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Part IV: The National Socialist German Workers Party as Guardian of the Health of the Volk

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Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME,volume 135)


While the responsibilities of the states in the internal political area consist of the organization, administration and protection of volkish life, the party has the responsibility to lead the German people in all areas of their common expression of life and to educate them to fulfill their political and biological responsibility.

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  1. 1.

    The National Socialist German Physicians’ Association (NSDAB), staffed exclusively with physician members of the NSDAP was the spearhead in the regime’s drive to coordinate all medical doctors in the Reich and eventually use them for its purposes.

    The NSDAB saw itself, from its founding in August 1929 at the party convention of the NSDAP, not as a professional organization but rather as a fighting organization of the party. It was not to be seen as a descendant of or subordinate to the two top physicians’ associations. According to Ordinance it understood itself to be a collection of such physicians, “who are members of the NSDAP in order to act in the medical professional union and in the professional life according to the principles of the NSDAP in professional feeling with the party leadership and in order to inject thereby the German medical system with National Socialist spirit” (Swoch, 107).

    With the Machtuebergreifung the leadership of the medical profession came to the NSDAB with the special assignment of “Gleichschaltung,” meaning “coordination,” or, essentially expunging all Jewish doctors from the profession. Its “Gleichschaltung” authority extended over the medical professional associations, the physicians’ Chambers and the medical administration. Since Gerhard Wagner was the leader of the NSDAB he also took over the leadership of the “Gleichschaltung.”(Swoch, 107) After the “Gleichschaltung” had ended the primary assignment of the NSDAB had also ended. Foreseeing its decline, three institutes were founded whose areas of responsibility made the NSDAB superfluous: The Aufklarungsamt fuer Volksgesendheit (Enlightenment Office for Volks’ Health) was founded in April 1933 and from May 1934 it was called the Rassenpolitisches Amt der NSDAP (Racial Political Office of the NSDAP); the Sachverstaendigenbeirat fuer Volksgesundheit (Specialty Secretariat for Volks’ Health) was founded in August 1933 and became in May 1934 the Amt fuer Volksgesundheit des NSDAP (Office for Volks’ Health of the NSDAP) and finally the Reichaerztekammer (RaK), the Reich Physicians’ Chamber. The founding of these institutes had for the NSDAB, a political disempowering and weakening effect (Swoch, 107).

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    SA – Sturmabteilung.

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    SS – Schutzstaffel

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    NSKK – Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahr-Korps

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    NSFK –Nationalsozialistische Frei-Korps

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    HJ – Hitler Youth

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    BdM – Bund deutscher Maedel.- League of German Girls.

  8. 8.

    Wagner, being an “old fighter”, and the founder of the NSD-Aerztesbund whose close friend and regular patient was the Deputy Fuehrer, Rudolf Hess, was in the position to dictate his own portfolio, since it was subject to review and approval only by Hitler. (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 23); (M. Kater, “Doctor Leonardo Conti and His Nemesis: The Failure of Centralized Medicine in the Third Reich,” Central European History 18 (1985): 299–325).

  9. 9.

    Kater reports that Conti was rather colorless and had a more difficult time managing the conflicting political currents of the positions he took over from Wagner and was ultimately overshadowed by Hitler’s personal doctor, Karl Brandt. (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 25).

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    Hitler named Professor Karl Brandt to the post of sanitation and health plenipotentiary. According to Kater, this action was taken to isolate Conti (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 25).

    Brandt was born in 1904 in Muehlhause, Alsace. He came from a family of doctors who were all conservative mid-ranking civil servants and state-employed physicians, loyal to the monarchy and the authorities. He studied medicine at the University of Jena, Freiburg, graduating in 1928. He did his internship at the Bergmannsheil Hospital in Bochum and then in 1935 transferred to the Surgical University Clinic in Berlin. He became a member of the NSDAP in 1932 and joined the SA in 1933. After providing emergency treatment for Hitler’s adjutant Wilhelm Brueckner in August 1933, he was appointed Hitler’s escort physician in June 1934. He was constantly in Hitler’s entourage and “enjoyed the ear of the Fuehrer.”(U. Schmidt, Justice at Nuremberg: Leo Alexander and the Nazi Doctors’ Trial (New York: Palgrave, 2004), 129–130.

    Brandt was involved in the planning and organization of the Nazi ‘euthanasia’ program, consisting of the murder of tens of thousands of handicapped children and adults. He was convicted at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial of complicity in concentration camp experiments (specifically experiments on epidemic jaundice on prisoners in Auschwitz, Mustard gas experiments at Sachsenhausen, high altitude experiments at Dachau, freezing experiments at Dachau, malaria experiments at Dachau, bone, muscle and nerve regeneration experiments at Regensbrueck, sea-water experiments at Dachau, sterilization experiments at Auschwitz, and Spotted Fever experiments at Buchenwald and Natzweiler) (G. Annas and M. Grodin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 97–99) and sentenced to death for “War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, membership in an organization declared criminal.”(Schmidt, 261) He offered to undergo the same experiments on himself, but this was denied. He was executed by hanging on June 2, 1948. (L. Heston and R. Heston, The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler: His Illnesses, Doctors and Drugs (New York: Scarborough, 1979), 97. A detailed biography of Brandt and his evolution as Hitler’s doctor to where he comes to oversee the euthanasia program is in U. Schmidt, Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor (New York: Continuum, 2007).

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    This paragraph was added to the 1942 edition.

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    In 1932, concordant with his assumption of the NS-Aerztebund leadership, Wagner was charged with broad responsibilities for health in the party realm. This was constituted as the Abteilung Volksgesundheit, the Department of Volks’ Health. After the Machtuebergreifung, this was reconstituted on an official basis as the Hauptamt fuer Volksgesundheit (Main Office for Volks’ Health). Wagner was granted a new mandate as the regime’s “health leader” (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 23).

