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Theology of Disability: Germany, 1900-1945
Speaker: Dagmar Herzog, CUNY

Moderator: Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, UC Berkeley

A slim book published in 1920, entitled “Permission to Annihilate Life Unworthy of Life,” is often invoked when scholars try to explain the prehistory of the Nazi “euthanasia” murder program which is estimated to have claimed nearly 300,000 victims. Far less well studied are the various counter-positions proposed by Christian authors – theologians, pastors, charity institution directors – who, during the years of the Weimar Republic, strove to argue that the killing of those demeaningly labeled as “life unworthy of life” should be considered morally unacceptable. The Christians, it turns out, had difficulties finding convincing words. This lecture concerns a moral-political paradigm shift. In the first years of the twentieth century, the labor of care for the most vulnerable members of society had still been avidly promoted as truly God’s work. Yet already between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s, the confidence in that life-sustaining perspective would be seriously eroded. Revisiting the corpus of response texts and seeing there the extraordinary ambivalences charity-spokesmen evinced, the phantasmatic connections they elaborated between Jewishness and disability, the specific compromise formations they evolved, and their elaborate reworkings of theological concepts to take economic and sexual-political concerns into account, in turn gives us original perspectives on important dynamics during the Nazi Third Reich and its immediate aftermath.

If you require an accommodation for effective communication (ASL interpreting/CART captioning, alternative media formats, etc.) or information about campus mobility access features in order to fully participate in this event, please contact Ray Savord at or (510) 642-4555 with as much advance notice as possible and at least 7-10 days in advance of the event.

Feb 9, 2023 05:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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