ASL University ►

  Holocaust / Deaf / Eugenics:


Grace Sternin

December 3, 2010

Deaf and the Holocaust



During World War II a horrendous genocide occurred, annihilating many groups deemed "undesirable" human beings: Jews, Gypsies, and the disabled being the top three focuses of eradication. One group who was stigmatized as "disabled" and are still denied recognition for the turmoil they endured during the holocaust are Deaf people. Before Adolph Hitler had taken control, Deaf people were starting to be recognized as productive members of society who held jobs and attended school and were striving to obtain equality with the rest of the non-Deaf world. The use of positive eugenics was the beginning to an active oppression against the Deaf which later evolved into the application of negative eugenics, and eventually, euthanasia. In 1933, the Fuhrer turned his vision of race hygiene into a codified reality by creating the Law for Prevention of Offspring With Hereditary Diseases. The views of the Deaf were radically distorted and the surrounding community now saw them as useless "burdens" to society. This law encouraged many people (Deaf, non-Deaf, Nazi, and other) to take what little control/power they could contribute and manipulate it into a great participation of an active genocide against Deaf people. Even the most insignificant of contributions towards the injustices performed against the Deaf are what has made these oppressors inhuman. However, people such as the famous Deaf advocate Horst Biesold, with very little outside assistance, have finally given voice to these humiliated and hurt people so that others may now become aware and so the affected Deaf may subsequently be able to confront the horrible tragedies they have faced and move past it. This research is intended to do the same.


History Unfolds


On January 30th, 1933, Adolph Hitler assumed power over Germany. Over the next twelve years the Nazi regime's overwhelming power and anti-Semitic visions reaped havoc worldwide and destroyed the lives of many innocent people. Hitler's fantasy of applying racial hygiene universally meant the rise of German supremacy and the Aryan race. Any being deemed unworthy, inferior, or unfit were forbidden to procreate, inhabit the area, and in many circumstances, live. The targeted groups were Jews, Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), Slavic peoples, Jehovah's Witnesses, Gays and Bisexuals, Communists, prostitutes, criminals, the poor, the physically and mentally disabled, and the list goes on, as well as containing subcategories to the aforementioned. Even within the group labeled "disabled" the subcategory of people seems endless and equally ridiculous including: alcoholics, the feeble-minded, schizophrenics, people with hereditary epilepsy, people with cognitive or learning disabilities, the hereditary blind, and the hereditary Deaf (Ryan & Schuchman, 2002). Nearly nobody was safe. As the genocide slowly became more apparent to the world it was finally brought to an end in 1945; however, the scars (both mental and physical) will live on forever.


The Holocaust is a regretted time in history that many have tried to forget and some have even gone as far to deny altogether. The contempt for this portion of history stems from an ongoing embarrassment of the people who experienced it. Specifically, Deaf people's suffering continues because of their need for extreme secrecy in order to survive and the ongoing void of recognition for having endured such injustices. Today's German government still does not recognize the Deaf community as having been affected by the Holocaust, although oddly its Deaf establishments and institutions have denied both possession of and/or the accessibility to any information they retain between the years of 1933 and 1945 (Biesold, 1999). Several institutions have even gone through the lengths of destroying records and documents linked to that time in history.


Horst Biesold (1999) prefaces his book Crying Hands acknowledging Deaf people's extreme suppression of the past and the actions he took in order to gain their trust and respect so that he could help them to tell their story. He assured them that he would not include any names of the Deaf involved, nor would he include names of the institutions and/or locations connected to the persons in question. Instead he kept to his word by substituting NN for proper names, and XX for any locations discussed. With all of the precautions Biesold assured, more Deaf people felt comfortable to have their pained lives on display. They were so hesitant because not only was the embarrassment of the invasiveness of the Nazi regime enough to keep them quiet, but the Nazis themselves demanded that those involved not tell a single soul, including their families. Their fear was a direct result of that personal threat.


