"Blood and Homeland": Eugenics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe, 1900-1940

By Marius Turda; Paul J. Weindling | Go to book overview

Volksdeutsche and Racial Anthropology in
Interwar Vienna:
The "Marienfeld Project"

Maria Teschler-Nicola

In the second half of the nineteenth century, racial anthropology was shaped by positivist and materialist thinking, initially aiming at a quantitative assessment of physical traits and comparative anatomical "studies of race" in order to identify "ideal racial types." But in contrast to the descent-based anthropological orientation, this branch of physical anthropology soon arrived at a deadlock. In Geschichte der Anthropologie (History of Anthropology), Wolfgang Mühlmann described this phenomenon as an "accumulation of a large number of facts whose interpretative value to biology has remained questionable."1 One of the most prominent exponents of this previously static approach was Augustin Weisbach (1837–1914), a Viennese anatomist whose scientific "work and life program" aimed to identify, the "racial differences" among the populations of the Habsburg Empire.2

Rudolf Pöch (1870–1921), recipient of the first Chair of Anthropology at the University of Vienna, conceded that Weisbach had "dealt with an enormous volume of material" and stressed his achievements in the field of anthropology in Austria.3 Pöch also raised subtle criticism of Weisbach's work which, in his opinion, failed to make use of the available "resources and methods of modern anthropology" (implying not only technique, but also the genetic-biological approach). The rediscovery of Mendel's laws of inheritance at the beginning of the twentieth century ushered in a paradigm shift in anthropology, which placed in question prior comparative anatomical studies of race. Pöch belonged to the generation of physical anthropologists that reopened the discussion of racial anthropology. This new approach evolved against the background of complex developments in society, politics, and the humanities in Europe towards the end of the nineteenth century, shaped by nationalist movements and debates on the

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