Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics

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Building view (2005)

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics (KWI-A) was founded in Berlin-Dahlem in 1927 as an institution of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Promotion of Science and existed until the end of the war in 1945. The institute provided the scientific legitimation for the National Socialist racial policy and was involved in numerous NS state crimes. The institute building at Ihnestraße 22 is used today by the Otto Suhr Institute of the Free University of Berlin .


In the Weimar Republic a broad racial hygiene movement was formed, which wanted to avert a “ degeneration ” of the German people with a targeted population policy . As early as 1922, prominent scientists had called for a racial research institute to be set up in Germany. Adolf von Harnack , President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society , supported the establishment of a scientific center for “ anthropology , human inheritance and eugenics ” on the grounds that Germany had to catch up with Sweden , the USA , France and Great Britain . The establishment of the institute was supported by a broad coalition - from the Social Democrats to the Catholic Center to the extreme right of the party spectrum. The institute, headed by Eugen Fischer, wanted to develop an interdisciplinary “leading science of man” and consciously set itself apart from “political zealots and dilettantes in the racial hygiene movement”. The "Berlin direction" of the German racial hygiene thus distanced itself from the ethnic "Munich direction", which propagated the superiority of the "Nordic race".


The institute was initially divided into three departments: Eugen Fischer headed the anthropology department, the human geneticist Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer that of human genetics and Hermann Muckermann that of eugenics . After the takeover of the Nazis Muckermann retired from political pressure and was succeeded by Fritz Lenz , who renamed the eugenics department "Department of eugenics". In later years the structure of the institute changed several times, among other things departments for hereditary psychology and hereditary pathology were established.

Research priorities

Institute director Eugen Fischer wanted to develop anthropology from "skull measuring" to a biological hereditary science. He established a research program to examine the combination of " race and heritage ". Breeding experiments on animals, but also studies on humans, should clarify the influence of genetic and environmental factors. One focus from the beginning was the " twin research " under Verschuer, which wanted to prove the heredity of numerous diseases , but also of " character traits " such as criminal tendencies.

In the Third Reich, research took a back seat for a while, instead the institute established itself as a racial hygiene and genetic biology training facility. That the racial research no value-free science was evident in a speech fisherman shortly after the seizure of power by the National Socialists . "What Darwinism was unable to destroy the doctrine of human equality, the new hereditary teaching succeeded," he said in his role as rector of the Berlin University . After calling Verschuer of Frankfurt am Main in 1935, there was no independent Department of Genetics more. The newly established "Department of Hereditary Psychology " under private lecturer Kurt Gottschaldt continued twin research with a focus on psychology.

During the Second World War , institute director Eugen Fischer formulated a new research paradigm with the term "phenogenetics" : the aim was to examine how certain hereditary traits developed from hereditary factors. After Verschuer became head of the institute in 1942, medical-clinical research became more important.

Participation in Nazi crimes

Memorial plaque in memory of the Nazi crimes

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics placed itself in the service of the Nazi regime after a "self-alignment". In response to political pressure, Eugen Fischer saved himself from a compromise formula by describing the Jews in Germany not as “inferior” but as “different”, which is why they should be segregated as “elements alien to the people”. The institute provided the "scientific" basis of legitimacy for the hereditary health and race policy of the National Socialist state. Fischer and his colleagues at the institute defended the principles of Nazi racial policy at international conferences, thereby helping to reduce foreign policy pressure on the Nazi regime.

As assessors , the institute employees took part in the registration and segregation of Jews , Sinti and Roma , “ Rhineland bastards ”, “ foreign nationals ” and “ hereditary diseases ” - which for those affected often meant compulsory sterilization or admission to a concentration camp . The institute was also involved in the planning of the “ General Plan East ” and an intended colonial empire in North Africa .

In their anthropological studies, the institute's scientists reverted to people who had been denied the right to control their own bodies - such as concentration camp prisoners , prisoners of war and minors. At the beginning of 1943 Josef Mengele , who had completed his doctorate with Verschuer in Frankfurt am Main , worked at the institute. During his work as a camp doctor in the Auschwitz concentration camp, Mengele sent blood samples and body parts to Dahlem for examination.

A memorial plaque at the entrance of the institute building at Ihnestrasse 22 (today the seat of the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science at the Free University of Berlin ) commemorates the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute's involvement in the Nazi crimes. The claim on the blackboard that Mengele's twin research in Auschwitz was planned in the institute cannot be sustained in this form according to recent research.

Since 1933 there has been close cooperation with the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin-Buch, especially in mutation and radiation research, which had an independent department at this institute under the direction of Nikolai Wladimirowitsch Timofejew-Ressowski .


