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March 16, 2010

<   >Racial Studies of Jews <   >in National Socialist Germany

Review of Alan E. Steinweis, Studying the Jew: Scholarly Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, and Christopher M. Hutton, Race and the Third Reich.

Racial Studies of Jews in National Socialist Germany

Daniel W. Michaels

A new book, with the provocative title Studying the Jew, describes the approach that analyses of the Jewish question took in Germany under the National Socialist government’s racial studies program. The author Alan E. Steinweis focuses attention on scholarly German journals of the period, dealing with biological, anthropological, ethnological, theological, economic, and criminological studies as related to Rassenkunde (Race Science). Steinweis excludes vulgar, lowbrow anti-Semitic screeds from his study, concentrating instead on the academic literature on the Jewish question written by and for the better-educated segment of German society during the National Socialist period.

For centuries, indeed millennia, animosity toward Jews has periodically erupted into emotionally charged pogroms, expulsions, and persecutions. This animosity had variously been attributed to religious or political differences as well as to perceived unattractive personal characteristics attributed to Jews (e.g., their critical nature, their mocking attitude, business and financial acumen, exclusiveness, aggressiveness).


According to Steinweis, it was Adolf Hitler, who completely revised how anti-Semitism was understood. In the modern world Anglo-American countries especially have tried to ascertain why and how some people come to dislike Jews, assuming that the reason resides in the individual or in his life experiences. Hitler, on the other hand, approached the question assuming that something in the very nature of Jews evoked adverse feelings in many non-Jews. Hitler wanted his researchers to find “an anti-Semitism of reason” based on empirical scientific evidence, not just anti-Semitism as a “simple manifestation of emotion.”

Because German universities for centuries had remained bound to traditional academic pursuits independent of politics, the incoming National Socialist government had to establish separate institutes for racial studies that were deliberately designed to produce negative scholarship on the Jews. The two earliest and most prominent institutes were the Institute for History of the New Germany under the direction of <>Walter Frank, and the Institute for Study of the Jewish Question under <>Alfred Rosenberg. These institutes published most of their studies in their own journals outside the regular academic system. Frank committed suicide in 1945 and the Nuremberg Tribunal sentenced Rosenberg to death by hanging a year later.

The political aim of these studies was to make the expulsion of Jews from Germany more acceptable to everyone and to ease the way for a return to neopaganism. To achieve this, even the works of Jewish scholars and Christian theologians were recruited. In the end, Jews in National Socialist Germany were defined as racially alien, morally corrupt, inassimilable, and dangerous.

When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, the number of non-Jewish historians to whom the government could turn for scholarship on the Jewish question was very limited. Indeed, even after the new government came to power, Jewish scholars and publishers continued to produce most of the historical studies of Jews. Made aware of this situation and determined to rectify it, Walter Frank wrote:

Only one side of the Jewish problem has been addressed, the Jewish side; almost all books on the Jewish question have been written by Jews; at German universities, dissertations on the Jewish question have been submitted almost entirely by Jews; the historical journals have selected only Jews as editors for matters Jewish. (p. 94)

To remedy the lack of historical works on the Jews in Europe available in German libraries, the government during the war undertook to confiscate all the major collections of such works held in libraries throughout German-occupied Europe.

With respect to racial studies of the Jews, Steinweis first singles out Hans F. K Günther as the German racial scientist whose early work "Racial Characteristics of the Jewish People" (1930) represented the kind of research the government wanted. Günther had earlier (1922) published "The Racial Characteristics of the German People". Such studies had become quite common in German and European academia since the early 19th Century. A good number of the researchers and authors of these works were themselves Jews. For a long time and into the National Socialist period German and Jewish researchers even collaborated.

To paraphrase Günther’s findings as presented by Steinweis: Günther believed that in the distant past a dozen Urrassen (prehistoric races) probably existed, but like the Ursprachen (prehistoric languages), they eventually broke down and intermixed with neighboring races. Therefore neither the Jews nor the Germans could be considered a distinct race. Günther preferred to refer to the Jews as well as the Germans as a Volk or people, each of whose national genetic pool was a mixture of several racial elements. The Germans, Günther argued, were primarily a mix of Nordics, Eastern and Western peoples of European origin. In the makeup of the German Volk the Nordic element was considered the most valuable. But unfortunately, according to Günther, the Germans had been increasingly denorticized ever since the 30-Years War in the 17th Century.

