Racial Hygiene in NS Germany

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics quickly became the leading center for human genetics in Germany and gained recognition for, among other things, its empirically-based research. The institute’s staff worked as experts, assessors and consultants for government policies.

Founded in 1927, the new institute, as Eugen Fischer had announced proudly, would no longer occupy itself with mere skull measuring. In the sense of opening up anthropology toward human genetics, which Fischer outlined with the catchword of anthropobiology, the conventional, static, taxonomically organized concept of race that proceeded from morphological features was to be abandoned in favor of a dynamic concept of race conceived in terms of evolutionary biology and grounded in genetics. It could be applied to a multitude of topics, practically all anatomical, morphological, physiological, pathological, and psychological features and characteristics.

In 1933, Fritz Lenz came to Berlin where he established the first specific department devoted to eugenics at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Lenz specialised in the field of the transmission of hereditary human diseases and racial health. The results of his research were published in 1921 and 1932 in collaboration with Erwin Baur and Eugen Fischer in two volumes that were later combined under the title “Human Heredity Theory and Racial Hygiene” (1936). This work and his theory of race as a value principle placed Lenz and his two colleagues in the position of Germany’s leading racial theorists. Lenz was a member of the “Committee of Experts for Population and Racial Policy”.

For Lenz, human genetics established that the connection between racial identity and human nature was actually physical in character. Lenz also claimed that the revolutionary agitation in Germany after 1918 was caused by inferior racial elements, warning that the nation’s racial quality was threatened. He stated that “the German nation is the last refuge of the Nordic race… before us lies the greatest task of world history”.