JCIV-429-01 Science in Nazi Germany
Spring for 2014-2015
Richard Wetzell
This advanced undergraduate class examines the role of science in Nazi Germany. While at first glance the crimes of Nazi Germany, culminating in the Holocaust, strike us as a return to barbarism, research of the last twenty-five years has shown that scientists trained in the methods of modern science played an important role in the Nazi regime and were frequently complicit in its crimes. This finding raises a number of questions which we will examine in this class: Was German science somehow different from science in other European countries or does the case of German science reveal a more general truth about the possible political uses and abuses of science? What changes did German science undergo after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933? What were the continuities with pre-1933 science? In what ways does science in a dictatorship function differently from science in a democracy? Did the Nazis “abuse” science? What role did the bio-sciences play in Nazi racial policy, including the Holocaust? Was science under the Nazi regime “peudoscience”? What does the study of science in the Third Reich teach us about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, the history of science, and the role of science in our own society.

The topics examined in the class will include: introductions to the history of German science and to Nazi Germany; the eugenics movement in transnational perspective; eugenics, psychiatry and human genetics in Nazi Germany; the role of “racial science” in Nazi anti-Semitism and racial policy; the role of the medical profession in Nazi Germany; the role of academic experts in the wartime occupation of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust; the contribution of military research to the Nazi war effort and the German quest for the atomic bomb; comparative and transnational perspectives; the question of postwar justice and the legacy of Nazi science in Cold War America.

Instructor can be reached at: wetzell@ghi-dc.org
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None

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Spring '15: Wetzell, Richard (file download)
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