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Ann Anat. 2015 Sep;201:17-30. doi: 10.1016/j.aanat.2015.05.002. Epub 2015 Jun 5.

The Anatomische Gesellschaft and National Socialism: an analysis based on newly available archival material.

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Institute of Vegetative Anatomy, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Philippstr. 12, D-10117 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address:


The newly available scientific estate of Heinrich von Eggeling (1869-1954), long-time secretary of the Anatomische Gesellschaft (AG), allows a more profound analysis of how this scientific association went through the period of the "Third Reich". At the first meeting under the new rulers in 1934, von Eggeling and Siegfried Mollier prevented their board colleague Martin Heidenhain from giving an introductory talk because they (not unjustly) feared anti-Jewish protests, but also because many anatomy professors, like other German scholars, were fervent nationalists who welcomed Hitler and largely accepted the expulsion of Jewish and other colleagues as 'inevitable' for national renewal. Many persecuted members nevertheless remained on the membership lists and the AG never officially introduced anti-Jewish bylaws. Eggeling and his like-minded colleagues successfully defended the international status of the AG, though not so much against the Nazi authorities but against a younger generation of anatomists who were willing to benefit from the new political situation and strived for their own German anatomical association. The available archival material suggests that the motivation of the established leading members of the AG to take this specific path was not rooted in opposition to the new rulers but rather in defence of their traditional status of reputed professors running a time-honoured, world leading society. This made international reputation an important guideline for many decisions. While they did ward off attempts by the younger generation to politicise the AG, their post-war calls for an apolitical science remain ambivalent, as their own stance had not always been apolitical.


Anatomische Gesellschaft; Apolitical science; Curt Elze; Heinrich von Eggeling; National Socialism; Persecuted members; Robert Wetzel

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