Being Deaf During the Nazi Era & the Holocaust
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum depends on its collection to help us teach the lessons of the Holocaust and to stand as evidence of what happened for ages to come. Items that belonged to the victims and survivors tell stories, testify to their experiences, and preserve their history. We are in a race against time to rescue them before the eyewitness generations are no longer with us to tell their own story.
The Museum has launched an initiative to seek original artifacts and stories from the deaf community (or their descendants) who suffered displacement, persecution, or discrimination by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945. This includes materials relating to life in the immediate postwar era and emigration. We are also seeking artifacts and testimony from other eyewitnesses to these events. The deaf victims of the Holocaust have an unique history that needs to be preserved. It is crucial that the Museum rescue and preserve this evidence while there is still time—before the survivors are gone and their stories lost forever.
The experience of deaf people in Nazi-occupied Europe is a neglected chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Yet deaf Jews suffered the same fate as their hearing co-religionists: discrimination, persecution, deportation, and finally mass murder. In addition, many deaf Germans fell victim to persecution as a result of Nazi racial hygiene policy. The 1933 Hereditary Health Law mandated compulsory sterilization for hereditarily deaf individuals; between 1934 and 1945, an unknown number of deaf persons were among the 400,000 forcibly sterilized by the Nazi regime. Societal prejudice about the intelligence of persons with hearing disabilities consigned many individuals to institutions, where a small number of deaf Germans were murdered within the framework of Nazi “euthanasia” effort, a program of mass killing directed at persons with disabilities living in institutions. This is a history that must be told.