Constitutional therapy and clinical racial hygiene in Weimar and Nazi Germany

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Abstract

The paper examines the history of constitutional therapy in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Focusing on Walther Jaensch's Institute for Constitutional Research at the Charite in Berlin, it shows how an entrepreneurial scientist successfully negotiated the changing social and political landscape of two very different political regimes and mobilized considerable public and private resources for his projects. During the Weimar period, his work received funding from various state agencies as well as the Rockefeller foundation, because it fit well with contemporary approaches in public hygiene and social medicine that emphasized the need to restore the physical and mental health of children and youths. Jaensch successfully positioned himself as a researcher on the verge of developing new therapies for feeble-minded people, who threatened to become an intolerable burden on the Weimar welfare state. During the Nazi period, he successfully reinvented himself as a racial hygienist by convincing influential medical leaders that his ideas were a valuable complement to the negative eugenics of Nazi bio-politics. Constitutional therapy, he claimed, could turn genetically healthy people with inhibited mental development (geistigen Entwicklungshemmungen) into fully productive citizens and therefore made a valuable contribution to Nazi performance medicine (Leistungsmedizin) with its emphasis on productivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115 - 143
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Volume71
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

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