Nazi Racial Science
The facial features of a young German are measured during a racial examination at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology.
National Archives (Photo #78570)
From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany carried out a campaign to “cleanse” German society of individuals viewed as biological threats to the nation’s “health.” Enlisting the help of physicians and medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists, the Nazis developed racial health policies that began with the mass sterilization of “genetically diseased” persons and ended with the near annihilation of European Jewry. With the patina of legitimacy provided by “racial” science experts, the Nazi regime carried out a program of approximately 400,000 forced sterilizations and over 275,000 euthanasia deaths that found its most radical manifestation in the death of millions of “racial” enemies in the Holocaust.
This campaign was based in part on ideas about public health and genetic “fitness” that had grown out of the inclination of many late nineteenth century scientists and intellectuals to apply the Darwinian concepts of evolution to the problems of human society. These ideas became known as eugenics and found a receptive audience in countries as varied as Brazil, France, Great Britain, and the United States. But in Germany, in the traumatic aftermath of World War I and the subsequent economic upheavals of the twenties, eugenic ideas found a more virulent expression when combined with the Nazi worldview that espoused both German racial superiority and militaristic ultranationalism.
The following bibliography was compiled to guide readers to selected materials on the history of Nazi racial science that are in the Library’s collection. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Annotations are provided to help the user determine the item’s focus, and call numbers for the Museum’s Library are given in parentheses following each citation. Those unable to visit might be able to find these works in a nearby public library or acquire them through interlibrary loan. Follow the “Find in a library near you” link in each citation and enter your zip code at the Open WorldCat search screen. The results of that search indicate all libraries in your area that own that particular title. Talk to your local librarian for assistance.
Background Information ↑
Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfang Wippermann. The Racial State: Germany, 1933-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. (DD 256.5 .B93 1991) [Find in a library near you]
Provides a general history of Nazi racial policies, with a particular emphasis on the Nazi goal of creating a “racial utopia.” Describes the regime’s murderous activities from euthanasia to the mass murder of Jews and Gypsies in the context of its racial policies.
Haas, François. “German Science and Black Racism--Roots of the Nazi Holocaust.” FASEB Journal 22, no. 2 (2008): 332-337. (Subject Files) [Find in a library near you]
Traces the origin of the concept of “racial hygiene” to the work of German physicians and scientists of the late 19th century. Shows how the spread of this idea, based on Social Darwinism, culminated in the Nazi T4 euthanasia program and the extermination camps.
Kater, Michael. Doctors Under Hitler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. (R 510 .K37 1989) [Find in a library near you]
Chronicles the history of the medical profession’s relationship to the Nazi movement with an emphasis on the changes wrought in the profession due to Nazi racial and social goals. Demonstrates the complicity of many German doctors in the Nazi campaign to remove Jews from professional practice and the willingness of the German medical establishment to collaborate in the regime’s war crimes. Includes a bibliography and index.
Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. (DS 145 .M677 1985) [Find in a library near you]
Traces the development of racist beliefs in Europe from the eighteenth through the twentieth century showing the intellectual roots of Nazi doctrines regarding racial hygiene and anti-Semitism. Includes reproductions of racist cartoons and illustrations, bibliographic references and an index.
Pross, Christian, and Götz Aly. The Value of the Human Being: Medicine in Germany 1918-1945. Berlin: Arztekammer Berlin, 1991. (R 509 .W472 1991) [Find in a library near you]
An exhibition catalogue providing an overview of the history of medicine in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Looks particularly at racial science, the treatment of the disabled, and medical experimentation. Copiously illustrated and accompanied by a useful chronology.
Weindling, Paul. Health, Race, and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. (RA 418.3.G3 W45 1993) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the interplay between social Darwinist and eugenic ideas in German political goals for public health and welfare from the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Demonstrates how Germany’s scientific tradition in the treatment of social problems influenced the later more radical “solutions” developed for social and racial goals during the Nazi era. Includes illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
Zmarzlik, Hans-Günter. “Social Darwinism in Germany, Seen as a Historical Problem.” In Origins of the Holocaust, edited by Michael R. Marrus, 3-42. Westport, CT: Meckler, 1989. (Reference D 810 .J4 N38 1989 v.2) [Find in a library near you]
Focuses on the influence of Darwinian concepts such as “survival of the fittest” upon turn of the century mainstream anthropological and scientific thought in Germany. Relates how the German scientific community applied these concepts to the social problems associated with poverty and disease in Germany. Includes bibliographic notes. Part of the multi-volume anthology titled The Nazi Holocaust.
Eugenics and Sterilization ↑
Adams, Mark B., editor. The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil, and Russia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. (HQ 751 .W46 1990) [Find in a library near you]
Compares the history of eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century in four disparate countries to highlight the international nature of the movement and the differing results it achieved depending on the political and scientific traditions of those countries. Includes bibliographic references and an index.