From Positive to Negative Eugenics

During World War I, there was an influx of German pride and from this stemmed a growth of believers in, and followers of "positive" eugenics, or the increase of procreation from the more desirable groups of human beings (Aryans). With the arrival of Adolph Hitler came some changes, including what form of eugenics was being promoted as well as its new title: "race hygiene" (Biesold, 1999). Instead of supporting creation of a supreme race, people had taken to eradicating the undesirable, which is termed "negative" eugenics. The start to this was by the establishment of the Law for Prevention of Offspring With Hereditary Diseases issued by Hitler himself on July 14, 1933 (Biesold, 1999). This law was established in order to ensure the cessation of the Deaf gene from being passed on to a poor unsuspecting baby. The law itself states that "a person who is hereditarily diseased may be sterilized by a surgical operation, when the experience of medical science indicates that a strong likelihood that the offspring will suffer from severe hereditary physical or mental defects" (Biesold, 1999, p. 35). Reiterating itself to ensure the point is made, it also proclaimed that "Any person suffering from a hereditary disease can be sterilized if medical knowledge indicates that his offspring will suffer from severe hereditary physical or mental damage" (Ryan & Schuchman, 2002, p. 21). Deaf people were indeed stigmatized as a disabled people who would be passing on such a crippling and undesirable trait on to their children and therefore must be stopped. Nazis used the idea of Eugenics to justify their ruthless actions. Non-Deaf people (Nazis) would oftentimes tell the Deaf person who was to be sterilized that they should accept this process as a positive thing because it is "better to have no children than one who is blind or deaf or epileptic" (Biesold, 1999, p. 58). Others point out that "it will be quite a good thing for [the sterilized person] that she has no children. Her life will likely be hard enough as it is" (Biesold, 1999, p. 46). The non-Deaf were astounded that someone would even want to pass on such a horrible handicap to their own children.


The law was upheld by the magistrate courts which were accompanied by the newly created Hereditary Health Courts. Within each of these 220 courts were three members: a judge of the magistrate court, a physician of the public health service, and another physician with expert knowledge about the laws of heredity, all of whom decided the fate of the accused (Ryan & Schuchman, 2002; Lexington Center and School for the Deaf, 2003). Because these members were all loyal to the Nazi regime, one could only conclude the standard decision which was made regarding any Deaf person. Between sixteen and seventeen thousand Deaf Germans were sterilized.

The Nazi's approach to racial hygiene grew successively more brutal with time; starting with sterilization of hereditary Deaf people and ending with brutal murders of random people that they went through great lengths to establish some connection to Deafness (even if the connection was not there). Sterilization was accomplished by a very painful surgery where men and women had their tubes tied or part of their reproductive system removed. However, it was more common for the doctors to completely remove either the testes or ovaries to ensure no chances of a reversal. The average age for sterilization was eighteen years old; however, the youngest known sterilized Deaf person was at the innocent age of nine (Lexington Center and School for the Deaf, 2003).


Although sterilization was seen as one of the less fierce acts of the prevention of Deaf offspring, it is not to be said that it was humane in the least. In fact, in some aspects it was more invasive and painful than death itself. It was very common for the physical and emotional scars, and the physical pain, to be a continuous battle throughout the rest of their lives. When men and women were found to have a hereditary Deafness, they were issued a letter addressed to the person or his/her parents commanding the cooperation of the addressee to attend the closest hospital within the next two weeks for sterilization. If they did not comply, they were hunted down and physically taken from where they had resided. These people were then more liable to be treated badly during their operations because they were viewed as being difficult and deserved to be taught a lesson. Some accounts were so extremely heartless; it was recorded by one patient that he was given the surgery without any pain medication or anesthesia and was forced to watch the operation on himself in a mirror (Ryan & Schuchman, 2002). In fact, it would be extremely rare to have the patient under any type of anesthesia, which was the cause of a lot of suffering.


