Working under a totalitarian regime
David Sher’s account of the work of Hans Asperger in the late 1930s and during the Second World War (‘Looking back’, September) is indeed damming. Similar accounts are also contained in Edith Sheffer’s 2018 book Asperger’s Children and Donvan and Zucker’s 2019 In a Different Key. As Sher himself points out there is also evidence present by Steve Silberman’s 2015 'NeuroTribes' that Asperger, earlier in his career, acted to save children. Like us all Hans Asperger was not all good or all bad.
Very few psychologists reading this letter have had the experience of living and working under a totalitarian regime and therefore cannot know how we would react to oppressive working strictures and an alien political philosophy. I came across this passage while reading Vasily Grossman’s great 2019 novel Stalingrad. One character speaks of the predicament of Science in Nazi Czechoslovakia:
It’s impossible to describe…Science is in fetters. People are afraid of their own shadows. They’re afraid of their fellow workers. Professors are afraid of their own students. People’s thoughts, their inner lives, their families and friendships – everything is under fascist control…..a friend of mine begged me not to ask him any questions what so ever…afraid the police might collar him at any moment. ‘Don’t ask me anything at all’ he said… ‘It’s not only my colleagues I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of my own voice. I’m afraid of my own thoughts’.
Let us all hope and pray that we never have to work under the kind of regime endured by Hans Asperger.
Dr Jeremy Swinson
Illustration: Tim Sanders
BPS Members can discuss this article
Already a member? Or Create an account
Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber