Early in the 20th century New Jersey was one of the first states to segregate mentally ill patients in state-run institutions. Administrators and scientists at the Vineland Training School and Skillman Village for Epileptics did research which validated the theory that “feeblemindedness” was inherited, untreatable and associated with anti-social behavior. A statute passed in 1911 that permitted involuntary sterilizations of people with chronic mental disorders and epilepsy was overturned two years later by the state’s Supreme Court. Nevertheless, New Jersey eugenicists continued to promote similar legislation in the misguided belief that they were benefiting society. The American example was used to justify racist policies initiated in Nazi Germany where what began with coerced sterilizations of the “unfit” evolved to “mercy killing” and then to genocide. Although forced sterilizations were not performed in New Jersey, in other states more than 65,000 Americans were sterilized against their will. Perhaps this “Tale of Two Villages” will provide an object lesson about how well-meaning but flawed science could become politicized, perverted and lead to shameful outcomes.
“I read the entire book in one sitting – that’s how transfixed I was by this amazing and fascinating story.”
-Sherwin Nuland, MD. Professor of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine. Author, historian and bioethicist.
“I read this book with astonishment, outrage and incredulity. It displays a fine balance between objective reporting and moral indignation. We all need to be educated about history – warts and all!”
-Andre Ungar, emeritus rabbi. Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley.