History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society's General Administration
Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Hachtmann
(since 15 November 2002)
"Ost" and "Lebensraum" Research at Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes
(since 1 January 1999)
Armaments Research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society under National Socialism: The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Metals Research
(since 1 January 1999)
Armaments were fundamental preconditions for prosecuting a war of conquest and extermination. From 1933 on, science and engineering research and development were placed step-by-step in the service of the armament industry and the military, with the goal of optimizing the acquisition of raw materials, production technologies, and weapons. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes devoted to chemistry, physics, and engineering thereby became objects of interest for the individuals and institutions that oversaw armaments production for the "Third Reich". On the other hand, the mobilization of science and engineering for armaments production provided the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWS) and its institutes with an opportunity for supplying themselves with scarce resources and workers with scientific and technical skills.
The example of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Metals Research is especially suited to show how science was instrumentalized in order to resolve crucial problems in the armament sector. Several of the projects which were successful by the end of the war in 1945 dealt with the development of alloys of raw materials available inside German and occupied territories, the non-destructive materials testing in the aeronautics industry, and the development of measurement gauges used to detect mines for the German Navy. The KWI for Metals Research also played an important role with respect to history of the discipline and science policy. From the 1920s on, the institute had recruited many of the most distinguished metals scientists. After 1933, many of them were absorbed by the expanding armaments industry or transferred over to industrial, academic, and military research. In 1937, Werner Köster, director of the institute, was given responsibility for non-ferrous metals research in the Reich Research Council.
The central question is: to what extent was scientific practice at the KWI for Metals Research affected by needs of military and armament industry? Is it still justified to speak of basic research? Was the thesis of "freedom of movement" for science during National Socialism merely apologia? How much did Nazi science politics, "coordination", and the purge of politically and racially prosecuted scientists affect work in the institutes? Which state or industrial institutions financed metals science? To what extent did scientists identify themselves with the political and military aims of the regime? By the end of the war, had the institute lost its leading position with respect to international standards? Or had it not become a profitable "mission target" for Allied intelligence teams precisely because of its military research and development? After their denazification, how did the scientists themselves assess their collaboration with, and self-mobilization for the Nazi regime? How was it possible for the staff of the KWIs, despite the destruction and demolition, successfully to establish research and teaching in metals science during the reconstruction of the young Federal Republic of Germany?
Biochemistry during the War. Adolf Butenandt and his Institute 1939 to 1945
(since 1 November 2001)
Racial Science and Racial Politics in the "Third Reich": The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics (1933-1945)
(1 March 2000 - 31 July 2002)
"Race" was a concept central to Nazi ideology and politics. Much - if not most - of what seems to us characteristic in the criminal dimension of Nazism was committed "in the name of race". Most German scientists in the field of human genetics and racial anthropology failed to challenge the Nazi effort to found state-policies on racial biology, asserting that Nazism itself was simply "applied racial science". Nazism thus brought the "sciences of race" (Rassenkunde, Rassenforschung, Rassenbiologie) to center stage. Prof. Eugen Fischer, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics (KWIA, founded in 1927), for example, saw the budget of his institute more than double under the new regime. In turn, he promised Nazi authorities that the institute would devote itself both "to providing a solid scientific basis to the racial [...] policy measures of the new state and to the practical applications" of this racial policy.
The ambiguity of the term Rassenhygiene, combined with the fact that Rassenkunde (racial anthropology) and Rassenhygiene (eugenics in its medical-social-deviancy-engineering dimension) overlapped in a number of areas, has led many historians to confuse both terms as synonymous. The present investigation will focus on "racial science" in the narrower sense: the study of morphological "races" in the sense used by physical anthropologists and of the distribution of "normal" (non pathological) genetic characteristics in human populations. Racial anthropology in the period 1918-1945 led to various types of research, including large scale investigation of the distribution of physical characteristics and "racial types," studies of the inheritance of normal morphological characteristics (mostly based on twin-studies), and racial-geographical distribution of blood-groups. Among the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes (KWIs), Rassenforschung in this narrow sense was primarily carried out at the KWI für Anthropologie, menschliche Erblehre und Eugenik. So as far as the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWS) is concerned, the single most important locus for this interaction between "racial science" and Nazi racial policy was the KWIA.