A loophole existed within the Law for Prevention of Offspring With Hereditary Diseases by the way of Deaf women who happened to be pregnant before they were captured for sterilization. These Deaf women were still able to give birth to potentially Deaf babies, which would defeat the goals of the Third Reich's racial hygiene. On June 26th, 1935 the law was expanded to include the termination of any Deaf woman's pregnancy. Fifty-seven out of six-hundred and sixty-two documented sterilized women were also victims of forced abortions (Biesold, 1999, p. 85). Comparably to the sterilizations, these forced abortions were not given with consent. Pregnant women would be taken to a hospital where they would face sterilization surgery and subsequently be given the abortion. They would awake in excruciating pain and great shock to a scarred and empty belly. Out of the recorded forced abortions the most common month of pregnancy when the abortion was induced was between the fourth and sixth month, however, it did not matter whether the child was freshly conceived or crowning on its day of birth; the child was annihilated regardless. Another form of prevention which was applied on October 18th, 1935 was an additional law named the Marriage Law. This law required that any two people to be married must acquire their genealogical history and prove within the court that they are not at risk of having a hereditary Deaf baby, otherwise the marriage would not be permitted (Lexington Center and School for the Deaf, 2003).


As more people started avoiding the operations, the government turned to simply transporting them to the hospital in secrecy where they were to await sterilization without any knowledge of the upcoming surgery, let alone having given consent for the operation. The consistency of this secret slaughtering started causing distress among the Deaf and some people contemplated suicide rather than be dehumanized in such a terrible manner. One man had written a letter to the man who had informed on him (his former principal, Director Edwin Singer) twenty-five years prior, exclaiming that he had been subjected to a cruel form of abuse. He asks, "Why did you keep silent and not tell me that sterilization meant killing my body and that it is a wrong and a crime that I cannot have any children? Sterilization makes a body worthless. I no longer feel like a real person. It was not right and it was a tragedy" (Biesold, 1999, p. 57). Sadly he was one of the few that ever found the strength to stand up to his oppressor, and Mr. Singer still had the audacity to blame it on a product of the times and the then established government.


Teacher Involvement and Deaf Education

Deaf education before this time was at its peak. In 1926 there were seventy-three schools for the Deaf, seven-hundred and seven teachers of the Deaf, and six-thousand one-hundred and forty-nine documented Deaf students (pg. 108, Ryan & Schuchman, 2002). Oralism, the idea that the Deaf should learn to speak in order to appear normal within the non-Deaf world, was progressively rising during this time. The non-Deaf world was finally determined to help the Deaf become educated, and therefore, functioning members of their society. Biesold (1999) mentions that in 1932 a movie titled Misjudged People, written by Willhelm Ballier and produced by Alfred Kell, was released by the German Deaf community. It was a silent film with captions so that everybody could enjoy it and displayed both oralism and sign language. It portrayed the Deaf in a very positive light and showed successes of Deaf people and the advancements they were making in society. It also talked about injustices against the Deaf and the discrimination they faced with employment opportunities (or lack thereof). When Hitler caught wind of this he banned the movie and any other paraphernalia which alluded to Deaf people being normal. Deaf people were burdensome and tainted the beautiful Aryan race Hitler was trying to create. Because any money spent on the Deaf was a waste, Hitler decided to close most of the aforementioned Deaf schools, as well as many other Deaf programs. The teachers of the Deaf "had been reduced to less than 10 percent of the overall teaching force" (Buchanan, 2002) and in such small numbers there was little they could do to fight the inevitable.


The Training Institute for Teachers of the Deaf (Berlin-Neukolln), The Provincial Institutions for the Deaf in Soest, Heidelberg and Konigsberg, The Homberg Institution, Schleswig Institution for the Deaf, and private institutions such as The Pauline Home (Winnenden), were a few of the remaining Deaf schools in Germany. It seems that the surviving existence of these schools were the only positive aspect within the Deaf community at this time. Unfortunately, reality proves that these exact schools were what funneled the Deaf towards their suffering. In fact, the teachers and administrators within these institutions were greatly responsible for informing on their Deaf students. In Biesold's (1999) study he records that out of the Deaf who reported back, thirty-four percent of Deaf victims who faced sterilization were informed on by either their teacher or the institution in which they resided. The Health authorities were accountable for another forty-six percent, and the Nazi party for another thirty percent. He also points out that a large majority of people who were sterilized had the surgeries in a city which also contained a Deaf school. At this point, Deaf people and Deaf established groups were even turning in their fellow Deaf.


