In one of our summer semester Research Forum sessions, Dr. Amir Teicher joined our class for a fascinating look at Racial Science and Racial Policies in Nazi Germany. Dr. Teicher is a professor at Tel Aviv University, and specializes in Modern German History, Eugenics and Racism.
This lecture focused on the history and ideology of Nazi racial theory, and the scientists that were involved in it. Dr. Teicher began by debunking the idea that racial theory should be labeled a ‘pseudo-science’. He said that despite negative moral impact of this school of thought, these scientists upheld the same standards and practices as other scientists of this time period. They had peer-reviewed works, which were then used in studies across Europe and the United States. The uneasiness we now feel with referring to this as “science” comes from the horrible history and methods used in furthering this science. The “Social Scientific” thought complicates how we think about racial theory. It also impacts the motivations behind scientific movements. Dr. Teicher said that there are social and cultural terms, values and methodologies unique to the scientific community. General and cultural influences from outside society have an effect on what and how scientists study.
In the 1920s and 1930s, steps towards the promulgation of eugenics grew in Germany as well other countries. A 1927 handbook on Human Genetics outlined the scientific processes one must take in order to accurately study eugenics, including how one’s world views may affect the scientific outcomes. In 1933, German scientist Karl Saller conducted an in-depth study on the biological differences between American and German Jews. He had Jews from the United States come to study under him, and used them as data for his research. Using Swedes as the base line for genetic specimens, Saller compared the physical measurements of these American Jews to find out if their biological make up was more similar to that of Ashkenazi or Sephardic Jews. After his study was published, his methods were then used by other scientists in the field.
In the early years of Nazi Germany, the T4 euthenasia program was instated, in an attempt to “purify” Aryan society from undesirables. Beginning in 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were a set of racially based laws, mainly targeting Jews, that stripped Jews of their civil and social rights based not on their religious background, but on their Judaism as a race. They determined Jewishness by bloodline- whether or not their parents were Jewish- and physical likeness, rather than belief. This then brought up questions of mischlinge, or “mixed race”, in the question of someone with only one Jewish parent.
Later during the Holocaust, doctors at Auschwitz and other death camps conducted hundreds of tests on human experiments, all in what they believed to be the name of science. These inhumane procedures on live, conscious bodies produced some of the more gruesome facts of the Shoah. This issue led students to discuss the ethicality of this data. After WWII, the data collected in the camps was used for scientific studies. Dr. Teicher said in some places in the world it is still used, despite strong opposition from many in the medical community.
Dr. Teicher’s lecture was an interesting and in-depth look at a topic central to Nazi ideology and practice during the Holocaust, and allowed students to further explore this dark but important part of history.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/