The Jews, on the other hand, were made up of primarily Near Eastern ancestry, but also Oriental, Nordic, and other elements introduced in the Diaspora. Günther maintained that because of their dispersion, modern Jews differ markedly from the original Hebrews. Because of Talmudic prohibitions against exogamy and centuries long inbreeding in Europe’s Ghettos (endogamy), modern Jews are not only quite different from their Biblical ancestors, but actually a distinct people. Günther therefore refers to contemporary Jews as a “race of the second instance.” Günther also held that the conversion of the Khazars and their absorption into the Ashkenazim added a further Near Eastern element in the northern European Jewish communities, but this did not occur among the Sephardic Jews. Thus, a racial divergence developed within European Jewry itself.

While physical differences between the various peoples (skull shape, speech patterns, facial expressions, specific odors, and a hundred other factors) were routinely measured by ethnologists the world over, the Germans were increasingly interested in inherited psychological, cultural and behavioral traits. With respect to the Jews, Günther agreed with his Jewish colleague, Samuel Weissenberg, that the salient cultural trait of the Near Eastern peoples (Armenians, Greeks, Jews) was its “commercial spirit,” which in turn was attributed to supple minds and characteristic verbal facility. For Günther, many Europeans had an instinctive, racially based aversion to peoples of Near Eastern racial origin precisely because of their different physical and behavioral traits. However, neither Günther nor his colleagues ever referred to racial inferiority or superiority with regard to Jews or other peoples. No mention was ever made of a “super-race.” Instead, they emphasized the racial “otherness” (Andersartigkeit) of Jews — their racial-psychological estrangement from Europeans.

Somewhat later in the mid-1930s, another German researcher, Walter Dornfeldt, exchanged information and opinions with Franz Boas, an American anthropologist of German Jewish origin on the degree to which environment alters heredity. Generally, American scientists felt that environment played a more important role in racial physiology and psychology than did German investigators. Since at that time Germany was an ethnostate, with 95% of the populace German, while America was a melting pot of various European peoples, it is not surprising that the former should adopt a theory that extols the virtues of a common heritage while the latter should see advantage in diversity. That both environment and heredity are at play in all instances is undisputed. Unfortunately, the exact proportion played by each varies.

During the Third Reich studies of the genetics of racial differences took on increasing importance. The most widely read German genetics text was "The Study of Human Heredity" by Eugen Fischer, Erwin Baur, and Fritz Lenz. As cited in Kevin MacDonald’s
"A People That Shall Dwell Alone", Lenz proposed that the “Nordic” peoples evolved in harsh environments that favored small groups and a tendency toward social isolation. On the other hand, Lenz proposed that Jews evolved in larger groups and as a result have highly developed social skills related to social influence, enabling them to anticipate others’ actions and desires. Steinweis emphasizes the point that Lenz was aware of the heterogeneity in the outward appearance of Jews and therefore suggested that Jews might better be referred to as a psychological rather than an anthropological race.

In general, genetics researchers advised against racial mixing, but not specifically with regard to Jews. Otmar von Verschuer eventually became prominent for his research on genetic predispositions to disease. His research proved so important that he was quickly cleared by denazification boards and continued his career at Münster University until his retirement in 1964. Wikipedia notes that ”Verschuer was never tried for war crimes despite many indications that he was not only fully cognisant of [Josef] Mengele's work at Auschwitz, but even encouraged and collaborated with Mengele in some of his … research.”

