A new open-access piece in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences may interest AHP readers: “Brain research on Nazi “euthanasia” victims: Legal conflicts surrounding Scientology’s instrumentalization of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society’s history against the Max Planck Society,” Florian Schmaltz. Abstract:
In 1985, historian Götz Aly published an article showing that the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research, neuropathologist Julius Hallervorden (1882–1965), had acquired brains of Nazi “euthanasia” victims and brain specimens of at least 33 children gassed at the Brandenburg killing center on October 28, 1940, which were still kept by the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research. Aly criticized that the Max Planck Society had suppressed articles by journalist Hermann Brendel in the 1970s claiming that institutes of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society had conducted brain research within the framework of “euthanasia.” New sources show that these articles, which were the subject of a lawsuit, were published in a newspaper called Freiheit run by the German branch of Scientology, of which Brendel was editor-in-chief. The articles were part of Scientology’s antipsychiatry campaign. They mixed historical facts about racial hygiene and “euthanasia” in Nazi Germany with ludicrous and unfounded accusations alleging that violent, racist, and dehumanizing research methods typical in Nazi research were still carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry. The legal conflict between the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) and Scientology about the role of brain researchers in the Nazi era is analyzed here through combining perspectives from the history of neuroscience and socio-legal history. In contrast to trials of Nazi war crimes against “euthanasia” perpetrators, the civil law case of the MPG against Scientology from 1972 until 1975 instead concerned the instrumentalization of the Nazi past of psychiatry and brain research for ideological and commercial motives. The Scientology case caused social and legal ripples, and its after effects extended to 1986, when the MPG considered taking legal steps against Aly’s publication.