CCAS E-Magazine Features David Mitchell’s Disability Studies Class

“Disabled People and the Holocaust” class
on site in Germany
Professor David Mitchell’s course Disabled People and the Holocaust is featured in the latest CCAS E-Magazine.  You can read the entire story here.
Here are some excerpts:
‘Mitchell, who has a disability, first envisioned the course with women’s studies professor and research partner Sharon Snyder in the early 2000s, while lecturing at the University of Frankfurt. During the trip, he and Snyder visited the killing centers. “The depth of my knowledge on this topic expanded significantly,” he said. “I wanted to offer students that same experience.”
Mitchell challenged students to use the power of the horrific settings as a jump-off point for exploring attitudes toward the disabled throughout history and into today. He and Snyder noted that Nazi euthanasia programs were influenced by American notions of eugenics in the early 20th century, which advocated coerced sterilizations and permanent institutionalizations.
The T4 program represented medicine run amok, the consequence of doctors serving the state rather than individuals, Mitchell said. “These people had bodies that didn’t work right and couldn’t be productive for the nation.” At the same time, as Rodrigo Duran noted, the program was built on long-standing views of the disabled as less than human. “They argued that Germany was a body, and the disabled were a tumor,” he said. “They needed to remove that tumor to make the body stronger.”
Indeed, many of the perpetrators were never tried for the crimes they called benign “medical interventions.” And while local townspeople may not have participated in the slaughter, Mitchell suggested that the stigma surrounding the disabled made it easier for many to rationalize the medical murders. “It’s difficult to imagine that someone living in Bernburg during the 1940s would not know what was happening down the road,” he said. “The smell of human flesh and bones burning is very distinct.”
Senior women’s studies major Faith Weis said the trip inspired her to “reclaim a historical narrative” for forgotten victims like the disabled. “History has to be seen through a broader lens,” she said. “We are uncomfortable talking about the disabled. But we’re going to have to learn how to talk about our differences if we are going to give them the historical context they deserve.”
The students who participated in the class and the trip were Mehreen Arif, Julia Barrett, Alexandra Bonagura, Rodrigo Duran, Jessica Hang, Alyssa Kopervos, Lili Sten, Faith Weis and Maria Willhoit.’

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