Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 28  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Rüdin became a close associate of Alfred Plotz in establishing the German Society for Racial Hygiene. Rüdin was an indefatigable researcher and saw as his mission the application of Mendelian laws and eugenic principles to psychiatry. A former student and associate of his told me that “the aim of his life” was to establish the genetic basis for psychiatric conditions, and that “he was not so much a fanatical Nazi as a fanatical geneticist.”

But a Nazi Rüdin did become, joining the Party in 1937 at the age of sixty. From his prestigious position as director of the Research Institute for Psychiatry of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in Munich, Rüdin worked closely with a regime whose commitment to genetic principles he applauded, and was one of the principle architects of the sterilization laws. He became a significant source of scientific legitimation for the regime’s racial policies (including consultations with Hans F. K. Günther, the leading Nazi anthropologist-publicist on racial matters, whose intellectual repute was generally held to be very low). Rüdin was not involved in the direct medical killing of the “euthanasia” program; but a younger associate to whom I spoke had the impression that his teacher, though not without doubts about the program, could well have favored a version of it with careful medical control.

In a special 1943 issue of his journal, Archive für Rassen-und Gesellschaftsbiologie (Archive of Racial and Social Biology), celebrating ten years of National Socialist rule, Rüdin extolled Hitler and the movement for its “decisive … path-breaking step toward making racial hygiene a fact among the German people ... and inhibiting the propagation of the congenitally ill and inferior.” He praised both the Nuremberg Laws for “preventing the further penetration of the German gene pool by Jewish blood,” and the SS for “its ultimate goal, the creation of a special group of medically superior and healthy people of the German Nordic type.”21

A close relative, also a physician, told me that Rüdin felt it “necessary” to write those things and, in response to my question whether he had meant them at the time, answered, ”Well, half and half.” While Rüdin apparently did eventually become disillusioned with the regime, he could never (according to a former colleague) bring himself to resign his positions but sought always to work from within.*

No one I spoke to thought Rüdin a cruel person; to the contrary, he was seen as decent and dedicated to his work. Yet he not only served the regime but, in his person and scientific reputation, did much to effect the medicalization of racial policies — not quite those of killing but of suppressing in specific groups the continuity of life. He also demonstrates,
* Rüdin’s defenders later claimed that he contested the “euthanasia” program from within. This is unlikely, as efforts in 1940 of two psychiatrists to enlist Rüdin, and through him the German Psychiatric Society, for opposition to the killing met with no success (see pages 88-89). Rüdin received two high awards from Hitler as the “pathfinder in the field of hereditary hygiene.”22   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 28 Forward  Next Page