg Trials,  in order to prove the necessity of sterilization and euthanasia.

In May 1936 Professor Harry H Laughlin of the Untied States received an honorary doctorate at Heidelberg University for his work in eugenics.

In 1939 with the issuing of an official document from the office of Adolf Hitler on the 1st September the euthanasia game was in full swing. The F├╝hrer stated:

Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr Brandt are charged with the responsibility for expanding the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, to the end that patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgement of their state of health, can be granted a mercy death. 

The result of this instruction was that 70,273 persons were designated as unfit to live were killed over a 2 year period in an operation known as Aktion T4.

In January 1940 the first recorded case of patients being killed by gas took place at the Brandenburg Clinic.

When Aktion T4 was closed down in 1941 the death clinic doctors and their staff were sent to Poland, to Treblinka and Sobibor to continue the work.

Before it was all over Joseph Goebbels, head of the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and Mrs Goebbels were destined to contribute to the euthenasia programme by murdering all of their 6 children and committing suicide.


  1. This most impressive original sculpture has always been an inspiration to me Gwil.

  2. Pat, It's not really a sculpture although it looks like one. It's more like a balloon. But as you say, an impressive original and an inspiration.


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