Steinweis surveys German studies that implicated Jews in economic crimes and crimes against morality (Sittlichkeitsverbrecher). Ironically, as Steinweis notes (p. 138), it was a Jew, the Italian crim-inologist Caesare Lombroso, who invented the concept of the “born criminal.” J. Keller and Hanns Andersen used Lombroso’s idea in their book "The Jew as Criminal", in which Jews were described as “born to crime” and possessing a special predisposition to and ability for fraud, dirty dealing, dishonest gambling, usury, sexual transgressions of all kinds, pickpocketing, and treason. As Steinweis points out, neither of the authors had academic credentials of any sort, nor were they associated with any university. However, Johann von Leers, a trained jurist holding a professorship in history at Jena University, did publish a booklet, "The Criminality of the Jews", in which he presented statistics showing a disproportionately high Jewish participation in white-collar crime. Jews were 12 times more likely than non-Jews to be involved in usury; 11 times more likely to engage in the theft of intellectual property; 8–9 times as likely to declare fraudulent bankruptcy. Between 1903 and 1936, Leers noted, the frequency of Jewish participation in usury was 29 times that of non-Jews.

Steinweis points out that Leers’ statistics did not include violent crimes of which non-Jews had the higher numbers and Jews the lowest. Moreover, the crime rates obviously reflected the occupations of the perpetrators, Jews being highly represented in white-collar occupations. Replying to this, Leers declared:

The Jew does not become a criminal because he is a merchant, but rather the criminal Jew embraces the mercantile profession because he is predisposed to the crimes that are possible in this realm. (p. 140)

In the matter of crimes against morality, von Leers cited Polish statistics to the effect that Jews had dominated the prostitution trade before the war. The Polish publication estimated that 100,000 Polish Jews made their living through exploiting of immorality. Steinweis admits that while Jews were indeed heavily in volved in the management of prostitution in Europe, he argues that certain adverse sociological factors prevailing at the time turned many Jews to this trade. Leers countered this argument by stating that both the immoral aspects of prostitution as well as the profits to be derived appealed to the Jewish nature. Adding to the public perception of Jews as criminals, the infamous Zwi Migdal, international crime syndicate specializing in the white slave trade, was controlled and run by Jews.

Steinweis labels Peter-Heinz Seraphim, a political economist, who specialized in assessing Jewish economic power in East Europe, as the most professionally and intellectually accomplished “Jew expert” in Nazi Germany. Although Seraphim considered Jews in general to be economic parasites, his major work, "The Jews of Eastern Europe", was deemed indispensable to his contemporaries, without which studies of Jews during the National Socialist era would be unthinkable. Published in 1938, the 732-page tome contained 197 statistical graphs, a bibliography with 563 entries, and over a thousand footnotes (p. 145) concerning Jewish economic enterprises.

Seraphim objected to the so-called Lublin Plan, which proposed settling most of East European Jews in an area around Lublin. When Governor General Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of Poland, objected to “dumping” Jews in Poland, Seraphim threw his support to the Madagascar Plan, which was later discarded because of the war. Seraphim opposed any and all extreme measures against the Jews, preferring to integrate them in the German wartime industrial complex.

Seraphim’s economic knowledge of East Europe was considered so valuable that he became an adviser to the American Occupation forces and later pursued a successful career in West Germany.

When the Nuremberg Laws, including the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law to Protect German Blood and Honor, were passed in 1935 the professional, usually apolitical studies of the ethnologists were used to lend scientific backing to the legislation. Referring to the Talmudic Laws by which most Jews lived for centuries, apologists for the German Laws claimed that the German Volk simply wanted what the Jews have desired for themselves since the days of the Prophet Ezra, namely, to protect the völkisch integrity of their own people.

Because they shared a common goal, namely, to encourage Jews to leave Germany, Günther and many other Party members — with the approval of the Nazi government —welcomed and worked with Zionist representatives. As Günther put it:

The racial-biological future of Jewry could take one of two paths, either that of Zionism of that of decline (Untergang).

Steinweis quotes from a review of one of the few books written about Zionism in Germany that “it is better to talk with national-Jewish Zionism than with the hidden racial interests of assimilation.” Some Germans were dubious that the Jews would be able to establish an indepen dent homeland. In 1940, for example, German historian, Josef Sommerfeldt, publicly expressed his doubts:

The Jews will be given the opportunity, in a territory designated for them, to demonstrate whether their racial characteristics suffice for the creation from their own energies of a sensible and healthy social and economic order. So far, the Jewish people have not provided this evidence. (p. 111)