The institute was mainly financed by government agencies. While the institute repeatedly had financial bottlenecks in the Weimar Republic, the National Socialists provided intensive support for race research. The institute received generous funding from the American Rockefeller Foundation from 1932 to 1935 for twin research by von Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer.

The end of the institute

In 1943, due to the war, the institute was partially relocated to Beetz / Mark and Rottmannshagen near Stavenhagen and to Lübbecke . In the last few months it has had a new name: On the 70th birthday of the institute's founder, the research center was renamed the “Eugen Fischer Institute” in June 1944. In 1945 the institute was relocated from Berlin-Dahlem to Solz near Bebra .

After the war ended in 1945, the institute was discontinued. Only the department for experimental genetic pathology that remained in Berlin was taken over in 1953 as the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Hereditary Biology and Hereditary Pathology in the Max Planck Society . In 1964, this resulted in the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics . Numerous scientists were able to continue their careers in the Federal Republic of Germany. Verschuer received a professorship for human genetics in Münster in 1951, which he held until his retirement in 1965. The “Dahlemer Kreis” of former institute employees exerted a decisive influence on human genetics and anthropology in post-war Germany.


  1. 1927–1942 Eugen Fischer , 1943–1967 External Scientific Member
  2. 1942–1948 Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer , previously 1934–1935 Scientific Member and 1935–1942 External Scientific Member
Other scientific staff
  1. 1927–1929 Lothar Loeffler
  2. 1931–1945 Wolfgang Abel
  3. 1933–1935 Wolfgang Lehmann
  4. 1934–1936 Johann Schaeuble
  5. 1934–1945 Fritz Lenz
  6. 1935–1939 Horst Geyer
  7. 1941–1945 Hans Nachtsheim
  8. 1941–1945 Karin Magnussen
  9. 1942–1943 Siegfried Liebau
  10. –1945 Lieselotte block


  • Hans-Walter Schmuhl : Crossing borders. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics 1927–1945. (= History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society during National Socialism , Volume 9). Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-89244-799-3 .
  • Niels C. Lösch: Race as a construct. Life and work of Eugen Fischer. (= European university publications .) European publishing house of the sciences, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-631-31746-8 .
  • Hans-Peter Kröner: From Racial Hygiene to Human Genetics. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics after the war. (= Medicine in History and Culture , Volume 20.) Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart et al. 1998, ISBN 3-437-21228-1 . (also habilitation thesis, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster , 1995)
  • Carola Sachse (Ed.): The connection to Auschwitz. Life sciences and human experiments at Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes. Documentation of a symposium. (= History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in National Socialism , Volume 6.) Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-89244-699-7 .
  • Peter Weingart, Jürgen Kroll, Kurt Bayertz: Race, Blood and Genes. History of eugenics and racial hygiene in Germany. (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft , Volume 1022.) 3rd edition, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-518-28622-6 .
  • Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics , in: Eckart Henning , Marion Kazemi : Handbook on the history of the institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm / Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science 1911–2011 - Data and Sources , Berlin 2016, 2 volumes, volume 1: Institutes and research centers A – L ( online, PDF, 75 MB ), pages 76–90 (chronology of the institute).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Niels C. Lösch: Race as a construct. Life and work of Eugen Fischer. European Science Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1999, p. 172.
  2. Hans-Walter Schmuhl: Crossing borders. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics 1927–1945. Wallstein, Göttingen 2005, p. 13.
  3. Weingart et al .: Race, Blood and Genes. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1992, p. 245.
  4. Schmuhl 2005, p. 197.
  5. Lösch 1997, p. 192.
  6. Eugen Fischer: The concept of the völkisch state, viewed biologically. Berlin 1933, p. 7.
  7. Lösch 1997, p. 373.
  8. Schmuhl 2005, p. 13.
  9. Schmuhl 2005, p. 176.
  10. Schmuhl 2005, p. 531.
  11. Schmuhl 2005, p. 405.
  12. ^ Heidrun Kaupen-Haas : The planners in the Advisory Board for Population and Race Policy. In: 23rd German Sociologists' Day 1986. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 1987, pp. 754–759. ( doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-322-83517-8_177 )
  13. Benno Müller-Hill : The blood of Auschwitz and the silence of the scholars. In: Doris Kaufmann (Ed.): History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in National Socialism. Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, p. 190.
  14. Schmuhl 2005, p. 530.

Coordinates: 52 ° 26 ′ 56 ″  N , 13 ° 16 ′ 39 ″  E