Genes, Blood, and the Body Politic. The Life Sciences and National Socialism

History 280S.001

Spring 2008
2227 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Mon 10-12

National Socialism constituted a very eclectic ideology, i.e. it borrowed from many sources, trying to make its peculiar world view appealing for all parts of German society. One unique feature of the NS-Regime, however, was the belief that it was founded on alleged biological facts, especially the existence of human races which differed in value and had to be kept separate. This had profound consequences for National Socialist politics at home and abroad. The idea of racial superiority led to a cruel war of extermination and the Holocaust. It also helped to justify the discrimination and even murder of the sick and helpless.

But what role did the German scientific community play in all of this? In the first half of the 20th century Germany was a bright center for biological, biochemical and medical research. How did those German scientists who were left unharmed by political and anti-Semitic purges after 1933 react to the new governmentâ€_Äôs scientific pretensions? How did they contribute to the justification or implementation of forced sterilization and murder? How did geneticists, anthropologists and biologists define or work with the notion of race and eugenics? Was this an episode of a monstrous deviation from ethical principles, or is there something about the life sciences that makes physicians or scientists susceptible to ideas like this?

The course will approach these questions from a biographical, institutional and social perspective. It will discuss the newest research on the topic and try to assess the relevance of these problems for today's practice of medicine and science.



Also listed as 280B.003