06 January 2012

The Nazi Symbiosis: Notes to Sheila Faith Weiss' Excellent Book

Of late, The Neuro Times has been addressing various contentions related to the Neuro-Reality-Check Conference hosted at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

Of particular interest to many may be Steve Fuller's contentions (here) that historians and humanists need to recognize the importance of neuroscience for their own work. This post is not the appropriate place for a reply to Fuller's argument. I do, however, think that Sheila Faith Weiss's recent book crystallizes a number of concerns that are central to critical approaches to neuroscience, especially contemporary claims (for example) about neuroscience and neurology in arguments by humanists, social scientists, and legal scholars. In this sense, neurohistorians, Fuller, as well as those of us who are critics of these approaches, may find passages from Sheila Faith Weiss's volume examining race science, eugenics, and genetics especially illuminating. I offer these excerpts from her work as a means for all of us to further explore the ethical and moral positions and limitations imposed upon all of science.

Sheila Faith Weiss's work is, of course, not directed at neuroscience. Nor is it directed at debates addressed here at The Neuro Times. It would be a disservice to her book to try to force it into these conversations. But various portions of her book may help those of us working on critical neuroscience (or celebrating neuroscience's achievements) to better understand some of the political questions at stake in our debates. These cliff-notes are no substitution for reading her excellent book, which will be reviewed on this blog shortly.

I hope these notes are sufficient to raise a number of questions about the symbiosis and bargains being struck between the human sciences and neuroscience today. I am not - NOT - suggesting any moral equivalence between the 'neuro-turn' and National Socialism. Our context is different. Our times are different. But as the Dictionary of Neurology's slogan goes: history may not repeat, but it might sometimes rhyme. Here, then, is Weiss's thesis which we may all use and consider wisely:-
“…what explains the ethically reprehensible path taken by human heredity and eugenics under National Socialism was the unique manner in which human genetics and politics served as “resources” for each other. This deadly symbiosis radicalized both the science of human heredity as well as Nazi racial policy; it accounts for the heinous practices of all too many German human geneticists. The damage caused by this symbiosis, I might add, is not completely undone; its effects continue to cast a long shadow on humanity’s collective memory of the twentieth century as well as the history of genetics. It reminds readers that the historically contingent nature of the symbiotic relationship between German human geneticists and the Nazi state notwithstanding, it is more important than ever to remain vigilant and avoid taking the first morally compromising steps in science – steps that can lead us in a direction that we surely would not wish to go.” (p. 18)  
Notes below.

Sheila Faith Weiss, The Nazi Symbiosis: Human Genetics and Politics in the Third Reich (University of Chicago, 2010).

Weiss begins with a discussion of Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr Faustus

“The author also intended to question the hubris of modernity (Christopher Marlowe wrote at the dawn of the modern era): the belief that human should and can control everything and they could cross once impenetrable boundaries – both scientific and ethical –with impunity (p.2).”

One cannot understand the relationship between Nazism and Eugenics wholly through the lenses of Eugenics in America.

“Some books like Edwin Black’s War against the Weak, although not limited to medical crimes, is simply wrong-headed and sensationalistic. It assumes that the American eugenics movement is primarily responsible for racial policy, and ultimately the Holocaust, in Germany during the Third Reich – an untenable position, the existence of a strong US-German eugenic connection notwithstanding (p. 4).”

Some have argued that the Rockefeller Foundation had no qualms about funding Nazi science. Not true. (Its definitely not - anyone thinking otherwise needs to spend more time in the RAC.)

“… the RF’s policy was to fund “good science,” irrespective of politics. One can and should debate the appropriateness of adhering to a policy that supports seemingly good research under intolerable conditions, but it is important to understand the RF’s position in order to explain why its funding went on as it did. (p. 5).”

This book is not a reconstruction of Nazi crimes.

“This book has a different aim. First, it intentionally focuses on the “Faustian bargain” made between biomedical professional and officials of the Nazi state itself – be it located in the [Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes], on the international stage, or in the college preparatory biology classroom.  The study seeks to explain why and how this “deal” was negotiated as well as explore its ethical and professional consequences for the biomedical practitioners as well as the political ramifications for the institutionalization of Nazi racial policies (p. 7).”

An important caveat....

“However, there is one important caveat I must make clear regarding the use of the “Faustian bargain” metaphor: unlike the deal made between Faust and the Devil in Marlowe’s play, German human geneticists and officials of the Nazi state never sealed a once-for-all-time agreement. The relationship between them was ever-changing, if always useful to both parties (p. 7-8).”

So what WAS different?

“If one wishes to assess what, if anything, was different about the practice of eugenics under the swastika, one must be able to examine it as part of a larger network (p.8)”

The researchers were human - all-to-human...

“When one thinks of Josef Mengele (1911-79), perhaps the most notorious German human geneticist owing to the heinous medical crimes he perpetrated at Auschwitz, it is easy to believe that the scientists under consideration in this study were a different, indeed monstrous, strain of humanity. This was not the case. Tragically, the truth is that these researchers were all too human. The motivations for their actions were not intrinsically different from those of other professionals. Moveover, in discussing the the actual science pursued by these human geneticists, the book will reinforce the efforts of other scholars who have tried to dispel a second myth common among the nonspecialist: that eugenics and racial anthropology, two essential subspecialties under the rubric of human heredity in the first half of the twentieth century, were “pseudoscientific” pursuits. Whatever one might think about them today, both were internationally respected and practiced by world-renowned human geneticists for most of the first half of the twentieth century. (p. 8)”

Weiss follows Mitchell Ash’s important hypothesis (and Ash's thesis is the best on transnationalism I've seen) that it is naïve to claim that bad governments simply mobilize scientists to do their bidding:

“Rather, as Ash argues, we should view the relationship between politics and science in the modern world as mutually beneficial. Scientists and governmental authorities serve as “intellectual”, “political,” “rhetorical”, and “financial resources” for each other. Their relationship is dynamic and symbiotic.” (p.10)

This symbiosis sets up the Faustian bargain...

“Not only was the Faustian bargain advantageous for both parties;  each served as a constellation of “resources” for the other. More importantly, this symbiosis functioned such that questions and practices in the field of human heredity that were irrelevant or ethically unthinkable during the early years of the Third Reich became vanguard science in Germany during the war.” (p. 10)

How and why to understand this story about Nazism and science?

“Given this reality, it is imperative for individuals today to try to understand the professional and ethical dilemmas that they human geneticists faced during the Third Reich, if we are to explain the choices that they made. If examined up close, even this most morally problematic field of human genetics under the swastika is not clear-cut. The professional dilemmas – often unpleasant – that these scientists faced under National Socialism were nonetheless real, their grave historical consequences not withstanding.” (p. 11)

Note importantly that:

“The Nazis did not gain control of the government through a coup d’état; their rise to power was done within the legal contours of the very political system they were intent on destroying. (p. 11)”

Some motivations for supporting the Nazism...

