A socialist variant of eugenics? Sterilization discourses and practices in the SBZ and GDR 1945 to 1990 between the poles of the national socialist past, planning and biopolitics
Asociated PhD project
With their Command No. 6, published on January 8, 1946, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany abolished the Nazi sterilization law in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) and declared it to be Nazi injustice. So forced eugenics legitimized by the state officially ended. In consequence, several doctors and former lawyers, who had participated in the implementation of the Nazi sterilization law, were prosecuted during the four years of the Soviet Occupation Zone. From the beginning, the relevant German organizations of health and justice were mostly opposing the Soviet initiative to take participants of sterilization practices during the Nazi period to court.
Despite the abolition of the Nazi sterilization law by the Soviet Military Administration, medical doctors continued their internalized administrative practices from the Nazi period and asked for sterilization permissions in the SBZ and as well in the GDR. On the level of the central health administration those informal requests were taken seriously. In several debates the relevant officials analysed pros and cons concerning eugenically motivated actions. In the end they decided against a blanket legalization of eugenic sterilization not for ethical reasons, but because the Nazis had used it abusively. After the foundation of the GDR, the practice of sterilization requests continued and health officials kept on demanding the creation of a sterilization law based on eugenic ideas. Like in the SBZ, health officials were refusing these requests and the only sterilization law in the GDR which was enacted in April 1969 incorporates explicitly only medically necessary sterilizations.
Concerning the complex of prosecution, I analyse why there had not been a comprehensive prosecution despite the abolition of the sterilization law and why most of these few investigations and criminal procedures remained without conviction. Afterwards, I give an overview of the debates regarding a potential creation of a sterilization law and I ask which biographical imprints lead to approval or refusal of eugenically motivated positions. The third part enfolds the practices of sterilizations in the SBZ and GDR. Before the sterilization law of 1969, I analyse how many of those requests were openly or covertly motivated by eugenics. My most important finding is that those sterilizations based on eugenic ideas correlated mostly with ‘class’. After 1969 I examine the now formally legal request of sterilization towards women concerning negatively eugenic pledges within those requests.
Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
E-Mail: jehne [at] zzf-potsdam.de