A Period of Doubt: Race Science before the Second World War

Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series


‘It was the Nazis who perpetrated the deed, but men and women everywhere believed in the distinction between races, whether white, yellow or black, Aryan or Jew.’ This, in a nutshell, was the dilemma of race biology in the 1930s and 1940s. The deed was the single greatest crime in the history of mankind — the systematic extermination of six million Jews because, it was claimed, they belonged to an inferior race. The dilemma of race biology was that what men and women everywhere believed, scientists believed also — that there was a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. However hard scientists tried to disassociate themselves from Nazi racism by labelling it a ghastly perversion of science for political ends, the fact was that racism received its sanction in science.1


Racial Classification Physical Anthropology Cephalic Index Human Heredity Mental Defect 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    The quotation is from George L. Mosse, Towards the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1978) p. xi. The reasons for the persecution of the Jews were, of course, very complex, and went way beyond any supposed ‘scientific’ explanations. The social place of Jews in Germany, economic factors, and Germany’s defeat in World War I all played a part.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Nancy Stepan 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryYale UniversityUSA

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