“We should also remember that ordinary Germans supported the NDAP for a variety of reasons, but anti-Semitism was not high on the list. Hitler’s anti-Marxism was far more important to middle-class and wealthy Germans than his view of the Jews.”

This book is not seeking to whitewash horrific crimes – Weiss argues provocatively that the complexities of this situation must be unpacked to understand how these crimes happened and were possible:

“Again, I must emphasize that my decision to refrain from delivering a moral verdict on the biomedical professionals in this study is not a result of any desire on my part to downplay their complicity in this large scale murder – a complicity that I fully recognize and whose warnings for posterity I earnestly heed. Rather,  I hope to give my readers an appreciation of the complexities surround the choices made by my historical protagonists. (p. 12)

And by the way: this is hard to do....

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are all confronted with the thorny dilemma of how any person assess the actions of individuals when numerous causal explanations for them are possible, a problem clearly transcending all disciplinary boundaries. This question – so obvious and yet so profound – necessitates posing numerous queries throughout the main section of this book. It should again remind the reader that history is about interpretation and that an author does not (nor should she pretend) to hold a monopoly on this mental exercise. (p. 15)”

One of the contexts that matters in assessing these complexities was Germany’s dire economic conditions:

“This led, on the one hand, to an ever-greater call for human geneticists to apply their expertise in eugenics or Rassenhygiene…as a scientific fix for Weimar’s burgeoning social problems – something few had qualms about. On the other hand, German human geneticists, especially those employed by the KWS [Kaiser Wilhelm Society], faced budgetary cutbacks owing to the devastating impact of the Great Depression during the last years of the Weimar Republic. These same financial woes led the Weimar state to look for biotechnocratic solutions to the welfare problem in the first place. This lack of financial resources and German human geneticists preoccupation with employing their scientific knowledge for the good of the state, made these members of the international community of human geneticists particularly receptive to a political party that promised them better times.” (p. 16)

The book has six chapters – a wider international context, four case studies, and an examination of international responses to the uses of science by the National Socialists. In the penultimate chapter:

“I analyze the critical position taken by so-called reform eugenicists, above all in Britain, the United States, and Sweden. Moreover, I pay special attention to the purported friendly connection between conservative and racist American and German practitioners of human heredity and eugenics.

The larger thesis of this book contends that:

“…what explains the ethically reprehensible path taken by human heredity and eugenics under National Socialism was the unique manner in which human genetics and politics served as “resources” for each other. This deadly symbiosis radicalized both the science of human heredity as well as Nazi racial policy; it accounts for the heinous practices of all too many German human geneticists. The damage caused by this symbiosis, I might add, is not completely undone; its effects continue to cast a long shadow on humanity’s collective memory of the twentieth century as well as the history of genetics. It reminds readers that the historically contingent nature of the symbiotic relationship between German human geneticists and the Nazi state notwithstanding, it is more important than ever to remain vigilant and avoid taking the first morally compromising steps in science – steps that can lead us in a direction that we surely would not wish to go.” (p. 18)

To begin: the wider context...

"By 1933, the existence of a lively international scientific community of human geneticists and eugenicists was one of the most important prerequisites for the symbiotic relationship forged between German biomedical scientists and functionaries of the Nazi state. (p. 20"

How did the scientific community form in Europe and North America?

"This is a long and complicated story with many nuances, and one whose contours, for our purposes, can only be sketched here. Its roots lie in the late nineteenth century: an era whose intellectual hallmark was the belief in science as a tool to reform and advance society. This was a time still untouched by the brutalization of trench warfare, machines guns, and poison gas that would all too soon physically and psychologically scar an entire generation of men and radically alter the dominant European intellectual worldview. (pp. 20-21)."

It was in these contexts that eugenics and the science of human heredity professionalized...

"The development of a transnational eugenics movement in several regions around the globe was certainly spurred on by favorable international opportunities that went beyond a shared set of assumptions and values held by the nations involved." (p. 21)

Mendel's genetics mattered...

"Based on his research, Mendell assumed that there were two factors (what we today call alleles) for each inherited trait. These factors segregate during gamete production." (p. 21)

As is well-known...

"...the significance of Mendel's work was not recognized during his own lifetime." (22) And "Within a decade of the rediscovery [c. 1900] of Mendel's laws of inheritance, the modern study of genetics was becoming a distinct field in biology. The term "genetics" itself was introduced in 1906 by the British biologist and early supporter Mendel, William Bateson." (p.22)

It was Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, who began thinking in eugenic terms....

"As Galton himself remarked, "[if] the twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of geniuses might we not create!" "Could not the undesirables be got rid of the the desirables multiplied," he mused." (22)

Why did people suddenly think they could take human evolution into their own hands?

"Three contexts stand out as being particularly significant in addressing these queries and hence shaping the early history of eugenics in the above-mentioned three countries: the social problems resulting from industrialization and urbanization; the intellectual currency of social Darwinism, especially its "selectionist" variety that denied the importance of environmental influences; and a state interventionist policy in the fields of health and welfare based on scientific expertise. (p. 23)"

Darwin and many social Darwinists were inclined to consider the environment seriously...

"...most scientists who supported evolution had little choice but to accept a role for "Larmarckism." This was the emphasis on the inheritance of acquired characteristics as a mechanism of evolutionary change put forth by the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the inheritance of acquired characteristics was challenged by Galton himself and, even more thoroughly, by the German embryologist August Weismann....Indeed for those who accepted Weismann's views with respect to heredity and the "all-supremacy" of selection, eugenics was the only practical strategy to improve the human species and avert its degeneration." (p. 24)

Galton introduced the science of biometry...

"...they attempted to demonstrate the laws of human inheritance statistically..." (p. 25)

Wilhelm Schallmayer and Alfred Ploetz...

"...the cofounders of the nation's [Germany] incipient eugenics movement, wrote treatises arguing for the need to take action against degeneration." (p. 25).

Ploetz was the mover and shaker in some sense...and enter Ernst Rüden...

"...Ploetz and some of his close intellectual friends, established the Society for Racial Hygiene, the first professional eugenics organization. Initially, it was designed to be international and attract members from all "nations of culture." Rüden was sent to Scandinavia to help recruit members; he won over the Danish geneticist Wilhelm Johannsen, the scientist who, in 1909, first explained the difference between genotype and phenotype... (p. 27)"

Enter the wider context...

