Worthy of a Voice: An Exhibit on the Persecution of People with Disabilities

Robert Wagemann was born in 1937 in Mannheim, Germany. As a result of a hip injury sustained at birth, Robert was permanently disabled. During what seemed like a routine check-up with his doctor, Robert’s mother Lottie overheard the doctor’s plans to “put him to sleep” because of his disability. Fortunately, Lottie and Robert were able to escape to his grandfather’s house as a refugee from the Nazi forces, where they waited out the war, and Robert was subsequently able to move to the United States. Sadly, Robert’s story of survival in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is more an exception than a rule, as over 200,000 people with disabilities both physical and mental (along with those perceived as such, and those deemed “morally impure”) were brutally murdered between 1933 and 1945. The T-4 Program, as it was known, sought to rid Europe of those deemed “genetically impure” in order to promote the Aryan ideal. Many of the tactics used by the Nazis on those with disabilities were later used towards populations of Jews, Roma, and other ethnic, religious and social groups.

With this exhibit, we at the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education (CHHE) sought to give voice to those whose voices had been lost to history. We also seek to highlight some of the narratives of persecution about which general public visitors may not be aware, while also emphasizing early examples of resistance against these despicable practices. It has been a long, but fascinating process of researching these stories and compiling them into a format that is accessible to modern audiences and faithful to the arc of the history. At the end of each section, there are discussion questions relating to the themes and making connections to topical issues of the day. We are so excited to share this exhibit with you and even more excited to continue to share these stories of loss, heroism, persecution, and resistance. Please Visit CHHE’s website to explore this new online exhibit.

Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellow Ariel Naveh has focused on this exhibit as the principal work of his fellowship at Cincinnati’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education.

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