Either for fear of being punished for lacking national support, or for the pure enjoyment of the Nazis principles, teachers began turning in student's names (as well as any genealogical information) to the government whom they believed to have a hereditary Deafness. Some teachers such as Oskar Ronigk from the Homberg Institution did not stop at informing on his current students but turned in his previous students as well (Biesold, 1999). The influence of oralist views and the Nazi regime severely affected many teachers of the Deaf. They felt that they were responsible for implementing the work of the Fuhrer and to assist in the racial cleansing. Students who showed signs of learning disabilities, including those who had difficulties learning to speak were deemed perfect candidates for sterilization (Biesold, 1999).


Eventually, Deaf people were getting sterilized with no evidence that their Deafness was hereditary. In fact, most beliefs about what hereditary Deafness entailed were not consistent nor universal. Studies ranged significantly, stating that "anywhere from fifteen percent to two-thirds of all Deafness is hereditary" (Biesold, 1999, p. 29). In one account, a woman by the name of Gertrude Jacob was interviewed by Biesold (1999), who explained the great lengths that people were going to in order to create a pure race. She describes how when she was just under 3 years old she had an accident which resulted in her Deafness. She had recently began receiving letters stating that she must report to a hospital for sterilization which seemed ludicrous because of the fact that she was obviously not hereditarily Deaf. Her father sent in a letter confirming that fact yet the health officials persisted. She was forced to create a family tree to prove her objections, and even with the help of others she was stuck fighting an uphill battle. The authorities were still insistent that she be sterilized, and just when she had lost hope she came across some information stating that the law is not applicable to people with fiancé's with foreign citizenship. She quickly wrote to a friend who resided in a different country asking that he marry her. He did (Biesold, 1999). This was the only way she evaded persecution because apparently the facts were not enough to deter the racial cleansing.


On top of the lack of evidence of a hereditary connection, people were continuously sterilized without any consent. Biesold (1999) records that in one case a mother of a girl who is being summoned for sterilization writes a letter saying "I cannot sign this [consent form]" (p. 46) and is completely ignored as they gave the girl the surgery regardless. In most cases the parents were informed of their child's sterilization after the fact, and it was even common for the child to be unaware until then as well.


Consequence and Euthanization

Eventually Hitler was no longer satisfied with applied eugenics and instead in 1939 opted for the complete extermination of the "unfit" and the "undesirable." He termed it "mercy death" so that it gave the perception that he was doing something thoughtful for the suffering people. He believed that they were 'life unworthy of life" as if these people were comparable to that of a soulless murderer or a comatose patient (Lexington Center and School for the Deaf, 2003). With the influx of the war he found the opportunity to begin a covert operation named T-4 after the coinciding coordinates of the death center Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin. For fear of bringing attention to the increasing murders, Hitler tried his best to limit the knowledge of the T-4 program. He required that teachers register their Deaf students with the health courts for the operation and eventually those who were registered were carted off in discreet vans to be killed. The victims would gather in a room for a "medical checkup" but instead were locked into a room filled with toxic gases. The bodies were then rummaged through for any valuables and promptly disposed of into the crematoriums where the evidence was destroyed (Lexington Center and School for the Deaf, 2003).


If they weren't outright murdered, people were often scooped up and placed into the ghettos where they were forced to do manual labor for the Nazis. They worked under horrendous conditions such as in freezing temperatures or around the dead and decaying bodies of their friends and family. They were allowed to wear only thin layers of clothing and eat only tiny rations of putrid food. Many people died as a result by freezing or starving. A BBC news web article (2005) states that an estimated two-thousand children were killed by starvation or lethal injection and oftentimes their parents had no forewarning.