"During the first decade of the twentieth century, Britain and the United States also founded national professional societies and organizations that embraced not only eugenics narrowly defined, but more theoretical work on human heredity." (p. 28)

In America, the famous eugenicist was Charles B. Davenport....

"Davenport convinced the wealthy widow [of E. H. Harriman] that money donated to a research institute devoted to human heredity and eugenics was a wise investment. After all , Davenport claimed, much of the social violence and crime in America was due to hereditarily determined "social inadequacy". Such arguments made good sense during America's Progressive Era...." (p. 28)

Anglo-saxon human geneticists and eugenicists were for positive and negative eugenics...

"...to reduce the number of the "unfit" or "defective" members of the state." (p. 30)

Norway also seized upon these trends...

"a private research institute [was founded there].... [Ragner] Vogt, a practicing psychiatry, was a trained human geneticist. His work on manic-depressive mental illness supported the generally accepted view that mental disorders were hereditary. (p.30)"

Sweden too...

"Sweden's most important human geneticist and eugenicist during the early ears was undoubtedly the psychiatrist Herman Lundborg (1868-1943), an expert on the genetics of epilepsy. For him, "heredity was everything". (p. 32).

French practitioners of eugenics were Lamarckians...

"...in France, negative eugenic measures like sterilization were unpopular, and few French eugenic supporters advocated them. Again, there are social circumstances that account for this, above all the influence of the Catholic Church. Instead, positive eugenic measures, especially those that would reduce the mortality rate o infants, were the heart of the French eugenic project. (p. 33)"

The supporters of eugenics were not simply reactionary - they were leftists and Jewish too...

"Viewed from the trajectory that racial hygiene took under the Nazis, it would be easy to believe that eugenics was always and everywhere a weapon of right-wing forces trying to suppress the poor and eliminate ethnic minorities. Nothing could be further from the truth." (p. 33)

What was common to the movement?

"But all eugenicists viewed human beings, consciously or unconsciously, as human resources whose numbers could be manipulated for some transindividual purpose." (p. 34)

Eugen Fisher, one of the chief players in this book, was a pioneer in Mendelism:

"He never tired of reminding all who listen that anthropology and heredity were inseprable." (p. 35)

Ernst Rüden, another player, was clearly an anti-Semite:-

"Rüden was appointed head of a "coordinated" German Society for Racial Hygiene in 1933, as he was viewed to be totally loyal to the new Nazi regime. There can be little doubt that the psychiatric geneticist left an indelible mark on the history of German eugenics from its inception until its demist in 1945." (p. 36)

The internationalization of eugenics, conjures up comments from a figure I can think of at LSE...

"...the First International Eugenics Conference in 1912. It would be hosted in London and concern itself with what was considered the serious hereditary degeneration of the white population of "Western cultured nations." A broad spectrum of individuals interested in eugenics - physicians, biologists, statisticians, sociologists, feminists, social reformers, clergy, and anthropologists - were among the more than seven hundred participants who gathered...." (p. 36)

At the conference...

"Reginald Punnet, the Cambridge geneticist (known for his "Punnet square" to demonstrate the possible number and combination of genetic combinations), argued that feeblemindedness was transmitted according to Mendel's laws." (p. 37)

A program emerges:

"the Committee adopted Mjøen's platform, since it did not clearly commit to Mendelism and Weismannism. Its hallmark: the difference between the right to life and the right to give life." (p. 38)

Governments were largely unresponsive to these ideas...

"If there was anything positive [about the WWI and its economic repercussions] about these other tragic developments, at least for most German racial hygienists, it was that the state finally took notice of eugenic issues." (p. 39)

The treaty of Versaille did not help....

"Especially incomprehensible from their [Germans] perspective was the "war guilt" clause assigning to Germany and her allies sole responsibility for initiating hostilities." (p. 41)

Eugen Fischer's study "Grundriss de menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene" was published in 1921 and did much for the cause.... it was widely read and reviewed internationally

"During the 1920s and 1930s, more than 70 percent of those who reviewed the Grundriss were overwhelmingly positive about the treatise as a whole. This reminds us that what we may today view as "psuedoscience" and ideology was not necessarily understood as such by respectable scientists in the not-too-distant past." (p. 48).

Indeed many seem very supportive of the books allegedly "objective portrayal of so-called racial character traits"....

There were men who, like Davenport, Mjøen, and Ploetz, were always sympathetic towards the the interests of the "white race, " or the "Nordics." As we have seen, this group was especially dedicated to improving the hereditary quality of Northern and Western European stock included many first generation leaders of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian movements. Indeed, the IFEO [International Federation of Eugenics Organizations] was originally founded to promote the genetic betterment of the "white race."" (p. 48)  

The IFEO became dubious ground...

"That having been said, it would be hard to deny that the IFEO, even as early as the late 1920s, increasingly provided the international professional meeting grounds for eugenicists who made no apologies for their preoccupation with the genetic worth of alleged "races" and strategies to improve the most valuable ones. Although at the beginning of the 1930s the IFEO had changes its position on representatives from "non-white" countries to further proefessionalize the gospel of Galton...." (p. 50)

Davenport and Fischer

"In 1932 Davenport became a corresponding member of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Enthnology, and Pre-History, a professional organization headed by Fischer. The racial anthropologist sent Davenport a twelve-page questionnaire to be used when scientists undertook research on racial crossing. Perhaps Fischer believe that his research methodology would be adopted by all members of the IFEO interested in this kind of investigation. His questionnaire left no aspect of the physical, intellectual, and psychological traits of the "racial bastards" unmentioned. Among the questions: "Are the [racial bastards] morally more degenerate than both their racially pure parents?"... Fischer also thought that observers should know whether their racially mixed subjects suffer from "insanity, alcoholism, criminality, prostitution, and vagabondism." (p. 52).

Rüden would eventually direct projects similar to these at the Research Institute for Psychiatry.

"Long before the Swiss psychiatrist became head of the entire complex in 1931, [Rüden] had made a name for himself well beyond his adopted German homeland. The research that made him world renowned in the field of psychiatric genetics was his creation of the "empirical hereditary prognosis" for nervous diseases. This statistically based methodology replaced the traditional emphasis on pedigrees.... In an important article written in 1916, the Swiss human geneticist applied his new statistical technique to schizophrenia for which he received international acclaim." (p. 54)

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics opened in 1927 and coincided with the Fifth International Congress of Heredity:-

In a letter to Davenport, Fischer "remarked that Benito Mussolini would almost definitely attend a session of the meeting. Il duce, Fischer continued, was sincerely interested in "our questions" and assured his American colleague that "there will never again be such an opportunity to make our thoughts clear to a national leader." Moreover, the German anthropologist continued, "he [Mussolini] is the only politician who really can, and perhaps will, carry out eugenic measures." (p. 56)

The Great Depression changes everything....

"Hermann Muckermann, a former Jesuit priest with close ties to the Catholic Center Party in Prussia and an outspoken advocate of eugenics, complained in an article that institutionalized mental defectives where costing the state over 185 million marks a year at a time when there was barely enough money to keep the healthy from starving." (p. 60)

Harsh words in the Weimar Republic remind us....

"Yet their harsh language reminds us that if those who still backed a democracy over a dictatorship could view the handicapped in such a manner prior to the Thrid Reich, how easy would it be for the vanguard of the rapidly approaching "racial state" to eventually put such rhetoric into deadly practice?" (p. 61)

The road to perdition begins...

"[Otmar Frieherr] von Verschuer was a strong adherent of the form of "differential care" discussed at the conferences. He spoke in favor of voluntary sterilization in cases of individuals suffering from feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, epilepsy, and Huntington's chorea. Psychopaths and the hereditary blind and deaf should also choose to come under the knife. Von Verschuer argued that sterilization could be a condition for release from one of Germany's hospitals or mental institutions..." (p. 63).

Stepping back and looking at the big picture:

"On the eve of the Third Reich human genetics and eugenics had a strong presence on the international stage. From its modest beginnings at the turn of the century, human genetics and eugenics - at the time the theoretical and applied sides of the same science - quickly became the most socially significant fields of biology. The synergistic relationship between the two in conjunction with political, social, and economic changes quickly led to incipient eugenics movements...." (p. 66)

So far this discussion has prepared us to contemplate eugenics and genetics prior to the rise of the Third Reich....

"Although the focus is on the Third Reich, we should not forget that science and politics frequently serve as mutually beneficial resources - even if the resulting symbiosis was not as deadly as under Hitler." (p. 68)

Seeking to protect his resources and research, Eugen Fischer began to make his pact....

"Fischer was no stranger to the dictates of politics in science policy. Although sympathetic volkisch racial views, this former member of the ultraconservative and anti-Semitic German National People's Party was astute enough to realize that these leanings were best left publicly unexpressed within the Centrist and Social Democratic-run Prussian government during the Weimar Republic. After all, he would have to find an arrangement with these pro-Weimar parties in order to win financial support for his new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute." (p. 70)

His institute's name change is telling:

"Fischer helped orchestrate a name change for the long-established German Society for Racial Hygiene. The ambiguous terms Rassenhygiene was offensive to many Jewish and left-leaning politicians whom he had to court during the Republic to keep his Institute up and running.... The lessons that Fischer learned in his attempts to win government support for his line of research would be put to good use under more favorable political circumstances (for Fischer at least) with the "national revolution" that placed Adolf Hitler behind the Chancellor's desk on January 30, 1933." (p. 71)

How so?

"In the course of his denunciation campaign, it became clear to the Dahlem director that he could only remain an authoritative academic spokesperson for his science and expect to receive funding for it if he aligned himself totally with the new order. Conditions - some of them unpleasant - would have to be met. It appears that the politically savvy Fischer soon came to realize that the current Nazi-Nationalist government was different from various coalitions preceding it. (p. 71)"

The pact itself....

"When it became evident that investigations as part of the Institute's new research agenda had advantageous political implications as well as scientific ones, a series of events unfolded that ultimately led the second director and at least one of his coworkers toward the moral abyss associated with the biomedical crimes committed at Auschwitz." (p. 72)

Fischer and Franz Boas

"Indeed [Fischer] deliberately separated his understanding of "race" from that of Hans F. K. Gunther, author of the extremely popular volkisch book Raciac Science of the German People. Gunther's treatise was precisely the kind of work that alarmed the Jewish and liberal circles Fischer needed to reassure. The fact that Fischer would soon (or had already) reviewed the book favorably in a journal he edited was left unmentioned that evening. What he did stress favorably was the research of the German-Jewish American cultural anthropologist Franz Boas -allegedly to show how complicated the subject matter of "race" really was. In an important study, Boas demonstrated that traits formally viewed as fixed racial characteristics were actually affected by environmental factors. Fischer also did not neglect to mention that the politically liberal Boas, long established at Columbia University, had been a "benefactor" of Germany in its hour of need after the First World War." (p. 75)

Fischer made his name studying twins....

"In his lecture, Fischer not only contradicted mainstream National Socialist doctrine on the desirability of racial crossings within the so-called European races, but he also clearly took a "soft" stand on the "Jewish question." Whereas, the official National Socialist view on racial mixtures between Jews and "Aryans" was uncompromising, Fischer found the "judgment of the results of crossing" to be "very difficult". Although he would not rule our the possibility of a "psychic dysharmony" arising from such a racial mixture, he argued that "[it] undoubtedly makes a huge difference whether the offspring of long-standing cultivated German Jewish families or whether the progeny of newly-arrived Eastern European Jewish families mate [[with non Jews]." In this statement, Fischer's prejudices regarding the difference between allegedly acceptable assimilated German Jews and the politically and racially dangerous Eastern European jews, or "Ostjuden" - prejudices common among nationalist conservatives like himself - demonstrate that he had not yet fully adopted the National Socialist Party line on "race". (p. 87)

Why did Fischer make this deal with the Nazi state?

"The Dahlem director might have still hoped [in 1933] that he and his fellow scientific experts in the field of human heredity at the Institue as well as at the various other Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes and universities in Germany would ultimately win the day and guide Nazi racial policy. After all, they, not the uninformed Nazi officials, had the expertise to make important decisions on issues concerning racial hygiene and racial cleansing. We know that professionals in many fields during the Third Reich accepted some of the unpleasant facets of the Nazi state in the belief that it was better for a "non-Nazi" to say at his post than have a hard-core, card-carrying National Socialist gain control, especially one without the requisite professional experience. He also might have stayed on to protect and nurture his protege von Verschuer, still quite politically vulnerable at the time. (p. 92-93)"

Fischer attempted to find cash for his institute from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, but....

"In 1933 the Fischer Institute received 75,711.95 RM from state sources. Just one year later, however, state contributions amounted to 127,235 RM - nearly a 60 percent increase in government support." (p. 95)


"Moreover, as we will see, the Dahlem Institute enriched itself through the racial testimonials that it wrote on behalf of individuals needed to prove their "Aryan" lineage." (p. 95)

And what of Fischer's favorite?

