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Medicine and biosciences in National Socialism

Medical research during the period of National Socialism was in full accordance with the scientific standards at the time. However, research on human beings has often been carried out under duress, thus contradicting ethical standards. At the same time, some researchers and doctors were persecuted and expelled. The implications for those concerned and the mentalities associated with this research have hardly been investigated so far. The scientific and medical historian Prof. Dr. Paul J. Weindling ML (Oxford), who was awarded the Anneliese Maier Research Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2015, examines the relationship between scientific rationality, human rights in medicine and biosciences in an age of extremes.

Within a five year research collaboration between Paul J. Weindling and the Leopoldina Study Center, three subprojects are being worked on:

1. Victims of medical research in National Socialism

The investigation of medical research between 1933 and 1945 has largely been restricted to the perpetrator's perspective until now. Experiences and reactions of the victims to the experiments, however, have not found any systematic attention. The project investigates the foundation of medical research. The focus is not only on concentration camps, but other closed institutions such as prisons, psychiatric hospitals and ghettos, as well as population based research among the “normal population”, for instance in the context of eugenically motivated “genetic health” policies. The voices of the victims contribute, among other things, to reconstruct concrete research practices and methods.

2. The “racialization” of research in medical dissertations and habilitations

“Forced research” during the Nazi era had a major impact on post-WW2 medicine: post-war physicians represent a generation whose qualifications were presumably to a large extent based on academic qualification essays evolved from coercion. However, the topic has so far been regarded as deviant in historical research, so systematic analysis of medical qualification work during the Nazi period is nonexistent. Now that is brought into focus: The aim of the project is to identify medical dissertations and habilitations from the Nazi era and evaluate them on the basis of research topics, methods and the recruitment of subjects.

3. Expelled medical researchers, physicians, and members of other medical professions

While some studies on prominent exiled scientists exist, there is a lack of work on persecuted “normal”, less well known physicians, psychologists, psychotherapists and nurses. In this project studies on forced emigration are linked to research on reintegration and resettlement. This also creates a history on the knowledge transfer through clinical researchers, a type largely unknown outside of Germany in the 1930s. In cooperation with German and international partners, the project investigates complete cohorts of migrants, including those, who clearly suffered much more from emigration than more prominent scientists did. As a source of reference serves an existing database, located at Leopoldina, for medicine associated refugees to the UK (1930-1945), currently comprising about 5,400 individuals. This will be the starting point and methodological anchor for future studies in Germany and other countries.

The research work of this task force may have a lasting impact on the German research landscape: at Leopoldina recorded victim reports, databases and biographies are archived and digitally stored serving as a resource for future German and international research. They also serve as a central reference point for affected families.

Events

Völkische Ideologie und Hygiene – Der SS-Arzt Joachim Mrugowsky (1905-1948)
Leopoldina lecture by Dr. Florian Bruns, Halle, 8 December 2016

Die ‚Säuberung‘ der deutschen Universitäten 1933-1945
Leopoldina lecture by Prof. Dr. Michael Grüttner (Berlin), Halle, 7 September 2016

Seminar on the history of science „Vom Präparat zur Person: die Wiederherstellung der Identitäten von NS-Versuchsopfern“
Prof. Dr. Paul J. Weindling ML (Oxford), Halle, 1 December 2015

Hirnforschung im Nationalsozialismus, Euthanasie und die Frage der Opfer
Leopoldina symposium, Halle, 29 November to 1 December 2015

Project directors

Prof. Dr. Dr. Alfons Labisch ML
Prof. Dr. Volker Roelcke ML
Prof. Dr. Paul J. Weindling ML

Scientific staff

Dr. Anna von Villiez (Hamburg)
Dr. Aleksandra Loewenau (Calgary)
Nichola Farron (Amsterdam)
Nikolas Schröder (Halle/Saale)

CONTACT

Leopoldina

Prof. Dr. Rainer Godel

Head of Department Centre for Science Studies

Phone 0345 - 47 239 - 115
Fax 0345 - 47 239 - 139
E-Mail rainer.godel @leopoldina.org