Research Program
"History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society
in the National Socialist Era"

Research Director

PD Dr. Susanne Heim
(since 1 February )
Tel: +49-(0)30-22667-232
Prof. Dr. Carola Sachse
(1 April 2000 - 31 January 2004)
now: University of Vienna
Prof. Dr. Doris Kaufmann
(1 April 1998 - 29 February 2000)
now: University of Bremen

Project Management

Birgit Kolboske
Ina Heumann
Tel: +49-(0)30-22667-154
Fax: +49-(0)30-22667-333
For a period of five years (1999-2004) the research program will investigate the specific contribution of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society to the politics and practice of National Socialism.
1. General goals and central issues
2. Main fields of research interest

The research program focuses on five central issues:


(1) Continuity and Discontiniuty

The relation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and its scientific leadership to the culture and politics of National Socialism must be understood against the backdrop of long-term historical processes. Organisational and financial changes within the relation of science to society and economy have to be taken into account along with epistemological changes in the generation and treatment of scientific proplems. The project will examine to what extent the racist, antisemitic, and expansionist politics of the NS-regime directed, accelerated or slowed down the scientific work of the society. Finally the project will focus on the key problem of institutional, personal and scientific continuities after the end of World War II, the question also being: how (if at all) was the incorporation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society into the NS-Regime raised as a topic in the Max Planck Society?

(2) Science as Legitimation

The project will explore the extent to which the political aims of the NS-Regime, including crimes against humanity were imagined to be founded upon scientific expertise. How did the regime actually profit from scientific work conducted at Kaiser Wilhelm institutes, and how can one evaluate the specific contribution of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society to the stabilization of the NS-Regime?

(3) The Knowledge of Experts

Focussing more closely on the active role of scientists at Kaiser Wilhelm institutes as advisers, the project will examine how they helped planning and shaping national socialist policies. In addition to their scientific advocacy of a racist ethnic policy - about which well documented work has been done - the inquiries will be extended into the fields of agriculture, nutrition and military research. The scientific work of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society's scientists will be scrutinized to find out to what extent it influenced the ideological concept of "Lebensraum", the military campaigns and military technology.

(4) Violating Ethical Boundaries of Research

Even more crucial are problems concerning the profiting of science from National Socialism. To what extent did the scientists of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society took advantage from the NS-Regime? This question is vital in the context of the murderous momentum anthropological, psychiatric and genetic research gained with access to inmates of concentration camps, prisoners of war, patients in hospitals and slave workers. Were these vicitms abused by scientists of Kaiser Wilhelm institutes?

(5) International Comparison

Our point is not to present a balance sheet merely judging the progress of knowledge in terms of backwardness vs. modernization in a global context. It is rather to compare the implication of science in National Socialism with similar forms of interaction in other countries at war. Comparing democratic systems with dictatorial ones might help to clarify specific styles of collaboration and perspectives on (self-) control for the production of scientific knowledge.
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Work within the research program is currently subdivided into four major parts:



Organisation, policy and administration of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society

Collaboration of the General Administration, the Presidents and the General Secretaries with various agencies of the NS-Regime; policies of hiring and firing; influence of party-members, economic leaders, representatives of the state and the military functioning as vice-presidents, senators, curators, trustees, and members of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society; the position of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society within the research agenda of the NS-Regime; personell policy during the NS-peroid (dismissal of Jewish members, use of slave-labor); rehabilitation of emigré scholars / remigration-barriers on part of the Max Planck Society after the war; compensation and / or commemoration of victims of human experiments and other abuses; treatment of survivors.


Racial hygiene, genetic, medical, and psychiatric research in Kaiser Wilhelm institutes

Post-war continuity in anthropology, racist and cirminal biology, hereditary pathology at specific institutes; contribution of scientists at Kaiser Wilhelm institutes to the national socialist policies of racial and population policy as experts involved in legislation and the carrying out of forcible sterilisation, euthanasia and genocide.


Military Research; war-related and applied science in Kaiser Wilhelm institutes under the supervision of the "Four-Year-Plan" and the war economy

Intensification of contract-research, especially for the improved use of domestic natural resources and surrogate-products; contributions to the development of conventional, biological and chemical weapons; position of the Kaiser Wilhelm institutes amidst the power-triangle of industry, "Four-Year-Plan"-administration and the various agencies of Nazi science administration.


"Ostforschung" and "Lebensraumforschung" at Kaiser Wilhelm institutes in the context of expansionistic and occupation politics

Cooperation with the Reich Ministry of Nutrition and Agriculture with special focus on Herbert Backe's role as state-secretary, minister and vice-president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society; botanical, genetic and agricultural research at Kaiser Wilhelm institutes contributing to the politics of self-sufficiency; the political significance of the newly founded or confiscated agricultural institutes in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
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[Central issues]
[Main fields of research interest]

Birgit Kolboske, 29. October 2004