Friday, January 14, 2011

Martin Bader and Charlie Aronson: different fates same disease

I had long suspected that there existed people who had exactly the same course of disease that Charles Aronson had, but who suffered an entirely polar opposite fate.

(Charlie was Martin Henry Dawson's Aktion 4F "posterboy", as it were.)

These would have been many people like Charlie in Germany , for example .

These would be people who had had a severe case of encephalitis lethargica (a form of sleeping disease) at the end of World War One but who had survived, albeit with obvious permanent stigmata of the disease's ravages.

This mysterious disease , a huge killer and crippler for the 10 years between 1917-1927, is only unknown to most of us because the Spanish Flu killed about 100 times as many victims in same time period.

Most of us first learned of its existence when Dr Oliver Sacks produced some incredible (but sadly short term) success with some of its long time catatonic victims, with a new drug called L-Dopa.

 You may have seen all of this in the book and film called "Awakenings".

Germany covered up then, and still covers up today, the real names of the the 250,000 "disabled/unfit" people it killed in the Aktion T4 program between 1939-1945.

Lately the new excuse is "privacy laws concerns for the victims".

I know that game: Canada can do this squalid "privacy law" game far better than even the Germans could ever hope to - only a small percentage of Germans are self-suited to become ask-no-questions bureaucrats, aka lifers.

But in Canada, it seems to be bred in all of our bones. But I digress.

A German historian, Dr Petra Fuchs, has wormed herself deep into a cache of medical records of 60,000 or so of the T4 victims found in the HQ of the old East German secret police.

Strict privacy laws keep the names concealed - so German youth can not put a human face on these 250,000 dead and start asking grandpa and grandma why did they let it happen.

 But by tracking down clues, Dr Fuchs has located some families who can tell the story of their dead relatives from the family end of the affair.

A elderly son named Helmut Bader got to put a face on one victim - his father,  Martin Bader.

Martin  had had the sleeping disease real bad - but not bad enough to kill him or stop him from running a business and earning a living afterwards.

But Hitler had a particular fear of this disease - based I suspect on the waxy catatonic features of its most severely affected survivors.

So Martin was swept up and killed and his family lied to.

Charlie also had the sleeping sickness bad, along with a half dozen other different Group A strep diseases ( this rare variant on sleeping disease is today felt to be a form of auto immune reaction to a highly particular variety of strep throat).

He had survived and he worked.

Prominent doctors here too wanted him dead - either directly with a needle (Dr Foster Kennedy) or indirectly by not-so-benign neglect (Dr Chester Keefer).

Dr Dawson felt differently - so differently  he made Charlie, this 4F of the 4Fs, the very first success story of the penicillin effort - and did so on the very day dedicated , above all else, to exalting the 1A above the 4F.

If you ,or someone you know, has ever been saved by antibiotics -------- raise a glass to Charlie, to Aktion 4F, and to a life, like all life, totally worthy of life.

 And raise a toast to Martin Bader who never got a chance to live out his life, thanks to Aktion T4 .....

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