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Health Reform and Race Hygiene: Adventists and the Biomedical Vision of the Third Reich

  • Roland Blaich (a1)


German Seventh-day Adventists entered the Nazi era with apprehension. As a foreign sect which resembled Judaism in many respects, Adventists were particularly threatened by a society based on the principle of völkisch racism. Yet the new state also had much to offer them, for it held the prospect of new opportunities for the church. The Nazi state banished the scourge of liberalism and godless Bolshevism, it restored conservative standards in the domestic sphere, and it took effective steps to return German society to a life in harmony with nature—a life Adventists had long championed.



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1. Adventist church membership in Nazi Germany was about forty thousand, and the church employed some five hundred pastors and eight hundred staff in its publishing work.See Hartlapp, Johannes, “Die Lage der Gemeinschaft der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus” (Predigerseminar Friedensau, unpublished thesis, 1979), p. 92. On Adventist apprehensions, see “An unsere Gemeindeglieder in Deutschland,” circular by Mueller, Wilhelm, Der Adventbote [hereafter AB] (15 August 1933).

2. Volkisch nationalists believed that cultural superiority is a function of race. In Nazi usage, the word carried strong anti-Semitic, chauvinist, and nationalistic connotations.

3. The “right arm of the message” has long been used in Adventist circles as a metaphor for the denomination's medical work. The prophetess of Adventism, White, Ellen G., used the metaphor repeatedly;an example is found in Christian Service (Takoma Park, Md., 1947), p. 134.The initial historian of the church, tracing the origins of the church's medical work, refers to it as “that which afterward should be as the right arm and hand to the body in the rapid advancement of the work”;Loughborough, J. N., “Sketches of the Past—No. 129,” Pacific Union Recorder, 22 08 1912, p. 1.

4. Hitler was a vegetarian and did not smoke or drink. Rudolf Hess, the deputy of the Führer, supported natural homeopathic medicine. Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, believed in an “organic” lifestyle. Julius Streicher, a fanatical anti-Semite, was head of Germany's largest organic health movement. See Proctor, Robert N., Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), p. 225.

5. Proctor, , Racial Hygiene, pp. 223–241.

6. Ibid., pp. 10–45.

7. Ibid., p. 17. Eugenics movements also flourished in England, Norway, France, Sweden, the Soviet Union, and the United States; see ibid., pp. 285–286, and Weindling, Paul, Health, Race, and German Politics Between National Unification and Nazism, 1870–1945 (Cambridge, U.K., 1989), pp. 432433.

8. Muckermann, Hermann, , S. J., “Rassenforschung und Volk der Zukunft,” in Klee, Ernst, ed., Dokumente zur Eulhanasie (Frankfurt, Germany, 1992), p. 50.Muckermann was director of the department of eugenics at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem. In the wake of World War I, and particularly during the Great Depression, eugenics offered a means of easing overcrowded conditions and cutting costs, which led to demands for the primacy of biology in social policy. See Weindling, , p. 445; and Burleigh, Michael, Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in Germany, 1900–1945 (Cambridge, U.K., 1994), pp. 2.

9. Klee, , Dokumente, p. 42.

10. Mayer, Joseph, Gesetzliche Unfruchtbarmachung Geisteskranker (Freiburg, Germany, 1927); excerpts reprinted in Klee, pp. 40–46. Mayer was a Catholic moral theologian.

11. In a speech of 28 June 1933 which was cited in the Adventist health journal, Nazi interior minister Wilhelm Frick described the genetic uplifting of the German race as the chief task of the Nazi government; Gute Gesundheit [hereafter GG] (December 1935): 179. Rudolf Hess denned National Socialism as “nothing but applied biology”; quoted in Lifton, Robert Jay, The Nazi Doctors (New York, 1986), p. 31.

12. Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf (Boston, Mass., 1943), pp. 4034104.

