OTTAWA — The Canadian War Museum has recently opened Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, an exhibit organized and circulated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Through storyboards, artifacts, photographs and video clips, the exhibit examines how eugenics – the belief that humanity can be improved by encouraging some people to have children while preventing others from doing so – was employed by the Nazis in their quest to create a “master race.”
Though focusing on the horror of the Nazis’ use of eugenics to “cleanse” Germany of those deemed unfit and undesirable, the exhibit begins by putting eugenics in historical context, which included the belief by many supporters in the United States, parts of Europe and even in Canada in the early 20th century that eugenics would reduce the incidence of physical and mental infirmity in society.
Many Canadians will no doubt be surprised to learn that both Alberta and British Columbia enacted sterilization laws that weren’t repealed for nearly 40 years.
The exhibit explores how the use of eugenics progressed in Nazi Germany from a way to control the reproduction and marriage of those deemed biologically “unfit” to an even more sinister method of weeding out those considered “racially” unfit, to ultimately being used as a method of eliminating the country’s Jews, among other “undesirables.”
One chilling caption lists the conditions for which Germans were forcibly sterilized: “Between 1934 and 1945, an estimated 400,000 Germans were surgically sterilized on account of their ‘suffering’ from any of nine conditions: ‘feeblemindedness,’ schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder, genetic epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, genetic blindness, genetic deafness, severe physical deformity and chronic alcoholism.”
“This exhibition provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the origins and rationale for Nazi Germany’s racial policies and to understand how such policies contributed to the Holocaust,” said Mark O’Neill, the war museum’s director general.
Introducing the exhibit at a preview for the media, Susan Bachrach, curator of special exhibits at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, expressed gratitude to the Canadian War Museum for hosting it.
“Everyone in our museum is very excited about this collaboration, and I am very happy that the museum convinced us that the exhibit could be adapted for a bilingual presentation.”
Deadly Medicine was first shown at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum from 2004 to 2006 and has travelled to a number of venues since then. Next March, it will be in Berlin. The exhibit will remain in Ottawa at the war museum until Nov. 11.