Brain Science under the Swastika: Ethical Violations, Resistance, and Victimization of Neuroscientists in Nazi Europe

ISBN : 9780198728634

Lawrence A. Zeidman
784 ページ
171 x 246 mm

80 years ago the greatest mass murder of human beings of all time occurred in Nazi occupied Europe. This began with the mass extermination of patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders that rendered them "useless eaters" to Hitler's regime.

The neuropsychiatric profession was systematically "cleansed" beginning in 1933, but racism and eugenics had infiltrated the specialty in the decades before that. With the installation of Nazi-principled neuroscientists, mass forced sterilization was enacted, which slowed down by the start of World War II and the advent of patient murder. But the murder of roughly 275,000 patients by the end of the war was not enough. The patients' brains and neurological body parts were stored and used in scientific publications both during and long after the war. Also, patients themselves were used in unethical ways for epilepsy and multiple sclerosis experiments. Relatively few neuroscientists resisted the Nazis, with some success in the occupied countries. Most neuroscientists involved in unethical actions continued their careers unscathed after the war. Few answered for their actions in a professional or criminal sense, and few repented.

The legacy of such a depraved era in the history of neuroscience and medical ethics is that codes exist by which patients and research subjects are protected from harm. But this protection is possibly subject to political extremes and only by understanding the horrible past can the profession police itself. Individual neuroscientists can protect patients and colleagues if they are aware of the dangers of a utilitarian, unethical, and uncompassionate mindset.

Brain Science under the Swastika is the only comprehensive and scholarly published work regarding the ethical and professional abuses of neuroscientists during the Nazi era. The book explores the history of racial hygiene and eugenic infiltration of neurology and psychiatry, followed by the appalling forced sterilization and mass murder of patients with mental disease in Nazi Germany. Patients were used in numerous unethical experiments and their brains were used in scientific research that continued to be cited and used long after World War II. The author has crafted a scathing tour de force exploring the extremes of ethical abuse, but also ways that this can be resisted and hopefully prevented by future generations of neuroscientists and physicians.


1 Introduction: The secret to reconciliation is remembering. Historiography, challenges, and relevance of neuroscience in the Nazi era to modern neuroscientists

2 The origins of Nazi persecution and victimization of neuroscientists in Germany, Austria, and Poland

3 Three generations of imbeciles are enough. Neuroscientists help advance scientific racism and adopt eugenics and racial hygiene theories.

4 Setting the stage for mass murder and human experimentation: the Nazification of German neurology

5 Gleichschaltung and de-Jewification in German university neurology departments

6 Neuroscience becomes Aryanized at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Germany

7 Austrian and Czech neuroscience becomes coordinated under National Socialism

8 Forced sterilization under the Nazis: preventing the neuropsychiatrically ill from polluting the German gene pool

9 Hitler wages war on Europe, and on neuropsychiatric patients: neuroscientists introduce the ultimate negative eugenic measure

10 Beautiful mental defectives and lovely idiots: Neuroscientists collaborate with mass murder and collect thousands of brains

11 Just rabbits: Unethical neuroscientific experimentation on euthanasia victims

12 Protesting against an avalanche: resistance by neuroscientists inside and outside Germany demonstrating the ordinariness of goodness over the banality of evil

13 Washing the black sheep white again: Was German neuroscience rehabilitated after the collapse of the Third Reich?

14 Epilogue: Neuroscience in the Nazi era meets the modern age - ongoing legacies and controversies


Dr. Zeidman is from Chicagoland and graduated from the Honors Program in Medical Education at Northwestern University, followed by Neurology residency at Northwestern University and Neurophysiology fellowship at Rush University Medical Center. He is a clinical neurologist who is board-certified in Neurology, Clinical Neurophysiology, and Electrodiagnostic Medicine. He currently heads the Neuromuscular-EMG Division in the Department of Neurology at Loyola University Medical Center (Maywood, IL, USA). He is an Associate Professor of Neurology and Bioethics at the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, and also a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology (FAAN). Besides funded clinical neurology research on peripheral neuropathies, Dr. Zeidman is also very interested in the history and ethics of neurology, especially during World War II.