"In 1935, Fischer's favorite, von Verschuer, was called to head up a new "daughter institute" for Erbbiologie und Rassenhygiene (Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene) in Frankfurt in 1935. Although he was still not "brown" enough for some bureaucrats to receive a post at the University of Berlin - Germany's signature university - important Nazi officials...of the Rassenpolitisches Amt had no problem with an appointment in Frankfurt." (p. 96)

Thus it was the Fischer's institute became apart of the bargain.

"...although no science is politically neutral, much of the research at the Dahlem Institute after 1933 was specifically undertaken or adapted to serve the needs of National Socialist racial policy...." (p. 98)


"Indeed, even seemingly "harmless" scientific investigations, like those demonstrating the inheritance of racial differences of the ear or fingerprints, were pursued to support the racial policies of the state. And finally, all Institute research that attested to the power of nature over nurture, especially if it was high quality, functioned to legitimize the Nazi racial state both nationally and internationally...." (p. 99)

In any case, by 1935 Fischer's institute had begun its Faustian bargain - support of sterilization was not far behind.

"Needless to say, service on such courts [Hereditary Health Courts] violated a physician's duty to keep a patient's medical conditions confidential - and both von Verschuer and Fischer were trained in medicine. Here we have a conflict between two commandments: that of the state demanding that physicians report individuals who fell under the provisions of the sterilization mandate and the doctors' responsibility to uphold medical confidentiality. There is yet another ethical dilemma stemming from the execution of the Nazi Sterilization Law.... pertinent information collected on all cases coming before the Hereditary Health Courts was archived so that it might serve to further human genetics in Germany. Fischer and von Verschuer were to of the three biomedical scientists, the third being Rüden, who were allowed access to this valuable research "material." (p. 101)

Notice that neurology and psychiatry keep slipping into this story...

"Prior to 1933, the Dahlem Institute spent virtually not time investigating those diseases that eventually fell under the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring - for example, neurodegenerative illnesses, mental retardation, psychiatric illnesses, epilepsy, and deafness. After 1933, however, members of the Institute were busy at work, determining the genetic component of these disorders and communicating their results in scientific publications. As Fischer himself expressed it in his Institute's yearly activities report, the need to examine clinical diseases following the Sterilization Law encouraged "the Institute [to take] a completely new step." "A promising new task group has formed" on this topic, he added. Frequently twin studies were used by those in this "task group" as a methodological vehicle to demonstrate the important of heredity in these illnesses. As should be obvious, these new investigations served as an intellectual resource for Nazi racial policy; such politically relevant genetic science also brought professional advantages to those engaged in it." (p. 102)

Of import perhaps to modern day neuro-everyones, notice that von Verscheur gave a lecture in 1937 entitled: "What can the historian, the genealogist, and the statistician contribute to the research on the biological aspects of the "Jewish Problem". The anti-Semitic attitudes of both von Verscheur and Fischer became magnified...

a lecture that argued that Jews could be discovered "'scientifically'" on the basis of medical genetics." (p. 104)

And the SS were there too...

"In mid-1934, twenty-one SS physicians were sent to Fischer's Institute to attend what would become a series of year-long courses in "Genetics, Racial Science, and Racial Hygiene" paid for by the Riech Ministry of the Interior." (p.105)

Some had a subsequent notorious history

"In one case, an SS medical man who received scientific training at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology was later involved (to an unknown extent) in human experiments on concentration camp victims; another served as one of numerous medical experts who determined whether particular mentally handicapped asylum patients would be killed in Nazi Germany's "euthanasia" project." (p. 106)

There was nonetheless an ethical dilemma - how to keep the science going

"Loyalty to the state was something that most German civil servants took extremely seriously, even in the Third Reich. But on the other hand, does any individual, including a scientist, have an obligation to serve an immoral regime? And did Fischer and his colleagues view the activities of the Third Reich, particularly in the racial policy arena, as unethical? Whatever these individuals may have thought at the time, one cannot argue that the ultimate result of their willingness to serve the Reich was one that garnered the moral opprobrium of posterity." (p. 107)

The second chapter of the bargain was realized with the outbreak of Nazi Germany's "racial war" in 1939.

"Von Verschuer himself laid bare the constellation of new questions facing human geneticists in 1939 at a talk he held in Breslau: "What influence does a gene have for development? At what time and at what place does it manifest itself? What changes in the tempo or in the stages of developmental processes does it affect? It is possible to prevent deleterious [developmental] processes? How do individual genes work together? Do specific [genetic] traits demonstrate external differences according to race or constitution?" "Human beings are thoroughly research objects of the human sciences," von Verschuer told his audience." (p. 108)

Von Verschuer's Frankfurt Institute was a hotbed of SS activity and Verschuer became a party member in 1940 - and the scientific legacy of this stuff would matter to the present day:-

"The first such research project was initiated by von Verschuer himself in 1943. It was done in association with his former assistant from Frankfurt and "guest researcher" in Dahlem, the notorious "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz, Josef Mengele. The project was designed to investigate "specific serum proteins." As his obsession with his dissertation topic demonstrated, von Verschuer had a keen interest in biochemical problems. The aim of this particular join research project with Mengele appears to have been to serve as part of a plan to come up with a new test to classify the race of individuals based on the biochemistry of blood serum. This new test would augment or replace more laborious forms or racial diagnoses then used in expert racial and paternity testimonies." (p. 113)

Another example - again neurology and psychiatry creep back into the picture

"...initiated experiments designed to perfect a way to differentiate between individuals with hereditary and nonhereditary forms of epilepsy - knowledge that would be useful in the context of the Nazi Sterilization Law." (p. 114)

Why did these biomedical scientists take this path?

"To address this query we must place the Institute's scientific investigations in the context of Nazi Germany's racial war. Indeed, at no other time did this Faustian bargain so transform the research practice of human genetics at the Dahlem Institute than during the particularly brutal and brutalizing war unleashed and perpetrated mercilessly by the National Socialist state." (p. 115)

To sum up the story so far....

