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Schizophr Bull. 2010 May;36(3):450-4. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbq034. Epub 2010 Apr 26.

Comment on E.F. Torrey and R.H. Yolken: "Psychiatric genocide: Nazi attempts to eradicate schizophrenia" (Schizophr Bull. 2010;36/1:26-32) and R.D. Strous: "psychiatric genocide: reflections and responsibilities" (Schizophr Bull. Advance access publication on February 4, 2010; doi:10.1093/schbul/sbq003).

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Central Institute of Mental Health, Schizophrenia Research Unit, D-68759 Mannheim, Germany.


Torrey and Yolken wonder whether the killing of mentally ill persons in Nazi Germany reduced the risk for schizophrenia in the following generation. Epidemiological data from Germany do not permit reliable comparisons. Torrey and Yolken point out that horrible crime is still only little known. Strous and several contributors on the Schizophrenia Research Forum confirm that view. The history of ideas shows that social Darwinism in the educated classes and the doctrine of degeneration in psychiatry widely influenced thinking prior to World War II. Psychiatrists, lacking effective treatment for steadily growing numbers of the mentally ill, were susceptible to these ideologies. In a first step, several countries introduced compulsory sterilization as a genetic means of preventing diseases believed to be hereditary. Hitler's megalomaniac idea of creating a new human species by steering human evolution through the elimination of "unfit" genes in the mentally ill and inferior races led to the breach of human rights. His euthanasia program-the biggest crime ever perpetrated on the sick-turned out to usher in the gas chambers of the Holocaust.

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