  22. 22.

    The NS-Aerztebund existed officially as a branch of the Main Office for People’s Health, and officially was an associated formation of the NSDAP (angeschlossener Verband), rather than, like the SA, SS, and HJ, an integrated one (eingegleiderter Verband) (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 292).

  23. 23.

    The NSDAP was the predominant ideological organ for educating physicians in the “National Socialist philosophical viewpoint.” It major educational effort was towards the National Socialist view of Racial Hygiene and genetics. It is important to note that the NSDAP trained the physician in ideological matters (National Socialist philosophical viewpoint), so that, given that the central function of the physician was to attend to the Racial Hygiene of the Volk, the physician was to be an ideological organ of the NSDAP. This orientation represents the first “whole” of the “whole of the whole.” This notion of the “whole of the whole” is somewhat like the sense of “double coherence” in common law. There is to be coherence within the profession and this coherence is to be consistent with the coherence of the entire society, so that the medical profession reflects the social conditions of the wider Volk society.

  24. 24.

    The NS-Aerztebund did not originate the viewpoints but merely reports what the “Indoctrination Leader” directs it to report.

  25. 25.

    The indoctrination training of the physician was to take place at the so-called Leadership School of German Physicians at Alt-Rehse, a resort on Lake Tollense in Mecklenburg. Ramm designates the Leadership school as a “character school of the German physician.” This designation illustrates that from the National Socialist viewpoint the responsibility of moral training is to teach “character.” At this point, no specific comments are made about what is meant by “character,” but one can gather that what is meant is that the physician acts and articulates the precepts of the Comprehensive National Socialist Philosophical Worldview, particularly regarding Bevolkerungpolitiks – the preservation of the Volk through Racial Hygiene and genetics. Kater reports that the training courses consisted of a calculated admixture of work and relaxation, sports, study, games, indoctrination and restful contemplation. The course lasted 2 weeks and consisted predominantly of speeches, marches and military drills (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 67).

    According to available material relating to the school, it served not only as an indoctrination school for physicians, but also as a school to train physicians to become “Fuehrer und Erzieher” (Leader and Educator) of the Volk. (Unknown Author, “Der Aerzt als Fuehrer und Erzieher” Deutsch Aerzteblatt. 1935, 92: 563–567) Thomas Gerst has characterized the graduates of the course as the “conspirator community in the service of Nazi health politics” (T. Gerst, “Verschworene Gemeinschaft im Dienste der NS-Gesundheitspolitik,” Dtsch Aerzteblatt 92A (1995): 1588–91). Unfortunately, the historical community has few records of the activities at Alt-Rehse because the records were confiscated and taken to the USSR by the Red Army in 1945. “Not one sheet has been rediscovered since then” (Personal communication from Dr. Volker Dahm of Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte, Munich-Berlin). Schoenbaum reports that 3000 doctors were members of the SS. (Schoenbaum, 228) It is likely that all would have attended the courses at Alt-Rehse.

    A number of other schools were established by the Nazis to train medical personnel. The SA (Schutz Abteilung, or Storm Troopers) founded its own school in Tuebingen. The SA became essentially defunct after the Roehm purge in 1934. An SS medical Academy was established in Berlin in 1938 and the Nazi Nurses’ Association had a “mother house” in the Rudolf Hess Hospital in Dresden (Proctor, 1988, 86).

  26. 26.

    The Comprehensive National Socialist Philosophical Worldview was predominantly that the physician must view himself a member of the “whole” and each patient as a member of the whole Volk and that the purely “individualistic” conception of the profession must be replaced by this National Socialist philosophical viewpoint.

  27. 27.

    The Leadership school at Alt-Rehse operated as an indoctrination camp. The physicians lived in barracks army-style, performed physical exercises and took hikes together in the countryside. An intense atmosphere of mutual indoctrination was fostered.

  28. 28.

    German-speaking physicians from the conquered lands were required to attend the Leadership school so that they could also become indoctrinated in the National Socialist philosophical viewpoint (Kater, Doctors Under Hitler, 67).

  29. 29.

    The Racial Political Office was charged with finding “genetically well-ordered families” and encouraging them to procreate by “injecting National Socialist population-political thinking.” What this amounted to was pointing out to those families who had been determined to be of the highest stock of the Volk that they had a moral duty to procreate and have as many children as possible so as to perpetuate the genetic stock. This was a form of forced human breeding program.

    Fischer reports that the wife of Hitler’s lieutenant, Martin Bormann, soberly accepted her husband’s revelation that he had finally succeeded in seducing the actress Manja Behrens. She was reportedly neither jealous nor upset; in fact, she suggested a ménage a trios on the grounds that such an arrangement would set an example for other Germans since such an arrangement would be more likely to produce more children. Gerda Bormann suggested to her husband: “You can certainly be helpful to Manja, but you have to see to it that Manja has a child 1 year and I have one the next, (so dass du immer eine Frau hast, die gebrauchsfaehig ist) (so that you always have a woman around who is ready to be used). Fischer reports that the historian, H.R. Trevor-Roper has called this “the Nazi principle of crop rotation” (Fischer, 356).

  30. 30.

    Land - One of the territorial divisions of the Republican Germany each having their own governments. Controlled after 1933 by the central government through the Reich Governor; Kreis – District; Ort – “place”, in this context means a town.

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Ramm, R. (2019). Part IV: The National Socialist German Workers Party as Guardian of the Health of the Volk. In: Medical Jurisprudence and Rules of the Medical Profession. Philosophy and Medicine, vol 135. Springer, Cham.

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