Despite the medical advances of the last few decades, cancer remains one of the leading killers in this country. For some, the subject is one that borders on obsession, as they consider what they should eat and how they should live to prevent cancer from touching their own lives. This phenomenon is one that might feel relatively modern, a product of the last twenty or thirty years, as the medical establishment learned more about the disease, but the truth is that intense interest in cancer, its causes and its prevention, predates our contemporary preoccupation with it by a good thirty to forty years. And shockingly, this intense interest came out of Nazi Germany, a time and a place associated more with death than the saving of lives.
In his book, The Nazi War on Cancer, Robert Proctor examines the powerful and widespread campaign for the health and well-being of the German Volk in the 1930s and ’40s. Cancer serves as the lens through which Proctor looks into German culture of the time, gaining a unique glimpse into the Nazi push for racial hygiene and ethnic superiority. In an effort to strengthen the nation, the government of the Third Reich supported the efforts of physicians and scientists to strengthen the German people, and in doing so, it sponsored some of the most groundbreaking cancer research and the most extensive health education of this century, including one of the most aggressive antismoking campaigns ever seen.
Proctor describes this scientific and educational groundswell, detailing the efforts to expose carcinogens of all types, including radiation, asbestos, pesticides, and tobacco and to “enlighten” the people about the dangers of consuming too much alcohol, meat, caffeine, and other drugs. He reproduces numerous health-related slogans and posters that advocated regular cancer screenings and early detection, natural herbal remedies, and whole grain bread. Others drove home the link between tobacco and cancer -- “Every cigarette is a shot into your heart” -- while a few took the link one step further, drawing parallels between tobacco and Jews. Both, after all, were, in the eyes of the Nazis, plagues on German society, cancers of their own kind. Malignancy, Proctor points out, is “a powerful metaphor, stigmatizing all that was undesirable in the Nazi scheme of things” (p. 46), a metaphor that was used repeatedly and to great effect in Nazi Germany.
Proctor reveals then that the war against Jews and the war on cancer were not that far apart, having grown out of the same Nazi ideology. If that is true, he further posits, what are we to make of so much of the “progressive” health reforms put forth by the Nazis, ideas that echo today’s push against smoking and alcohol and toward improved diet, exercise, and “clean living”? He sees as the answer not so much the need to refute the ideas themselves but the opportunity to see Nazism in its full complexity, good and evil together. It is only by acknowledging and examining this “flip side of fascism,” Proctor suggests, that we can really understand the appeal of such totalitarianism.
The Nazi War on Cancer includes 39 illustrations, statistical tables, detailed endnotes, a lengthy bibliography, and an index.
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|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|List of Illustrations|
|Triumphs of the Intellect|
|“The Number One Enemy of the State”|
|Erwin Liek and the Ideology of Prevention|
|Early Detection and Mass Screening|
|The Gleichschaltung of German Cancer Research|
|The Fates of Jewish Scientists|
|Registries and Medical Surveillance|
|The Rhetoric of Cancer Research|
|Romancing Nature and the Question of Cancer’s Increase|
|Genetic and Racial Theories|
|Cancer and the Jewish Question|
|Selection and Sterilization|
|Health and Work in the Reich|
|X-Rays and Radiation Martyrs|
|Radium and Uranium|
|Arsenic, Chromium, Quartz, and Other Kinds of Dusts|
|The Funeral Dress of Kings (Asbestos)|
|Chemical Industry Cancers|
|The Nazi Diet|
|Resisting the Artificial Life|
|Meat versus Vegetables|
|The Fuhrer’s Food|
|The Campaign against Alcohol|
|Performance-Enhancing Foods and Drugs|
|Foods for Fighting Cancer|
|Banning Butter Yellow|
|Ideology and Reality|
|The Campaign against Tobacco|
|Making the Cancer Connection|
|Fritz Lickint: The Doctor “Most Hated by the Tobacco Industry”|
|Nazi Medical Moralism|
|Franz H. Muller: The Forgotten Father of Experimental Epidemiology|
|Moving into Action|
|Karl Astel’s Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research|
|Gesundheit uber Alles|
|Reemtsma’s Forbidden Fruit|
|The Industry’s Counterattack|
|The Monstrous and the Prosaic|
|The Science Question under Fascism|
|Biowarfare Research in Disguise|
|Did Nazi Policy Prevent Some Cancers?|
|Playing the Nazi Card|
|Is Nazi Cancer Research Tainted?|
|The Flip Side of Fascism|