13. For a listing of other laws, see Proctor, , p. 103.

14. Minck, Adolf, “Reformation,” Jugend-Leitstern [hereafter JL] (04 1933).

15. Fischdick, Eberhard, Helfende Hdnde: Die Geschkhte des Advent-Wohlfahrtswerkes (Darmstadt, Germany, 1988), pp. 3840. On Jost's activities, see also Blaich, Roland, “Selling Nazi Germany Abroad: The Case of Hulda Jost,” Journal of Church and State 35 (Autumn 1993): 807830.

16. AB (1 November 1933): 327; and AB (1 September 1933): 261.

17. Directives for the AWW, 16 July 1934, Ungeordnet (Bestand Hannover), Archiv für Europäische Adventgeschichte [hereafter AEA], Darmstadt, Germany;and Fischdick, p. 45. Jost was responsible to the government;see AB (1 April 1934): 103;and Supplement to AB (15 October 1934): 4 pp.

18. AB (4 April 1934).

19. Among her contacts in the Propaganda Ministry were Dr. Thomalla, Curt R., head of its Health and Social Services section and also the author of several films on eugenics;see Weindling, pp. 380, 412. Judging from Jost's reports about the often informal nature of their meetings, Jost and Thomalla were probably friends. Jost also developed a close relationship with Reichsleiter Erich Hilgenfeld. In the judgment of German Adventist leadership, the AWW was now under the protection of the government;Schubert, G. W. to Watson, C. H., 29 07 1934, RG11 (Presidential) 1934–1936–Schubert, G. W., archives of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists [hereafter GC], Silver Spring, Maryland. For a discussion of several instances where Jost's connections to Nazi leaders proved invaluable to the church, see Blaich, “Selling Nazi Germany,” pp. 820–825.

20. AB (1 November 1933): 329.

21. “Berlin, Ende August 1933,” special four-page issue of AB. The “Guidelines for Evaluating Genetic Health” of 18 July 1940 is an example of how this principle was formalized. In March 1941, rules governing appropriations for children stated: “The aim of this population policy is to strengthen the German people. Therefore, considerations of charity and social welfare must be avoided in decisions on granting or refusing children's allowances” (emphasis added); cited in Aly, Götz, “Medicine Against the Useless,” in Aly, Gotz, Chroust, Peter, and Pross, Christian, Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene (Baltimore, Md., 1994), p. 52.

22. Jost, Hulda, “Was tun die Adventisten in der Wohlfahrtspflege? Jahresbericht für 1935,” RKM 51.01, No. 23387, Bundesarchiv, Abteilung Postdam [hereafter BA Potsdam].

23. Ibid., No. 00059–60; and Jost, Hulda, “Was tun die Adventisten in der Wohlfahrtspflege? Jahresbericht für 1936/37.”

24. Jost, Hulda, “Winterhilfswerk 1935–1936,” in AB (15 11 1935): 346348.

25. Brozio, Otto, “Volksgemeinschaft,” Heroldder Wahrheit [hereafter HW] 55, no. 8 (1938): 117.

26. For a summary of Jost's work and thought, see Hartlapp, , “Die Lage,” pp. 52–57.

27. Other acquaintances were King Boris III of Bulgaria, Czech president Thomas G. Masaryk, and Lady Aberdeen;Fischdick, p. 46;Blaich, “Selling Nazi Germany,” p. 824;and Hartlapp, p. 56 n. 4.

28. Mahlo, Friedrich, Propaganda Ministry to Reich Ministry of the Interior, 23 July 1938, RKM 51.01/23388, No. 00062, BA Potsdam. Mahlo certified that the denomination “affirmed the National Socialist state and served it as best it could.”