"This interplay between human heredity and politics initiated by Fischer's bargain with National Socialist officials resulted, during the war years, in a radicalization of the racial politics of both the first and second years, in a radicalization of the racial politics of both the first and second directors of the Dahlem Institute. One only has to compare the statements of Fischer on Jews during the first months of the Third Reich and his pronouncements and actions on this subject during the later years of the war. Whereas he was viewed as being soft on the "Jewish question" in 1933, by 1944 few Nazi diehards would have had reason to complain.... Fischer's protege was equally radical in his anti-Semitism during the war. As we have demonstrated, this radicalization process led von Verschuer and other members of the Institute to embrace concentration and extermination camps as well as "euthanasia" hospitals as legitimate sources of "scientific material" to advance their research and career agendas, as well as Nazi racial policies." (p. 120)

On to the German Research Institute for Psychiatry...our next case study. The Rockefeller Foundation had initially supported it:-

"But the man whose tireless efforts, international scientific reputation, and close connection to Alan Gregg [RF officer] made the building possible - the eminent Emil Kraepelin - did not live to see the new structure completed." (p. 124)

The institute's most influential department:-

"Perhaps the most influential department at the Munich Institute was that of Walther Speilmeyer, which was also the largest division prior to 1933. He and his colleagues in the Department of Neuropathology investigated general questions regarding the histopathology of the central nervous system, especially functional disorders of cerebral circulation caused by toxic substances; numerous scholars from around the world came to what came to be known as an "international mecca of neuropathology. An extension of this cerebral neuromicroscopic work was undertaken by the prospector (a person responsible for dissections) Karl Neuburger at Eglifing-Harr, a mental institution not far from Munich.". (p. 125)

The Munich Institute embraced a diversity of mission:-

"As one RF officer noted in his diary after touring the Research Institute, "I have the feeling that I have visited an excellent medical research institute in which there simply happens to be a rather large interest in neurological and psychiatric phenomena." The "Kraepelin Institute", he confessed, stands in stark contrast to the "singleness of direction and unified plan of work, centred around one idea" that was the hallmark of Oska Vogt's Kaiser Wilhelm Insitute for Brain Research..." (p. 128)

Rüden became a major player in Spielmeyer's Research Institute for Psychiatry

"Rüden was now the head of the vanguard department for psychiatric genetics that he long desired." (p. 129)

Rüden general views are disconcerting:

"In 1929 Rüden addressed the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and bluntly informed it that the goal of psychiatric research was less to heal sick individuals than to serve the commonweal through the promotion of prophylactic measures - to prevent the defective from being born. As we have seen, this was hardly a new position for Rüden. Luxenburger, Rüden's closest associate, wrote numerous articles on the importance of eugenics for both medical and popular audiences." (p. 133)

The Faustian Bargain is cast in Munich. 

"... in cases where the individual was seriously "defective" or obstinately refused to recognize the need to refrain from having children, force was acceptable to achieve the desired end, Rüden believed. In other words, although the Munich director did not promote mandatory sterilization for cases at the Federation meeting, he had made it clear that he was open to the idea." (p. 139)

And they all plunged deeper....more psychiatry and neurology stuff

"Rüden and his Department's research methodology - the empirical hereditary prognosis - became a part of National Socialist racial policy. Rüden's colleague Luxenburger delivered a talk on the role of the empirical hereditary prognosis in psychiatry for physicians working in this field. That evidence of heritability using this method was based on statistics and probability was not a problem for Rüden. Not only was it unnecessary to prove a trait to be genetic with complete certainty; in Rüden's estimation, categories of illnesses listed in Section 1 of the law were so threatening to the health of the Volk that any chance of their heritability justified sterilization. Moreover, since the new government initially could only deal with the most serious cases, other milder or more dubious forms of degeneration would have to be prevented - at least for the time being - through marriage counseling, celibacy, and birth control." (p. 140)

Enter the Gesellschaft Deutscher Neurologen und Psychiater...

"Rüden became an ever more important manager during the Third Reich. He was soon head of the "coordinated" and enlarged [Society for German Neurologists and Psychiatrists] - a position that placed in close professional contact with physicians directly involved in Nazi Germany's "euthanasia" project. His role as chairman of Task Force II, his excellent relationship with provincial and Reich ministries, and his control over his field's professional organization enabled Rüden to influence the appointment of like-minded psychiatric geneticists to university posts and research institutes throughout Germany." (p. 144)

Could the eradication of, for example, the feebleminded leave the State without menial laborers?

"..."even after sterilization there will be enough feebleminded individuals to serve as coolies."" (p.144)

Surprisingly - perhaps - the Rockefeller Foundation supported the Munich institute for a time - although the archival backstory here is very complex. Its a fair bet that these connections were being made to gather intelligence about Nazi activities and to rescue Jewish scientists. (Sadly some of this story will never come to light since the officer's personal files are off the record.)

"This error aside, the Foundation's continued support of research within Rüden's Institute - even the "good science" practiced by Plaut and Spielmeye - leads to questions concerning its culpability towards funding an institution so complicit with Nazi racial ideology. Indeed, it raises the thorny issue of whether any philanthropic organization should fund "good science" in otherwise unacceptable circumstances, or whether it should take a political or moral stance by withholding its money. The RF's official position was that politics was irrelevant as long as it was funding "good science". (p. 151) - To reiterate, the archival record on this point is not especially clear, although the question is important. Such RF activities may well have been an appropriate means for gathering intelligence in Germany (and also the USSR).

Increasingly the Dahlem and Munich Institutes diverged in their social relations

""Today," Rüden emphasized, "I am happy about the larger degree of [scientific] freedom in this regard." He then declared that studies of the inheritance of disorders connected to the central nervous system lay entirely in his scientific domain; obviously diabetes fell into this category. Twin studies, the empirical hereditary prognosis, and family studies were critical for his work." (p. 159)

Munich discovers the SS and the second phase of the bargain begins....

"The group was comprised of three SS-stipend recipients.... This elite research group was charged with working on "studies of abnormal personalities and difficult life situations." More specifically, they investigated the genetic quality of children born out of wedlock (one of Himmler's favorite topics), the role of nature and nurture in feebleminded twins, and the inheritance of mental illness in children of psychopathological families. Other studies dealing with the genetics of homosexuality and criminal biological studies...never bore fruit. The war frequently interrupted the work of the SS scientists." (p. 168)

Beginning to think about the legacy of the Munich institute....

"If the Munich Institute never quite worked in harmony as envisaged by its founder, Kraepelin, it was now a travesty of that vision. Normal research, as it had been energetically pursued prior to 1940, became far more difficult." (p. 169)

Rüden's institute became increasingly radicalized just as the Nazi state became ever more radical

"The transition from the Nazi state's ability to revoke an individual's right to parenthood to "euthanasia" had begun. Here again we see the radical symbiosis between National Socialist racial policy and German biomedical science leader researchers to the doorsteps of committing others to physical death - and themselves to moral collapse. (p. 172)"

And psychiatry became every more radical as well.

"There were some psychiatrists, however, who viewed the elimination of incurable mentally handicapped individuals as the flip side of a "reform" program in their medical specialty... In order to rid psychiatry of its negative image within the medical sciences (after all it had a low rate of curing psychiatric disorders), some practitioners became sympathetic to a "cure or kill" mentality. (p. 172)"

And that attitude fueled the death camps....