When the presence of a disproportionate number of Jews in the USSR Communist Party and in the communist parties of most other European countries could no longer be ignored, a Zionist writer, Abraham Heller, argued that Jews who had repudiated their Judaism should not even be regarded as Jews — an argument made more recently by historian Yuri Slezkine. To which Wilhelm Grau, a Nazi historian, retorted that since Jews are no longer being identified by religion, but by race, Heller’s argument was ridiculous. When Heller pointed out that Jews were also being killed in the Stalinist purges, Grau responded:

A historian who wants to deal with the truth cannot represent Jewish suffering one-sidedly. The Jews were responsible for a much more violent and deeper stream of blood, that of the Russian people. (p. 106)

Studies of the ancient Hebrews and analyses of the Talmud by theologians (e.g., Karl Georg Kuhn and Gerhard Kittel) at Tübingen University were not anti-Semitic. Kittel in fact even wrote kindly of the Talmud, referring to it as:

A giant sack into which was stuffed everything, which Judaism had stored up in terms of memories and traditions, so that its contents are the most colorful and joyful confusion and juxtaposition that one can imagine. (p. 76)

Theologian Kittel saw four possible approaches for dealing with the Jews: elimination, Zionism, assimilation, or a guest status in Germany. For practical reasons he chose guest status. Elimination, as demonstrated by the Inquisition and the Russian pogroms, did not work; assimilation was out of the question because the National Socialists considered assimilation part of the problem. The Party preferred dissimilation. Kittel and Sommerfeldt believed Zionism was doomed to failure because the Jews would be unable to establish and maintain a self-sufficient state. This left only guest status as the German option. As such, they should be referred to as “Jews living in Germany” (p. 69).

Tübingen University remains to this day a world center for Hebraic, Judaic, and Christian studies. Pope Benedict XVI once taught and studied there. Because some of the theologians whose works were misused by the Party had studied or taught there, the University established the so-called Tübingen Board after the war under the eyes of the Occupation Powers to determine the guilt or innocence of its staff members. Both Kittel and Kuhn were exonerated. With regard to Kuhn, the Board determined that “he had never propagated National Socialist teaching” and that Kuhn’s “purely objective and scientific introduction to the world of Rabbinic Judaism significantly contributed to immunizing this students against rampant anti-Semitic slogans.”

Steinweis explains at length why he disagrees with the Board’s decision exonerating Kittel. However, to this day, both Kittel’s and Kuhn’s pre- and post-war, Old and New Testament Biblical studies remain highly prized in the Christian ministry throughout the world.

The recently published book "Race and the Third Reich" by the Britisher Christopher M. Hutton is an excellent companion to Steinweis’ work. Hutton broadly agrees with Steinweis on the harmful content of Nazi racial studies, but he differs from Steinweis’ in several ways. First, Hutton makes a sharper dichotomy between National Socialist ideology and the scientific, non- political, research done in racial studies in German and other European universities of the time. Hutton distinguishes between early ideologically-driven (1930–35) racial tracts when the NSDAP was seeking power and not yet firmly entrenched, and the later (1936-44) racial studies in Germany after the Party had secured its power. Aside from the Germans’ politically mandated application of their theories to the Jews, the techniques used in their racial studies were quite similar to those employed outside Germany.


Hutton notes that official publications on race in the later years of Nazi rule actually emphasized that the term “Aryan” belonged to linguistics and was not a racial category at all. Influenced by Mendelian genetics, German racial anthropologists recognized that there was no necessary link between ideal physical appearance and ideal character. Eventually, Hutton states, when World War II threatened and Germany needed allies, terms such as “Nordicism,” “Germanism,” and “Aryanism” that suggested exclusivity and elitism were discarded as a political liability. Indeed, near the end of the war many SS units were made up of Slavs, French, Belgians, Scandinavians, and even Arabs.

In the mature period of National Socialism the government terminated all rogue Aryan science and effectively suppressed all occultism, spiritualism, clairvoyance, and other such practices. Ultimately, the government completely separated science from ideology. National Socialism had accepted modernity.

Under National Socialism, the universities enjoyed a considerable amount of autonomy and often published articles at variance with the Party’s preferred line. Moreover, the Nazi researchers even argued among themselves about the importance of this or that factor in racial anthropology. In fact, Hutton argues, in the course of the Third Reich, racial anthropological studies increasingly gave way to studies in hereditary psychology and the science of human genetics.