29. Mueller, Wilhelm, “Berlin, Ende August 1933,” AEA, Ul-2, No. 0113.

30. Edener, W., “Volksfeind Alkohol,” AB (15 02 1935): 45.

31. This was particularly the case during 1939, the “Year of Healthful Living”; GO (March 1939): 34.

32. Report by Luehr, W. at the presidents' convention of the MED, 31 May to 5 June 1939, AEA.U1–2, No. 0075.

33. GG (December 1937): 188.

34. Bericht über die Reichstagung der Deutschen Lebensreformbewegung,” GG (10 1938): 158159.

35. Schneider, E., “Arbeitswille und Arbeitskraft: Die Waffen der inneren Front,” GG (06 1940): 43.

36. GG (December 1941): 95.

37. Ein Volksfiend,” Gegenwartsfragen [hereafter GF] (0102 1939): 14.

38. Du und der Krieg,” GF (0708 1942): 5354; and GG (December 1935): 189.

39. In 1932 at least one Adventist journal, Kirche und Staat (Church and State), still rejected the principle of racism and race hygiene. “Not völkisch imperatives, a return to the concept of blood [Besinnung aufs Blut], not racial hygiene and eugenics will bring the hoped-for salvation,” it cautioned; Kirche und Staat [hereafter KS] (April 1932): 55.See also Busch, Max: “Here is the idea of self redemption through race and blood, which is in crass contradiction to redemption through Christ”;Völkische Weltanschauung,” KS (02 1932): 25. The last implied rejection of the racial state appeared in Kirch und Staat in March 1993. Without comment it reprinted the text of the Altona Confession of January 1933, a declaration of concern and protest by Lutheran pastors;Ein mutiges Wort in eruster Zeit,” KS (03 1933): 4344. The journal ceased publication after the next issue, perhaps the price paid for an indiscretion.

40. Volk und Staat,” GF (12 1933): 179181.

41. Heimat und Volkstum,” JL (07 1933).

42. Leschowsky, W., “Judas Fluch,” AB (1 04 1938): 102104, wrote: “God had already stigmatized Abraham's sin against the blood, which he committed in his union with the Egyptian Hagar. It was then that [God] taught him the principles of the purity of blood.”

43. AB (1 April 1938): 103.

44. See, for example, “Die kulturgeschichtliche Aufgabe der Rassen und Volker,” GF (08 1934): 120122; for examples from history of the destruction of nations which ignored the laws of nature, see Jost, Hulda, “Was tun die Adventisten in der Wohlfahrtspflege? Jahrsberichtfür 1935,” p. 32, AEA, B9–7.

45. Haeseler, S. R. D., “Vorwarts in der umgekehrten Richtung,” AB (15 01 1934): 18.Brozio, Otto, the leader of Adventist welfare after Jost's death in 1938, called the Nazi revolution ‘the greatest of all time” because it made the laws of heredity the basis of its ethnic life. A blocked quote from Hitler on the significance of blood served to reinforce his argument;in “Der Tätigkeitsbericht des Adventwohlfahrtswerkes,” AB (15 08 1938): 250251.

46. Brehm, Willy, “Das Heimatgebiet der nordischen Rasse durch Geburtenrückgang im Kern bedroht,” GG (05 1937): 69.For other articles on population policy see GG (09 1938): 133; and GF (March 1936).

47. Schneider, E., “Volk, Kraft und Gesundheit im Kriege,” GG (05 1941): 35.Schneider, argued that “The higher the health standard of a race, the higher its strength, which is best and most reliably evidenced in a high birth rate [Kinderreichtum].”For other articles on the role of genetics in the survival of a fit race, see “Familie und Staat,” GF (02 1934); and GG (05 1935): 7475.

48. The gruesome inhumanity sanctioned by this law is amply detailed in Klee, pp. 60–325;Proctor, , pp. 177222;Burleigh, pp. 43–161, 220–266;Weindling, pp. 522–574;Friedlander, Henry, The Origins of Nazi Genocide (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1995), pp. 23186;and Aly, pp. 22–98.

49. von Rohden, A., “Verstoβt das Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses gegen das Gebot der Nachstenliebe? [Does the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Defect Progeny Violate the Commandment to Love One's Neighbor?],” JL (02 1934): 20.

50. GG (October 1933): 147.

51. GF (January 1934): 8; GF (November 1933): 170–172; and GG (October 1933): 146–147.


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