UTS Library

New book published by UTS ePRESS: The First Into the Dark

The First Into the Dark: The Nazi Persecution of the Disabled  

From the extraordinary eyewitness account of eight-year-old Elvira Hempel,  The First into the Dark  reveals a history of the victims, witnesses, opponents to and perpetrators of the  Krankenmorde (the murder of the sick). It presents an accessible analysis of that era within the rise of ‘scientific’ eugenic discourse and traces the implications for contemporary society — moral values and ethical challenges in end of life decisions, reproduction and contemporary genetics, disability and human rights, and in remembrance of and atonement for the past. 


  • Dr Michael Robertson is a consultant psychiatrist, Clinical Associate Professor of Mental Health Ethics at the Sydney Health Ethics centre at the University of Sydney, and a visiting professorial fellow at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
  • Dr Astrid Ley is a historian and historian of medicine. She is deputy director at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial near Berlin.
  • Dr Edwina Light is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sydney Health Ethics centre at the University of Sydney, and a visiting fellow at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

To download a free copy of the book visit: utsepress.lib.uts.edu.au

More about the book: 

During the 12 years of the Nazi regime, a secret program of ‘euthanasia’ was employed against the sick and disabled. More than 300,000 Europeans with disabilities were covertly murdered and their families issued with falsified death certificates. A further 400,000 were deemed by special courts to have ‘hereditary diseases’ and were sterilised against their will. This aggregate of crimes, now known as  Krankenmorde , was organised and performed by doctors, nurses, bureaucrats and designated military groups. Many would go on to commit larger scale crimes against humanity in the Holocaust. 

In 2013 Michael Robertson and Edwina Light travelled to Germany and Austria for a research project. At a memorial exhibition in Brandenburg-an-Havel Germany, the authors learned of a child euthanasia survivor – Elvira Hempel. Elvira had managed to escape the gas chamber in 1940 and her story and recorded testimony was an emotionally confronting account of the murder of disabled children during this period. The authors later met with Elvira’s surviving family, psychiatrists, physicians, historians, curators, educators, ethicists and advocates across Germany, Austria and Western Poland. Together with the help of Dr Astrid Ley, the authors began to piece together the historical accounts that make up "The First Into the Dark". 

UTS ePRESS is the publishing arm of UTS, publishing peer reviewed, open access journals and books in a range of digital and print-on-demand formats.