Biesold, Horst. Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 1999. (HV 2748 .B5413 1999) [Find in a library near you]
Uses archival research, institutional studies, and interviews with survivors to describe how the ideas of the racial hygiene movement led to the persecution of deaf people in Nazi Germany. Explores the collaborative system behind the forced sterilization and euthanasia program focused on the deaf and other handicapped people. Includes a chapter on the history and fate of Jewish deaf people in Germany.
Bock, Gisela. “Sterilization and ‘Medical’ Massacres in National Socialist Germany: Ethics, Politics, and the Law.” In Medicine and Modernity: Public Health and Medical Care in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany, edited by Manfred Berg and Geoffrey Cocks, 149-172. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. (RA 418.3 .G3 M43 1997) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the historical and legal approach to the Nazi forced sterilization program and how changing political and economic conditions allowed for radicalization of Nazi racial and medical goals to include euthanasia and human experimentation. Part of a collection of essays drawn from a conference on German medical history held at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.
Kühl, Stefan. The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. (HQ 755.5 .U5 K84 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Outlines the connections between the American and German eugenics movements. Examines the influence of American eugenicists upon the Nazi approach to racial hygiene that lead to the practice of forced sterilization in Germany.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2004. (HQ 755.5 .G3 U55 2004) [Find in a library near you]
Companion book to the exhibition by the same name held at the United States Holocaust Museum from April 22, 2004 to October 16, 2005. Features numerous photographs, original documents, and drawings from the exhibition. Includes essays describing the history of the German eugenics movement, its influence on the Nazi medical establishment, and how its racial and social views contributed to the Holocaust. Provides a chronology, a guide to further reading, and an index.
Weiss, Sheila Faith. Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. (HM 106 .W45 1987) [Find in a library near you]
Traces the early history of German eugenics through the career of Wilhelm Schallnayer (1857-1919) who along with Alfred Ploetz served as one of the cofounders of the German racial hygiene movement. Includes bibliographic references and an index.
Medical Killing ↑
Aly, Götz, Peter Chroust, and Christian Pross. Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. (R 853 .H8 A42 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Offers an introduction to the history of medicine under the Nazis that supplements a detailed account of the practice of euthanasia at the hospitals and psychiatric clinics of Nazi Germany. Includes information from primary sources, such as diary entries and letters from doctors involved in euthanasia and medical experiments. Provides many illustrations and photographs as well as bibliographic references.
Benedict, Susan. “Caring While Killing: Nursing in the ‘Euthanasia’ Centers.” In Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, edited by Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg, 95-110. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003. (D 804.47 .E86 2003) [Find in a library near you]
Uses the postwar trial testimony of nurses involved in the euthanasia program at the Meseritz-Obrawalde psychiatric hospital to highlight the matter of fact approach of many perpetrators to medical killing. Includes bibliographic references.
Burleigh, Michael. Death and Deliverance: “Euthanasia” in Germany c. 1900-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. (R 726 .B87 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Provides background on the historical development of euthanasia and eugenics in Germany with an emphasis on the Weimar and pre-war Nazi eras. Explores the Nazi perception of an economic benefit to killing disabled people and shows how the Nazis used propaganda to sway public opinion against those with disabilities.
Caplan, Arthur L., editor. When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and the Holocaust. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 1992. (R 853 .H8 W54 1992) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of eighteen essays from a 1989 conference on medical ethics and the Holocaust. Focuses particularly on the implications of Nazi medical practices for contemporary controversies regarding eugenics, euthanasia, and medical experimentation. See especially the section titled, “Medical Killing and Euthanasia: Then and Now.”
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. (DD 256.5 .F739 1995) [Find in a library near you]
Traces the mass exterminations of the Holocaust back to the first secretive murder of a handicapped child in a Nazi-run medical clinic. Details the development and expansion of the T4 program and examines how the killing methods of euthanasia later evolved into the “Final Solution.”
Gallagher, Hugh Gregory. By Trust Betrayed: Patients, Physicians, and the License to Kill in the Third Reich. Arlington, VA: Vandamere Press, 1995. (R 726 .G35 1995) [Find in a library near you]
Focuses on the T4 program of medical killing, examining its origins, implementation, and changes in light of public protest. Reviews the response of the legal community and the Christian churches to the program, and analyzes the doctors’ motives for participating in medical killing.
Heberer, Patricia. “Targeting the ‘Unfit’ and Radical Public Health Strategies in Nazi Germany.” In Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, edited by Donna Ryan and Stan Schuchman, 49-70. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. (HV 2746 .D43 2002) [Find in a library near you]
Surveys the history of the German medical establishment’s eugenic goals from the sterilization program of the tumultuous interwar wars down to the radicalization of those goals in the murderous T4 and 14f13 euthanasia programs active from 1939 to 1945. Part of a collection of essays and supporting materials drawn from the 1998 conference at Gallaudet University on “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933-1945.”
Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books, 1986. (DD 256.8 .M45 L54 1986) [Find in a library near you]
Explores the psychology of the doctors involved in the Nazi programs of forced sterilization, euthanasia, medical experimentation, and mass killing. Describes the indispensable role physicians and scientists played in developing and carrying out the Holocaust, and examines the process by which they became socialized to killing.
Müller-Hill, Benno. Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany, 1933-1945. Plainview, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1998. (D 804 .G4 M7713 1998) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the scientific roots of racism and racial hygiene in Nazi Germany and how these beliefs lead from the sterilization and killing of mental patients to the Holocaust. Includes interviews with the students, assistants and relatives of many of the Nazi scientists involved.
Nicosia, Francis R., and Jonathan Huener. Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany: Origins, Practices, Legacies. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002. (R 510 .M385 2002) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of essays examining the lack of ethical constraint in the medical profession during the Nazi era that allowed for the flourishing of the forced sterilization and euthanasia programs and the further Nazi atrocities associated with medical killing and human experimentation in the camps. Includes photographs, bibliographic references, and an index.
Proctor, Robert. Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. (RA 418 .G3 P76 1988) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the complicity of the medical profession in the Nazi programs of forced sterilization and euthanasia. Explores the connections between German eugenic theorists, the proponents of racial hygiene, and Nazi medical doctors, all of whom helped the Nazis justify the Holocaust.
Film and Video ↑
Aviram, Nitzan. Healing by Killing [videorecording]. New York: New Yorker Films Video, 1999. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Analyzes the role of doctors in the origins of the Holocaust. Shows how the Nazis’ mass killings grew out of the German medical establishment’s willing implementation of euthanasia and other practices with seemingly legitimate ends.
Burleigh, Michael. Selling Murder: The Killing Films of the Third Reich [videorecording]. London: Domino Films, 1991. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Looks at the methods by which Nazi Germany worked to eliminate the weak and purify the Aryan race by killing or sterilizing mentally and physically disabled people. Shows excerpts from Nazi propaganda films intended to justify and gain public support for their actions by reason of mercy, cost, or natural selection.
Cohen, Peter. Homo Sapiens 1900 [videorecording]. New York, NY: First Run/Icarus Films, 1999. (Video Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the history of eugenics, racial hygiene, and the ideas of the “new man,” as developed in the early 20th century in Germany and the Soviet Union. In Germany, race hygiene focused on the body, on corporal beauty, and the ideal form, while in the Soviet Union, eugenic interest focused on the brain and intellect.
Michalczyk, John J. In the Shadow of the Reich: Nazi Medicine [videorecording]. New York: First Run Features, 2003. (DVD Collection) [Find in a library near you]
Outlines the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for German doctors’ participation in the Nazis’ sterilization and euthanasia programs and later, in the victim selections and medical experiments at the death camps.
Museum Web Resources ↑
Exhibitions: Deadly Medicine
Online component to the Museum’s special exhibition that explores the history of the German eugenics movement and its influence upon Nazi racial and social goals.
Holocaust Encyclopedia: Euthanasia Program
Summarizes the Nazi efforts to systematically kill the institutionalized mentally and physically handicapped. Describes the program’s history, the selection process, and the collaboration of medical personnel. Includes victim statistics, photographs, personal stories, a map, historical film footage, and a list of related links.
Library: Bibliography on Medical Experiments
An annotated online bibliography of works concerned with medical experimentation in the Nazi concentration camps with an emphasis on those experiments perpetrated by doctors in Auschwitz. Includes selected personal narratives from survivors of criminal Nazi medical experiments.
Library: Bibliography on People with Disabilities
Annotated online bibliography of works pertaining to the history of the disabled in Nazi Germany with an emphasis on their persecution by the Nazi regime. Explores the literature on the Nazi forced sterilization and euthanasia programs.
Special Focus: Nazi Persecution of the Disabled
Briefly summarizes the Nazis’ treatment of the disabled during the 1930s and 1940s. Includes interviews (in both audio and text formats) with Robert Wagemann, who narrowly escaped being killed as a child for his disability, and Patricia Heberer, a Museum historian speaking about the history of the Nazi euthanasia program. Also provides related photographs, historical film footage, and links to additional sources of information on the disabled during the Holocaust.
Additional Resources ↑
Ask at the reference desk to see the following subject files containing newspaper and periodical articles:
To search library catalogs or other electronic search tools for materials on Nazi racial science, use the following Library of Congress subject headings to retrieve the most relevant citations:
- Insane, Killing of the--Germany
- Involuntary Sterilization
- National socialism and medicine
- People with mental disabilities--Germany
- Science and state--Germany
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