Some German racial anthropologists even objected to negative descriptions of Jews. For example, Karl Saller (1902–1969) wrote:

The importance of the Jews for the development of Western culture is a matter of controversy. There is no question but that Jews are essentially different in type from the Western peoples (Völker). To this one should add that the frequent occurrences of hostility nowadays between the Jews and their host peoples must be attributed as much to the similarity in their aptitudes as to difference in type, as this leads to an intensely competitive relationship. The Jewish spirit (Geist) is, next to the autochthonous culture, the main driving force in Western culture and to this culture Jews have contributed with many brilliant gifts. Anti-semitism is therefore unjustified in so far as it is directed against Jews as a matter of principle. It is only justified when it involves a rejection of far-reaching particularist demands and those activities, which seek to undermine or fragment the State, activities which are associated with substantial parts of the Jewish people. (Hutton, p. 152)

Hutton also cites the case of another prominent racial anthropologist, Ludwig Clauss, who won the support of his SS associates to defend and protect his Jewish research assistant. For this, the State of Israel later honored Clauss.

The Denazification Courts in fact exonerated most of the academic racial anthropologists after the war. This reviewer believes that Rassenkunde was and remains a legitimate field of research, but that ideologically driven governments (National Socialist, Communist, Zionist) attempted to hijack the science for their own propagandistic purposes. Despite all that has transpired, research into the physical and psychological differences between ethnic groups as well as between the sexes continues throughout the world today, although it must often battle the tides of political correctness, particularly if it deals with race differences in intelligence.

Legitimate, not ideologically hijacked, racial and eugenics studies, conducted before, during, and after the National Socialist period, remain important research tools, not least of all in the development of pharmaceuticals in cases where race-specific and even gender-specific medicines have proven to be effective. Ironically, National Socialism’s racial policies even received high praise from Zionist organizations of the day whose policies happened to coincide with those of the Nazis. Both desired the exodus of Jews from Germany and their transfer to Palestine. Even Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, approved of the racial laws that changed the status of Jews in Germany from “Germans of the Jewish faith” to that of a separate national minority. Herzl confessed that the anti-Semitic reaction of non-Jews in Germany to alien Jewish behavior and attitudes was perfectly understandable in that Germans and Jews represented different nationalities. This mutually agreed-upon understanding was later formalized in the Transfer Agreement(Haavara) under which financial arrangements to aid the Jewish emigrants in their new homeland in Palestine were established and regular passenger liner service was established between Hamburg and Haifa.

Moreover, Zionist leaders in other countries approved of the German racial laws, including the Nuremberg Laws. For example, in June 1938 in a rally in New York Stephen S. Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, declared:

I am not an American citizen of the Jewish faith, I am a Jew. Hitler was right in one thing. He calls the Jewish people a race and we are a race.

Genetic studies of Jews is an active field of research today. This research indicates a common Middle Eastern ancestry for all Jews, but with some genetic admixture in the Diaspora so that different Jewish groups are genetically distinguishable. Mention must also be made of the work of Professor Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist, who has written extensively on Judaism and explains Jewish behavior as being a group evolutionary strategy developed over the centuries for survival, protection, and advancement. MacDonald received his doctorate under the mentorship of Professor Benson E. Ginsburg, a renowned researcher in behavior genetics.

Obviously, political correctness is a time-dependent variable. Ideally, Rassenkunde, like all other sciences, should always be objective and make no value judgments, especially not with respect to perceived superior or inferior ethnic traits. The true purpose of Rassenkunde is to investigate the physical and psychological characteristics of the many and varied peoples on Earth in order to better understand and hopefully to improve the human condition. The abuses of Rassenkunde or racial studies must certainly be condemned, but the benefits of such research must be preserved.


Daniel W. Michaels, a native New Yorker, received his BS in geography from Columbia University in 1954. Following five years in the Army (three of which stationed in Germany) and a Fulbright grant for studies in Tuebingen University, Mr. Michaels worked in the Defense Department until his retirement in 1993. He continues to contribute articles to various journals on World War II and Cold War matters.