It will thus be necessary to reconstruct the history of this institute and its main actors in social and political context. It will also be important to understand the scientific research carried on at the institute and how it compared to the rest of German racial science and international debates on the "race issue". What will be of particular interest is to see how "race science" and Nazi racial policy influenced one another. To what extent did the new political context influence the content of science, the style of debates, the orientation of research, the organization of scientific societies and research institutes? What was the consequence of the exclusion of Jews and political Leftists from the scientific community? How significant was the backing and justification of Nazi racism by scientists? What was the contribution of racial scientists to anti-Semitism and the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question"? For example, at the most simple level, as experts and consultants for racial policy, scientists at the KWI for Anthropology were involved in a number of aspects of Nazi racial policy, including:
At another level, I will examine how new technologies, in particular scientific identification techniques, were developed in order to comply with Nazi racial policies. A significant part of research at the KWIA was intended to develop techniques to determine the ancestry and racial status of persons for the needs of racial policy.
One of the main objectives of this study will be to relate scientific research to political agendas. This means first of all to explore to what extent "racial science" and human genetics provided a scientific legitimation for Nazi policies. At a second level, it can be seen as an instrumentalization of research by providing scientific and technical expertise to Nazi policy. However, in both cases, science is somehow the servant to politics. It will also be necessary to examine how far science shaped Nazi ideologies and policies, and more specifically how "race science" shaped "race policy" - that is how scientists could also instrumentalize politics - including Nazi politics - to reach their own ends.
A last issue will be the involvement of KWIA scientists in criminal and unethical human experiments, scientific research carried out in concentration camps and search for "human materials". The KWI for Anthropology is - among all the KWIs - one of the most compromised in respect to Nazi medical and racial crimes.
Call for Information:
I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who has been subjected to the following types of racial examination:
Further, any person who has been working at or for the KWI for Anthropology between 1930 and 1945 or anyone else who might have direct information about the institute or the work that was done there.
Bio-sciences at Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes: Research Structure and Practice during the National Socialist Era.
(since 1 January 2000)
Chemical Warfare Research in Nazi Germany. A Study on the Cooperation of Kaiser-Wilhelm Institutes, the Military and the Industry
(since 1 April 2000)
During World War I, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (KWI) for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry, directed by Fritz Haber, made a major contribution to the research and development of chemical warfare agents and gas protection gear needed for their military application. The first German strike of poisonous gas at Ypres/France in April 1915 was facilitated by this scientific support. Likewise, the ensuing race to bring forward more and more potential chemical mass destruction weapons from the laboratory to the field was made possible. Despite the fact that several studies about the CW-research of the KWI during WW I have been published, there are no monographic studies available for the Nazi era. The objective of this dissertation is to analyse the reciprocal collaboration of scientific experts of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWS) with the chemical industry, the military (Reichswehr and Wehrmacht) as well as the Nazi state.
Which were the personal links, existing between CW-experts of the KWS and state institutions (e.g., Reichs Ministry of Science, Education and Culture, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Reich Research Council, Four Year Plan agencies, Armament Ministry), Army Ordinance Office, the Nazi machinery of persecution (Gestapo, SD, SS) and Big Business? Self mobilization of scientists in preparation for WW II will be examined as well as the chemical warfare research itself in regard to its contents, extent and scientific importance. The reconstruction of all CW research projects existing at KWS institutes will focus on the examination of their specific imminent scientific logic regarding the applied methods and pursued aims. This allows us to determine more precisely the specific contribution of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in the field of CW research during the Nazi regime in regard to the analogous or rather labour divisional researching other science institutes of the universities, the industry and the Wehrmacht.
In my study, I distinguish between institutes working on singular contract research projects limited in time (KWI for Work Physiology, KWI for Brain Research, KWI for Leather Research, KWI for Fluid Mechanics) and those institutes in which the Wehrmacht ran separate CW departments working continuously for several years (KWI for Physical Chemistry and the KWI for Medical Research). A case study of the KWI for Work Physiology (Dortmund/Münster) will show how the militarization of research already began during the final years of the Weimar Republic. By order of the Reichswehr, this institute started to conduct in 1932 military physiology studies on the performance of soldiers during long-term exercises with gasmasks. In collaboration with the Auergesellschaft (a major producer of gas masks) the Genetic Department of the KWI for Brain Research (Buch) tested gas mask filters with radioactive isotopes. After World War II the KWI for Leather Research (Dresden) supported the Military Medical Academy (Berlin) in their search for methods on how to protect leather against mustard gas. The KWI for Fluid Mechanics (Göttingen) developed a mathematical model for the High Command of the German Marine to calculate the diffusion of poisonous gases over the surface of the ocean.
