I really thought an episode of American Horror Story named “I am Anne Frank, Part I” would be more offensive than what I saw. As you may know, AHS is not a restrained show, and they like to push the boundaries of decency in every possible direction. But when dealing with Nazis and the Holocaust, the show was mercifully restrained.
This part of the plot (ignoring what’s going on with Kit and Grace, and Dr. Thredston’s aversion/conversion therapy with Lana) focused on a patient who identifies herself as Anne Frank, the young diarist who hid from the Nazis in the attic of her father’s office building during World War II. She tells Sister Jude that she was too sick to identify herself when the Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated, and by the time she was able to, her diary had been published and her death had become a symbol. She moved to America with her GI husband, and was sent to Briarcliff after a bar fight started by an anti-Semitic comment. She identifies Dr. Arden as a Nazi War Criminal (it sounded like she was saying Dr. Hans Gruber, but that seems unlikely) similar to Joseph Menegele. (Has it ever been established why Briarcliff has a medical doctor on staff, but not a psychiatrist?) Sister Jude believes her story (and we know Arden’s a terrible person), but right now, we don’t know definitely if he’s a Nazi. He certainly acts like we think a Nazi should, especially one on TV.
Psychology and the Nazis have a long and tragic history (like most things with the Nazis involved). Using World War II as cover, the Nazi party killed approximately 200,000 people deemed mentally ill, incurable sick or otherwise “unworthy of life.” Another 360,000 were sterilized. These patients were given lethal injections, shot and starved, then cremated en masse in Germany, Poland and Austria from 1939 until 1945. This process was started with children under a law called T4, and then expanded to adults in state hospitals, which were starved of funds to create the inhuman conditions that were then used to justify their executions. The murders were based in the popular theory of racial hygiene, the official Nazi stance that society had to be cleansed of unworthy elements. This theory, and the practices used in this purge, would help inform the way the Concentration Camps were run (both the Camps and the Clinics used for these murders operated similarly).
This horrible movement, though, was the only time that Hitler was openly challenged during his rule. Due to the number of people involved with the work, it was well documented at the time. Family members of patients in the institutes protested, and then did everything they could to get their family member back home. Doctors risked their own lives to change diagnoses to remove people from the T4 designation. Most importantly, leaders of the Catholic Church publically (and the Protestant Church privately) called for the murders to stop. Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Bishop of Münster, preached a sermon about the evils of the program that was preached, printed and distributed throughout the country. This open protesting would lead the Nazi party to make the killings secret, as they would with the Concentration Camps, and to do their best to avoid angering the Church further. They would also learn to use the cover of war to get away with their mass killings. For a complete history of these practices, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_T4.
The show is using the better known history of Joseph Mengele’s medical experiments in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp their basis for Dr. Arden, rather than any one who was a part of Action T4. Mengele was a medical doctor who used people from the Concentration Camps to do horrible experiments with the justification of continuing his work on heredity. He focused much of his “work” on twins and pregnant mothers. Survivors talk about his being superficially nice to his subjects, then subjecting them to situations like surgery without anesthesia, vivisection and other torture. He would also kill them and then immediately do an autopsy on the body. He was a sadistic man more bent on torture than medical experimentation, and there are theories that he was a serial killer who found the perfect place to kill his victims. It is notable that no medical notes were ever found. (For more information about his “work” with twins, read: http://history1900s.about.com/od/auschwitz/a/mengeletwins.htm). However, he would evade capture after the war, and live in Argentina until his death in 1979, which may contribute to his lack of notes. (His post war life contributed to the Nazis in Argentina stereotype also seen in movies about Nazis after WWII, like Boys from Brazil. There is a town in Argentina that has a high rate of twin births that have led people to speculate that Mengele continued his research there, despite evidence that the rate is natural. Read the whole story here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/11/091125-nazi-twins-brazil-mengele.html)
Once again, American Horror Story is using the horror tropes that exist already (evil Nazi Doctor) to depict the horrors in Briarcliff, rather than the way things actually happened. There are no records of Nazi doctors working in mental hospitals in the United States in the 1960s (though many Nazi scientists were brought to the US to work with the military on weapons), but the idea of one experimenting on patients in those hospitals is a very scary idea. Like all of the ideas on the show, it works on the visceral level, if not the historic, realistic level. This is an interesting way for the show to go, and I’m looking forward to “I Am Anne Frank, Part II.”