There was rarely any Nazi sympathy, especially if the detained showed any form of weakness. If the person was simply Deaf they would receive a "mercy death" where they would be injected with lethal doses of morphine or other drugs, but if they were also Jewish they were denied a peaceful death because they were "unworthy of the 'kindness'" (Lexington Center and School for the Deaf, 2003). On the R.I.T. National Technical Institute for the Deaf website is a videoed interview with a Deaf-blind survivor named Doris Fedrid. On this video she tells her life experience during Hitler's reign. One blaring aspect of her life during this time was the supreme importance that she hide her Deafness from anybody who may kill her because of it. She described how during role call she would stand next to a person who knew she was Deaf and that person would tug on her shirt when her name was called so that Doris could step forward without question or hesitation. If the Nazis were to find out that she was Deaf she would be discarded with the rest of the undesired. Another survivor named Joseph Schertz mentions in an article (Soudakoff, 1994) how he remembers mothers sacrificing their babies while they escaped underground for the fear of being heard by the Nazis and getting caught and killed. The Nazi's had become so ruthless that pleasure killing was a common activity.


However, it was the church who started to become suspicious because previously institutionalized Deaf elders were repeatedly going missing and the families were receiving death certificates claiming they had passed. A cardinal, August Clement von Galen, preached about the injustices of the Nazi regime in a Roman Catholic church and the attention was enough to stop the T-4 operation. In 1945 the Nazi regime was finally no more, but unfortunately their legacy is one that will torture forever.


As much as the Deaf holocaust victims try to forget the horrors they had endured, it is finally coming to the time where it is important to remember. Those who evaded death were not fortunate enough to retain the ability to create life and it was due to such a monumental oppression against a people. These people must be recognized for the battles they have fought and the stigmas they are still fighting to overcome.



Biesold, H. (1999). Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany. (William Sayers, Trans.). (Henry Friedland, Intro.). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Buchanan, R. M. (2002). Illusions of Equality: Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850-1950. ‘Conspiracy of silence:' Contesting exclusion and oral hegemony. (Chapter 6). Washington, DC: GU Press.

Lexington Center and School for the Deaf & Jewish Heritage Project. (2003). Deaf People in the Holocaust: The Extraordinary Story.

Mason, C. (2005). The Deaf Holocaust: Deaf People and Nazi Germany. Retrieved from  

Ryan, D. F. & Schuchman, J. S. (Eds.). (2002). Deaf People in Hitler's Europe. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Soudakoff, S. A. (1994). Surviving the Holocaust. Escaped at last through an underground tunnel: Joseph Schertz. JDCC. (Jackie Schertz, Interviewee). Retrieved from iclesCited/JDCC/JoeSchertzJDCC.htm.

Ting, S. & Clarke, C. Deaf People & World War II. Worry: A Jewish Deaf-Blind Survivor Shares Her Story. RIT/National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Video retrieved from



In a message dated 6/10/2014 3:20:51 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,

I am one of a group of staff from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, who are working with our wonderful teacher from Gaullaudet University to learn basic ASL in order to better serve our Deaf visitors.  It has been a challenging, insightful and inspiring experience for us all. 

From our research, however, it appears that there is no commonly used sign for the Holocaust, and it is a long word to finger spell if you must, as we must, use it often. 

Is there a standard sign for this specific historical event and if not, what sign would you suggest using?  How does a new sign develop when one is needed?  Could our class participate in or encourage the process of developing a standard sign for the Holocaust?

Thank you for your help!

Ann Millin

Sent from my iPhone=

I agree that as of this time there is not a widespread sign for "Holocaust."
In the past the letters HC were used in the Deaf Community to mean "handicapped" but that term has long since been declared "politically incorrect" thus freeing them up to be used to mean Holocaust. Thus you may wish to consider using an abbreviation consisting of the letters HC upon the second reference to Holocaust in any particular conversation or presentation. That is my top suggestion. You may however also wish to add a sentence to your presentation specifically stating that "today we are using these letters to mean Holocaust -- not handicapped.")

The next best approach would be to do a stylistic version of the sign TERRIBLE that starts with the arms crossed in front of you near the wrists, palms forward, hands in "8"-handshapes, uncross, move up and out to the sides while changing into loose "5"-hands. That version of "TERRIBLE" has also (in context) been used to mean other things such as "violence" or "atrocity." If using this approach, an interpreter would be well advised to also do a slight mouthing of the word Holocaust while signing TERRIBLE. This is known as a mouth morpheme and is not to be confused with "mouthing English."

