Being Remembered

Memorial Plaque

The History

The memorial plaque, located at the main entrance of Ihnestraße 22, was installed in 1988. Its installation was the result of several years of research and activism by scientist and students of the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science as well as independent researchers.

Until the early 1980s, little of the building’s history and the connections of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics (KWI-A) to colonial history or National Socialism had been acknowledged. Neither the Max Planck Society (MPG), formerly the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, nor the Free University of Berlin had officially recognized this connection. When the Otto Suhr Institute’s researchers Dr. Christl Wickert and Anna Bergmann proposed the installation of a memorial plaque to commemorate the victims and remember the responsibilities of the former researchers, they met resistance. Only after additional pressure from other staff at the institute, as well as independent researchers, did the discussion about a memorial plaque begin. It took two years of negotiations between the Otto Suhr Institute and the MPG to settle on the specific wording, which then went to the department council and the Academic Senate for review. The memorial plaque was finally installed on June 15th, 1988.

Dr. Christl Wickert describes her research at the MPG archives:
“The few files that we were presented with in 1985 were still in old file cases, [where] remains of cut out file pieces [were] clearly visible… Assistance from the archive in the search for further evidence was rejected by the archivist with the reasoning that the MPG did not have any interest at all in the history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute during the Nazi period, as it was not part of the MPG history and the archival materials were simply transferred.”

Interview with Christl Wickert (Audio)

Research Program

History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in the National Socialist Era

From 1999 to 2004, a research program was commissioned by the Max Planck Society (MPG) to examine the role of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG) – now the MPG – and the relations of its research staff to the Nazi regime. The research program’s intention was to critically examine the history of the KWG and was directed by Prof. Carola Sachse from 2000 to 2004. The research program concluded in 2005 and produced numerous publications, which primarily consist of 17 books. These investigate the researchers, their involvement in Nazi politics as well as the research conducted including experiments on humans conducted at the different research institutes of the KWG. One particular focus was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics (KWI-A) and its connection with Josef Mengele and the Auschwitz concentration camp. The goals of the research program include the exploration of science as legitimizing Nazi “racial” policy, the impact of expert knowledge production on politics and the violation of ethical boundaries within research. The role of German colonialism, however, was not included in the MPG’s research program.

Project director, Benoit Massin, describes the content of the KWI-A’s research as follows: “‘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, for example, saw the budget of his institute [KWI-A] 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'."


Interview with Prof. Carola Sachse (Audio)

Interview with Prof. Hans-Walter Schmuhl (Audio)