The KWI for Physical Chemistry, in contrast, established a long-term cooperation with the Armament Office of the Army. The Armament Office of the Army financed several chemical warfare research departments at this KWI, where mainly performance aerosols (dispersions, fog, smoke) were studied.The results aimed to improve CW detectors, develop new filter materials for gas masks and to predict the performance of CW agents in closed rooms and extra mural. This study will focus on one research project in detail: The research and production of the so- called "> “N-Stoff“ (Chlorine Trifluoride), an incendiary that was tested because of its extremely strong chemical reactions, an effective weapon to break tanks and fortifications. In the summer of 1944 parts of the KWI for Physical Chemistry were evacuated to Falkenhagen (near Seelow), where a factory for the production of “N-Stoff“ was under construction since the end of 1938. From the summer of 1943 onwards, I. G. Farben industry built a second industrial complex for the production of the highly toxic nerve gas Sarin. How was the KWI linked to those armament projects? To what extend should the scientists of the KWS be held responsible for the exploitation of inmates of the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, who were forcefully recruited to construct the institute buildings, laboratories and barracks of the KWI at Falkenhagen since the summer of 1944?
The KWI for Medical Research at Heidelberg was another institute in which the Army Ordinance Office furnished a separate CW research department. A team lead by the director of the institute and Nobel laureate Richard Kuhn studied new nerve gases there. Tabun, the first of those nerve gases, had been discovered at the end of 1936 by the chemist Gerhard Schrader of the I.G. Farbenindustrie at Leverkusen in the context of the research of organic phosphorous acids as potential new insecticides. The extremely toxic property of the organic phosphorus acids opened up an interesting new field for the CW research. Immediately, special laboratories were established at the „Gas Protection Laboratory“ of the Army Ordinance Office and at the I.G. Farbenindustrie at Wuppertal-Elberfeld. In 1938 Schrader identified Sarin, another even more toxic nerve gas. To find out more about the unsolved problem of how the biochemical effect of the new nerve gases work (inhibition of Acetylcholinesterase in the brain), a new department was established at the KWI for Medical Research in the beginning of 1941. The institutional history of this department has to be explored in more detail. What was the specific contribution of the scientists at the KWI at Heidelberg with regards to the effect of the nerve gases? At the KWI Kuhn and his collaborator Konrad Henkel invented the nerve gas Soman in 1944. Much stronger than all other nerve gases known by then, Soman was treated as a so-called new "Wunderwaffe" (wonder-weapon) of the Nazi-leadership. After the end of the war, Kuhn‘s the scientific results attracted the Allies‘ interest, since the new group of nerve gases Tabun, Sarin and Soman were not in their possession before April 1945. The study will try to determine the role of the KWS and their institutes for the CW research during National Socialism.
Remigration, Compensation and the Legacy of the Past
(since 1 January 2000)
The point of this doctoral dissertation is to investigate the stance of the Max Planck Society towards scholars, forced to emigrate from its predecessor organization, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Historians of science have done very little research so far to clarify to what extent the Max Planck Society sought to compensate and reintegrate refugee scholars into postwar German society.
The founders of the Max Planck Society, among them its first president Otto Hahn, openly expressed their wish to continue the tradition of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Following this claim the Max-Planck-Society tried to reinvigorate its international reputation by contacting scientists abroad in order to aquire foreign members. In doing so it had to face the awkward situation of being confronted with emigrants who recalled the humiliating and shameful circumstances of their dismissal. This is what could generally be called a "dilemma of continuity".
Some former members of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Society claimed compensation for the loss of careers and property. As a consequence, the specific legal status of the Max Planck Society as a private yet publicly-financed research organisation led to painful struggling with legal as well as moral issues. The solutions of these conflicts - though bureaucratically sanctioned - were seldom satisfactory for the victims. Some emigrants were also aware of the fact that several scientists and administrators of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, who actively collaborated with the Nazi-State, were now again working for the Max Planck Society, sometimes in prominent positions.
While there were also many among Jewish emigrants who supported the refounding of the Max Planck Society, the political and scientific situation in Germany during the early post-war period seemed too insecure for most of them to seriously consider returning. Even those who characterized their membership in the Kaiser Wilhelm Society as the most productive time in their lives were sceptical whether a career in the new organisation would be a desirable option, given all the difficulties mentioned above. The current state of research on this topic shows that only very few scientists of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Society actually returned to Germany and stayed.
Call for Information:
In addition to the more prominent researchers in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes (KWI), who were expelled from Germany, there were many younger scientists just beginning their careers, about whom little is known. Therefore it is important to acknowledge them as victims of Nazi-persecution and to investigate their fate after 1933. In order to achieve this, it will be crucial for me to contact relatives and students of the victims and to collect whatever information might be available concerning their relations to the Max Planck Society. In order to complete my list of émigré scholars from the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft, I would very much appreciate learning from anyone who may have personal information about any of the following people:
Textile Fibre Research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Politics of Autarky (working title).
(since 1 September 2002)
Adolf Butenandt's and the Politics of Science in the Post-war Era. Strategies of Cleansing and the Politics of Alignment (working title).
(since 1 July 2002)
Anke Pötzscher, 17. March 2003