Vienna's Public Health Office and the
Implementation of Racial Hygiene Policies
under the Nazi Regime*
Eugenics had been always characterized by a discrepancy between the utopian character of its ambitions and the actual possibilities for the realization of its projects. This was to change when National Socialism came to power in Germany. The phantasm of a "national body" (Volkskörper), which would be racially homogeneous (rassenrein) and free from hereditary pathologies (erbgesund), was one of the key elements of Nazi ideology and politics.
The consequences of this ideology are well known: tens of thousands of inmates in German psychiatric institutions were murdered in the course of several "euthanasia" campaigns; around 400,000 persons were subject to forced sterilization between 1933 and 1945. The whole health-care system was Radićally restructured in order to impose the systematic discrimination of individuals according to their "worth" for the Volksgemeinschaft. Entrusted with the double competence of medical science and public authority, the "public health offices" (Gesundheitsämter) of the German Reich assumed a leading role of this major project of population policy. Unlike the health organizations of the NSDAP, only the public health administration possessed the structural requisites to put into practice the politics of racial hygiene with the desired efficiency and on a broad scale. The basis for this was the 1934 "Law for the Standardization of Health Care" (Gesetz zur Vereinheitlichung des Gesundheitswesens). Germany obtained thereby, and for the first time, a unified, centrally regulated system of public health offices and specialist doctors (AmtsÄrzte), which were endowed with numerous competencies. Racial hygiene, institutionalized under the label "hereditary and racial care" (Erb- und Rassenpflege), became a field of high priority for the health authorities. In this fashion, an effective instrument of bio-politics was created by the Nazi regime, allowing for