"The most well-known mass murders took place simultaneously in six "killing centers" in Germany and Austria under the T4 program. Its cold bureaucratic efficiency was responsible for the gassing of approximately seventy-thousand mentally handicapped adults between September 1 1939 and August 1941, although there is evidence that some asylum patients were killed by other means even prior to the war. (p. 173)"

Rüden clearly new about these events.

"Moreover, he clearly believed that "inferior people" played no useful role in the state." (p. 176)

"Euthanasia" was a terrible euphemism used for these murders.

"Rüden's longtime colleague Carl Schneider was a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the venerable University of Heidelberg. He was also an active "euthanasia" physician who worked closely with the central T4 Berlin office; later he was in charge of selecting patients for the killing operation." (p. 177)

Of Schneider, still more:

"As a "cure or kill" reformer, Schneider desired this information to separate our those would be treated and brought back to useful work from those who would be euthanized. In the case of mentally handicapped children, he could use this diagnosis to encourage families with genetically feebleminded progeny to forgo having more children; those with offspring who mental illness was not hereditary would be encouraged to increase the size of their families, as the "struggle for survival of the German people" during the war demanded. Schneider undertook his research by bringing children, primarily children from a nearby asylum, to undergo a wide variety of tests at his University clinic - some of which quite painful and which in one case led to death. The children were then brought to the Eichberg Asylum near Wiesbaden where at least twenty-one were killed through an overdose of medication."

The "cure or kill" attitude began to even dominate discussions about the professionalization of psychiatry and medicine. And there were macabre reasons for this:-

"We cannot end the discussion of Rüden and "euthanasia" without mentioning however other Departments of the German Research Institute for Psychiatry profited from these medical crimes. The Department of Neuropathology, headed by Willibald Scholz since Spielmeyer's death, used hundreds of brains from "euthanasia" victims for research. There is evidence that the "diseased brains" that found their way to the Kraeplinstrasses were not send there randomly. Although it is unlikely that Scholz or any of his coworkers themsleves targeted individuals to be killed for research purposes, asylum directors at "euthanasia" facilities certainly knew the research interests of the various neuropathological institutes." (p. 180)

Of Rüden, a final word:

"We have noted Rüden's own position on this "cure or kill reform" psychiatry and "euthanasia" beginning in 1942. Although he was not an active "euthanasia" physician like many of his colleagues, the Munich director certainly accepted the measure, as many of his actions demonstrate. Scores of brains removed from murdered "euthanasia" victims found their way to the Institute and were used by the Munich scientists for research. The mutually beneficial relationship between human heredity and politics during the Third Reich reached its ethical low point through unbridled research on subjects without rights, which was accepted and legitimized by Rüden and practiced by several Dahlem scientists." (p. 183)

Nazi activities in human genetics were not restricted merely to Germany:-

"Ironically, in doing what comes naturally to all scientists - participating in conferences and delivering professional lectures - German human geneticists of all stripes served as the standard-bearers for the regime's political interests in a myriad of subtle ways.... (p. 185)"

For example,

"On the whole the [Kaiser Wilhelm Society] prospered under National Socialism, even though certain Nazi measures like the expulsion of its Jewish scientists were not always to the KWS administration's liking." (p. 187)

Von Verschuer used the KWS as a venue...

"Every person" von Verschuer concluded, "can contribute his part such that the biological renewal of our people becomes a reality." Von Verschuer's talk quite unambiguous supported the new racial order. However, it simultaneously served a rhetorical and financial resource for the KWS." (p. 190)

And the KWS was not alone:

"German human geneticists not only spoke at KWS-sponsored lectures. Prior to the Third Reich, they also presented papers at national professional conferences. To give but one example, in 1930 Rüden held a talk in Munich entitled "Means and Goals for the Biological Investigation of Criminals with Special Consideration of the Role of Heredity", at the German meeting of the Gesellschaft für Kriminalbiologie." (p. 199)

In the international arena, racial scientists were propagandists for the regime, but theirs was not always a welcoming audience, at the World Population Conference in Paris 1937:

"...suffice it to say that three Jewish scientists, including the renowned cultural anthropologist Franz Boas (who emigrated from Germany to the United States in the late nineteenth century) questioned the importance of genetics as the determining factor in such traits as intelligence and denied that a country's intellectual development was dependent upon its inhabitants' race. Moreover, Boas and his like-minded colleagues argued that the individual's or group's environments largely shapes so called racial traits." (p. 206)

Rüden saw these conferences as advancing Germany's political position on the question of race

"...Rüden replied that was important was not to create new conferences, but to ensure that "Germany's interests are secured at the ones already in existence." (p. 208).

Conferences provided much:

"The most that one can say for certain is that the politics of professional talks lays bare the radical symbiotic relationship made between the junior and senior partners to the "Faustian bargain" - human geneticists and the Nazi state, respectively - at the outset of the Third Reich." (p. 218).

But this knowledge was not simply disseminated to international science audiences, it was also targeted to local schools in Germany - schools had always been an effective weapon of the German state and used for political ends

"...even before Rust's 1933 decree mandating the teaching of "racial science" in the graduating classes of all schools, that the biologically grounded concept of "race" and related subjects would be examined in the nation's biology classrooms. Reich Interior Minister Frick made this somewhat more official when he stated, just months after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, that biology instruction must be centered on ethnology  (albeit in its racist form), racial hygiene, and genealogy." (p. 232)

And senior scientists were involved in disseminating that information.

"Timofeef-Ressovsky, the brilliant geneticist employed in the Berlin KWI for Brain Research, directed his attention to university bound teenagers. He wrote an article aimed at biology educators on the importance of teaching genetics and "higher Mendelism" for older students in the team-based classes for biology of Germany's college-preparatory schools. And lest we forget that biology pedagogues were singing the praises of the new racial science present in their curricula..." (p. 233)

And the hard realities were promoted in biology teaching in high schools too.

""As soon as an animal is seriously wounded or sick, or when, owing to illness, his efficiency is impaired, others recoil from it and leave it to its fate. Such animals frequently separate themselves from it and leave it to its fate. Such animals frequently separate themselves from the herd on their own and await their end in some hideout. That appears hard to us, but is necessary for the health of the [species] as a whole." The lesson to be learned is that humans need to adopt "hard" measures to ensure the preservation of the Volk." (p. 237)

And some textbooks were quite explicit and argued for the elimination of the unfit (mentally challenged) and the preservation of the Nordic race:

"As long as these children were "national comrades," there was no problem in equating race with efficiency and conformity to Nazi ideals. But what held true for "Aryan" pupils did not apply to those considered by the regime to be "racial aliens". The major purpose of ethnology was not to have children memorize the six European races. It was not even primarily to fill them with Nordic pride. Ethnology, like eugenics and racial hygiene education, was a vehicle to pontificate on human inequality. "It is a mistake," one school biology textbook author proclaimed, "to accept that 'anything with a human face' is equally valuable." Another textbook writer continued in the same vein: "It is one of the greatest lies of the French Revolution to maintain that all humans are equal. Nature knows no equality." The most important reasons for mandating this subject was certainly to warn against miscegenation - to emphasize the alleged racial danger of "Aryans" mixing with Jews." (p. 244)

Of course not all teachers agreed to the curriculum changes (and why did the many others go along with?) But the ideological underpinnings of even the tests show us the direction.