Another approach would be to base a sign on the root words of Holocaust which I believe mean something along the lines of "whole" and "burn." An argument could be made for the appropriateness of signing ALL (using the sign version of ALL that also means "whole" or "entire" -- not the lexicalized fingerspelling version that spells A-L-L and is sometimes represented as #ALL in ASL texts) and BURN-up (using a brief upward version of the "flames" sign).

Another approach would be to sign JEW-KILL using a quick smooth movement.  [I'm sure there will be readers of this correspondence who think that is a ghastly horrible sign.  To which I would say, "Indeed! It was a ghastly horrible occurrence!"]

Finally, I would suggest that your staff is uniquely positioned to be a leading source of research on this sign (secondary of course to Deaf members of families who had personal experience with the Holocaust and/or perhaps if there are any interpreters or Deaf tour guides in Germany specializing in Holocaust tours). Thus I encourage you or someone on your staff to regularly ask Deaf visitors how they would sign Holocaust. Show them come of your versions and see what they think. If a particular approach seems well accepted do let me know.

Dr. Bill
William G. Vicars, EdD



Deaf People In The Holocaust:

Amanda Owens
June 4, 2009

Deaf People In The Holocaust

                The deaf and disabled were the first on Hitler's list.  About 13,000 deaf people were sterilized or killed in the 1930's.  The deaf people were in the executioner's hand because communication was a problem.  They were also viewed as inferior, "useless eater's".  In 1939, Hitler made a decision to kill the "useless eaters" in Germany.  The deaf and disabled were to be killed (Berke, 2007).
                Children and Babies born with physical defects were taken from their parents to a special part of the hospital.  There they were starved and given lethal injections to finish the last few days or seconds of their lives.  The parents were told that their children had died of natural causes.  Almost 2,000 deaf children were killed this way.
                 In 1939, Hitler decided to create the T4 program.  In doing this he sent questionnaires to all the institutional care homes to be filled out on those that where deaf and disabled.  From the home they were taken to a kill center.  Some say it looked like a big factory with ashes flowing out the chimney of those who were just executed.  It later became known as the killing factory. In 1934, they forced sterilization on individuals who were deaf.  In 1937, 95 percent of deaf children where a part of Hitler's Youth for the Deaf.  The young members wore a "G" on their shoulder.  The "G" stood for "gehoerlosen" deaf.  (Which means hearing lose) (Berke, 2007)
                While doing my research I came across a story of a survivor.  In fact this survivor became an assistant professor of English at Gallaudet University.  Eugene Bergman was a 7 year old boy who could hear until one day when he was walking down the street and saw the German Army walking a group of Jews through the streets.  Out of nowhere a solider hit Bergman in the head with a rifle.  Bergman lost his memory of his childhood up to that point.  He also woke up in the hospital to another surprise.  He was looking around and saw a doctor and nurse moving their mouths but, he couldn't hear them. 
                Bergman was from Poznan, Poland, but not long after he was released from the hospital his family moved to Lodz to stay with family.  The next year, 1940, Bergman and his family moved to Warsaw.  Bergman stated, "I remember that we traveled in a horse-drawn cart to get there." (Walter, 1987)
                For five months his family lived in the non-Jewish part of the city.  Communicating was not easy for Bergman, he used lip-reading along with paper and pencil to talk with people. 
                "Most of the time I lived in a fog, I couldn't hear and didn't know what was going on around me. I lived a very sheltered life, but my father always made sure we had food so we didn't go hungry," says Bergman. 
His family was forced to move to Warsaw's Ghetto.  This was an area set aside for Jews by the Germans.  They lived in a two room apartment with his mother and two brothers.  His father had obtained false Aryan identification papers and lived outside the ghetto.  Once a week his father would sneak into the ghetto and give his family a sack of food so they wouldn't go hungry.  (Walter, 1987)
                Bergman's safe life would change on July 22, 1942 when the Germans decided to extradite the rest of the Jews in Warsaw to a Treblinka Extermination Camp.  Between July 22 and October 3, three- hundred and ten thousand Jews were killed.  Bergman and his family hid in a secret cellar in their apartment building.  They could hear people being drug out of the building.  These people were taken away and sent to death camps.  Not everyone was carried out, if you were crippled, sick or had a disease you were shot and killed on site. 
