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

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

Progressivism and Eugenic Thinking
in Poland, 1905–1939

Magdalena Gawin

The essential characteristic of the Polish eugenic movement, which developed from 1905 until the outbreak of the Second World War, was its progressivism. The term "progressivism" is used here to denote a certain perspective, founded on the belief that history is a process of conscious dynamic evolution and that man is responsible for his own destiny.1 Progressivism equates scientific, technological, and ethical development. Polish eugenicists believed that it was possible to build a harmonious and advanced society, free from social problems such as alcoholism and prostitution, as well as physical disabilities and diseases. Eugenicists such as Leon Wernic (1870–1953), Tomasz Janiszewski (1867–1939), and Wiktor Grzywo-Dabrowski (1885–1868) proposed the Radićal measure of compulsory sterilization during the 1930s. They insisted that their decision was motivated by a desire to reduce the scale of human suffering. After the experiences of the Second World War, the hybrid language of eugenics––combining social sensitivity with repulsion and contempt for the sick and the weak––was almost completely forgotten or wrongly identified with the Nazi regime and its extermination policies, whereas few remembered that, in fact, Polish eugenics was dominated by left-wing and liberal advocates of state welfare, thus resembling the Scandinavian model of state-sponsored eugenics.2


Political Determinants

Poland lost its independence in 1794, after defeat in the uprising against Russia. One year later, the three neighboring powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia, ratified a treaty under which they annexed Polish territories. From that time until the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First

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