"As evidence in the outline of the topic written on the first page of the exam, the two boys were clearly versed in the "big names" in the history of evolution and genetics. In particular, [one of them] knew the meaning of Weismann's work, even if he could not spell his name correctly. For him, the German embryologist's studies proved for all time that the inheritance of acquired characteristics - "Lamarckism" - did not hold true. "Communism," [the student] continued, is based on this "faulty theory." As such, it supports "human equality." (p. 258)

The Faustian Bargain was thus:

"As was the case with Germany's biomedical researchers, secondary school biology instructors made the Faustian bargain with the Nazi regime. There was a symbiotic relationship between human heredity, in the form of racial science instruction, and National Socialist politics. Each reinforced the other." (p. 262)

In the end, we have to decide about the meaning of moral complicity....

"The degree of the secondary school biology teachers' culpability in legitimizing a racist regime deserves to be questioned, in particular in comparison to that of KWS human geneticists. This raises difficult issues about the nature of complicity of various professional groups in a dictatorial regime like the National Socialist state. Can and should we expect more moral backbone from the producers of human genetic knowledge than from those who merely disseminate it in the schools?" (p. 264)

Was the case of human genetics during the Third Reich uniquely German? The answer is clearly yes. But why were these policies occurring there? And what did other's say about them?

"Certainly the most famous, and most political, of the American reform eugenicists was the world-renowned geneticist H. J. Muller.... At the Third International Eugenics Conference in 1932 he declared open warfare on the mainliners in a talk entitled "The Dominance of Economics over Eugenics." Its flagrant Marxist position was anathema to [Charles] Davenport, who chaired the Congress, and he did all he could to limit the time Muller had to deliver his paper." (p. 268)

Muller's critique:

"The capitalist system, Muller argued, "leads to a false appraisal of the genetic worth of individuals, and of vast groups, which results in entirely mistake conceptions of eugenic needs." Only with a radical overhaul of the capitalist system was hereditary improvement possible." (p. 269)

L. C. Dunn's critique:

"Dunn reported that under the Nazis, there was a complete reversal of the relationship between scientific research and politics. "The incomplete knowledge of today," the geneticist argued, "much of it based on a theory of the state which has been influenced by the racial, class and religious prejudices of the group in power, has been embalmed in law." (p. 271)

Huxley and Haldane's critique:

"...Huxley reminded his readers that "in a scientific age, prejudice and passion seek to clothe themselves in a garb of scientific respectability." (p. 272)

Nazi biomedical scientists were careful not to adopt the shrill language of the Nazi. It was precisely their balanced approach that allegedly made them able to speak for race science on the international scene.

"Rüden also tried to exert influence on international congress other than the IFEO." (p. 292)

The left answers:-

"Only after a new socialist economic order and a more profound understanding of genetics would it be possible for a eugenics that would be worthy of the name - one that would raise the mental and physical genetic level of all individuals. The Manifesto was signed by twenty-three of the most influential reform eugenicists.... (p. 295)."

The radicalization of German biomedical scientists, biology teachers, and even the Nazi's took time.

"What is clear is that in the in the international arena, as well as at home, German human geneticists during the Third Reich could capitalize on their mainline eugenic tradition and entered into a symbiotic relationship with the National Socialist state. German human geneticists as well as their government served as mutually beneficial resources. The international renommee of the German scientists was perhaps their most valuable resource for the Nazi state. The outcome of this symbiosis was that eugenics was discredited, and there was never a new international movement. For decades the term "eugenics" was by and large taboo. The word still has a largely negative connotation today." (p. 301)

So what was uniquely "Nazi" about human heredity and eugenics in the Third Reich?

"If there was anything uniquely "Nazi" about human heredity and eugenics in the Third Reich, it pertains to the particular way in which human genetics interfaced with National Socialist politics and how they served as resources for one another. The symbiosis that ensued between human heredity and the broad political context of Nazism served to radicalize both." (You'll have to find the page number.)

And what may we learn from all of this?

"As historian of biology Garland Allen has argued, there is an important lesson for us to learn from the actions of these human geneticists. How many small compromises and concessions are we willing to make even today, Allen queried, "as budgets tighten, funding sources become reoriented (and perhaps not in directions a scientist [or scholar] would have chosen), and institutional or job-related expectations are changed? How many steps does it take to cross the fatal line?" Continuing in this same vein, Allen noted that "we humans are remarkably adaptable in many respects; but the most dangerous adaptations are those we do not consciously examine or that we try to deny." ... Indeed, unless we are careful in considering our choices, we too can wind up on a path we may not wish to travel and find ourselves at a moral dead end." (p. 312).


  1. This looks like an excellent book - especially the cross-national look at eugenics. I will try to get it. However, I found the first quote (from p. 18) unsatisfying, since she doesn't say concretely where she would intervene now based on the historical precedents. Instead she engages in the usual dog whistle politics of knowledge - a catatonic sense of general foreboding. As I see it, the big problem with drawing lessons is that eugenics was tied to a broadly socialist/corporatist political economy. But how does eugenics play out in a consumerist, neo-liberal regime like ours? In that context, gas chambers and even sterility clinics are the least of our worries.

  2. Was it tied to a broadly socialist/corporatist economy? That might well surprise the thousands who were sterilized (under admittedly different circumstances) in Minnesota, California, New York, and elsewhere in the United States in the same period. As for why Weiss doesn't say where she would intervene now, surely that is the role of the philosopher not the historian. It is a rule good historians usually follow: avoid making pronouncements about the present. The best we can offer is cautionary tales! And perhaps we ought to pay attention to history too. (Unfortunately historians - like philosophers and scientists - are not very good at predicting the future, so we simply avoid it.) That said, I think Paul Martin was very clear about, for example, neuro-futures. I also think that our colleague from Princeton put forward a rather poignant thesis about the relationship between science and consumerist, neo-liberal regimes. So I think the critique has been made already. I think Weiss crystallizes many issues clearly. The book really is provoking. But you have to read the whole thing. The introduction doesn't give much away!