                At this point the Germans were not letting anyone in the Ghetto, so Bergman and his family were starving.  His father couldn't sneak food into them.  In the morning time they would hide from the German soldiers coming into apartments to take people to the death chamber or the kill factory.  But in the afternoon they could go out and walk the streets.
                People living in the ghetto had no idea what was happening to their friends and family at this point.  All they knew was that they were being drug out of their homes and taken somewhere else.  "The German's followed their usual policy; they forced the people to write post cards to their families saying that they were being treated well and that they had found work, before they were gassed.  "(Walter, 1987)
                After days of being hungry his father was able to smuggle in a loaf of bread.  But he had attached a message to the bread that they needed to get out of the ghetto.  David, one of Bergman's brothers had bribed a guard in order to get his family out of the ghetto.  After leaving the ghetto they walked to the apartment that his father was staying.  He recalls, "I remember we opened the door and father was sitting inside.  In five days his hair had turned completely white.  Dad was only 37 and I was 10."(Walter, 1987)
                They stayed with his father for several days, but people in the building became suspicious of the situation.  His father, Pesakh, took Sarah, Eugene and David to another ghetto in Czestochowa.  But within a few weeks the Jews were being drug out of their homes in this ghetto.  His brother David left and took a train to Warsaw to get his father.  He returned back to the ghetto with his father to wait for the others out side the wall.  Bergman and his mother climbed over the wall.  The family was united again, but not for long.
                The Germans had moved all the Jews out of this city, so the family moved to Kielce.  One day, Bergman went to a river to go swimming when he had severe leg cramps and almost drowned.  He was saved by a Polish boatman.  The boatman asked if Bergman was Jewish.  Bergman just pointed to his ear and said the Polish word for deaf.  The boatman just let him go, being deaf may have kept him alive.
                When he was walking home he noticed the dirt was flying up by his feet and around him.  It was the Polish insurgent unit shooting at him.  They stopped him and asked him for his papers.  When they found out he was deaf they let him stay with them, but he could not go home. 
                For two months he was a work horse for the Polish.  On October 1 the Polish surrendered, Bergman now became a prisoner of war.  He was taken to Lamsdorf POW camp in Silesia.  While at this camp he was always hungry, they only got one eight of a loaf of black bread a day.  He lived here for about six months.  Then one day they were set free.  (Walter, 1987)
                Bergman now a free man went back to the apartment that his family was living in but, his family was not there.  He heard through the newspaper that the Jewish had formed a committee.  He went to this committee to find his parents; they gave him an address to locate his mother.  His father had been shot in the neck and killed by a German solider.
                They lived in this displaced camp for about two years, and then an uncle helped them come to America.  When they came to America Bergman learned sign language.  He also became an assistant professor of English at Gallaudet University
                Even though Bergman had been through so much I found his history to be astounding.  He has mastered five languages, he was the first deaf person to earn a PhD in English, co-author of a play "Tales from a Clubroom," and author of the book Art for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; plus, many other accomplishments.  (Walter, 1987)
                According to Jochen Muhs, Vice President of The Deaf Federation of Berlin, deaf people in Germany after World War II were ashamed of this era.  A couple of reasons were because of the sterilization and many had joined the Nazi party.  This explains why very little has ever been written about deaf people in the part of history. 
                It is my personal opinion that this topic should not be overlooked or ignored as a part of the history of what took place during World War II to the deaf and handicapped.


Berke, J.  (2007, December 2).  Deafness.  Retrieved January 5, 2009, from

Gilbert, L.-J.  (1998).  Deaf people in Hitler's EuropeGallaudet Today , Vol 29, No 1.

Walter, V.  (1987).  Inside the Madness A Deaf survivor Remembers the Holocaust.  Gallaudet Today , Vol 18 No 2.


*  Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy
DONATE  (Thanks!)

Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)  

*  Also check out Dr. Bill's channel:

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™ 
ASL resources by  ©  Dr. William Vicars