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Protecting German Blood

The following is excerpted from RACIAL HYGIENE: MEDICINE UNDER THE NAZIS by Robert N. Proctor (pgs. 131-132 and 150-151).

Anti-Semitism in the German Medical Community

The Nuremberg Laws

In the fall of 1935 Hitler signed into law a series of three measures -- the so-called Nuremberg Laws -- to further "cleanse" the German population from unwanted elements. The Reich Citizenship Law ("Reichsbürgergesetz") of September 15, 1935, distinguished between citizens and residents ("Reichsbürger" and "Staatsangehöriger"). Citizens, the more exclusive category, included only those "of German or related blood who through their behavior make it evident that they are willing and able faithfully to serve the German people and nation." Jews in particular (but also single women!) were considered residents and were excluded from many privileges now accorded only to citizens.

Also on September 15, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor ("Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre," or Blood Protection Law) was announced, forbidding both marriage and sexual relations between non-Jews and Jews, and later extended to all "non-Aryans." A "full Jew" was defined as anyone with at least three grandparents who were Jews; individuals with lesser fractions of Jewish ancestry were considered "half-breeds" of either the first or second degree ("Mischlinge ersten oder zweiten Grades"). The Blood Protection Law specified very precisely which of these groups could marry which others ...; for example, individuals with only one-quarter Jewish ancestry were considered Germans and allowed to marry other Germans -- unless those other Germans were themselves one-quarter Jewish, in which case there was the danger that some of the offspring would be half Jewish (according to a peculiar kind of Mendelian logic), and so the marriage would be illegal. The Blood Protection Law further stipulated that Jews were forbidden to employ German servants under the age of forty-five in their households or to fly the national colors.

On October 18, 1935, the Nazi government passed a third and final measure in this series, the Law for the Protection of the Genetic Health of the German People ("Gesetz zum Schutze der Erbgesundheit des Deutschen Volkes," or Marital Health Law), requiring couples to submit to medical examination before marriage to see if "racial damage" might be involved; the law forbade marriage between individuals suffering from venereal disease, feeble-mindedness, epilepsy, or any of the other "genetic infirmities" specified in the 1933 Sterilization Law. Those considered genetically ill ("Erbkranken") were permitted to marry other genetically ill, but only after being sterilized to ensure that they would not leave any offspring.2

The Reich Citizenship Law was intended to deprive those "not of German blood" of all political rights; the Blood Protection Law, in contrast, was designed to separate Jews from non-Jews in the sphere of reproductive and familial relations. Sexual traffic between Germans and Jews was outlawed as "racial pollution" ("Rassenschande"); violations of the law could be punished by imprisonment in the years before the war and by death after the outbreak of war.3

The Exclusion of Jews from German Medicine

Blood groups provided a hope for many that the various races could be accurately distinguished. Otto Reche, professor of racial science at the University of Leipzig, was one of the pioneering researchers in this field. Reche (along with Paul Steffan) was founder of the German Society for Blood Group Research (in 1926) and also (again with Steffan, in 1928) of the "Zeitschrift für Rassenphysiologie." He was one of the leading figures in German anthropology and racial theory in the Weimar and Nazi periods.67

Reche claimed to have founded the Society for Blood Group Research as part of an effort to find a precise physiological measure of differences among the various races.67 (He was by no means the first to suggest an uneven distribution of blood types across "races": Karl Landsteiner had suggested this earlier in the century, and subsequent research in the Nazi period cited Landsteiner's work.)69 According to Reche (based on his studies of the rural inhabitants of northwest Germany), the long-headed European races were originally characterized by blood type A. Another, less well defined race with origins somewhere in Asia was characterized by blood type B, whereas the pure-blooded inhabitants of pre-Columbian America had neither type A nor B but were exclusively of type O. Reche concluded that a strong correlation had once existed between race and blood type, and that subsequently, through racial intermarriage, the races had become intermingled.

Reche felt that blood group research had important policy implications for the Nazi state. He described in vivid terms the negative consequences of allowing enemy ("feindliche") blood groups (A and B, for example) to mingle with one another. If a person of blood type A, for example, were to receive blood from an individual of type B, this could result in the destruction of the circulatory system and possibly even in the death of the recipient. He noted that the ability to distinguish blood types was important in police work and in the determination of paternity: "In some cases, it can be ascertained whether or not an illegitimate child is the offspring of a Jewish father, because the Asiatic B blood type is more common among Jews than among Europeans."70 Reche conceded that such tests were never conclusive, given that no single blood type was typical among Jews; most Nazi physicians admitted this was the case.

Reche and others, however, believed that even though there was no necessary correlation between race and blood type, the methods developed in the new science were important for Germany's new racial legislation. In 1939 Peter Dahr, for example, cited a case in which a (non-Jewish) woman married to a Jew had three children and wanted to claim that one of them stemmed from an extramarital relationship with a "German" and should therefore not be considered Jewish. Dahr showed how blood types could be used to determine paternity and resolve the racial status of the child. The mother was type OO, the father AB. Because the child in question was type OO, it could not have been fathered by the woman's husband. The child could therefore be considered German under Nazi law.71

The study of the racial specificity of blood types was supported by Germany's leading scientific bodies. The Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft and the German Research Council both supported research in this area, and many of Germany's medical and anthropological journals published articles on this topic.72

Selected References

2. Personal communication, Edith Zerbin-Rüdin, Summer 1982; see also INFORMATIONSDIENST, October 20, 1938.

3. Hermann Graml, "Die Behandlung 'Deutschblütiger' in 'Rassenschande' Verfahren," GUTACHTEN DES INSTITUTS FÜR ZEITGESCHICHTE (Munich, 1957), p. 72. There is evidence that racial hygienists were sometimes even more eager than leading Nazi officials to prosecute cases of racial pollution. On October 14, 1937, for example, Justice Minister Franz Gürtner acquitted the defendant in a trial for racial pollution, and Verschuer protested that the decision had been made against his recommendation (Müller-Hill, TÖDLICHE WISSENSCHAFT, p. 15).

67. In 1925 Reche founded the Wiener Gesellschaft für Rassenpflege; in 1932 he founded the Leipzig branch of the Society for Racial Hygiene. He was director of the Anthropological Institute of the University of Vienna (in 1926) and subsequently held positions as director of the Institut für Rassenund Völkerkunde and director of the Ethnologisch-Anthropologisches Institut, both at the University of Leipzig. He also directed Leipzig's "Staatliches Forschungsinstitut für Völkerkunde" and served as head of Dresden's Staatsakademie für Rassen- und Gesundheitspflege. Reche's bibliography and curriculum vitae can be found in R73/13816, BA [From the Bundesarchiv Koblenz. R73: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft].

69. See, for example, R73/12756, no. 4943, BA [From the Bundesarchiv Koblenz. R73: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft].

70. Köhn-Behrens, WAS IST RASSE? p. 98-101.

71. Peter Dahr, "Blutgruppenforschung und Rassenhygiene," ZIEL UND WEG, 9 (1939): 98-108.

72. See, for example, Karl Horneck, "Über den Nachweis serologischer Verschiedenheiten der menschlichen Rassen," ZEITSCHRIFT FÜR MENSCHLICHE VERERBUNGS-UND KONSTITUTIONSLEHRE, 26 (1942): 309-319.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher from RACIAL HYGIENE: MEDICINE UNDER THE NAZIS by Robert N. Proctor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1988 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.