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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Oxford Handbooks Online


Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945  
Maria Bucur
The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics
Edited by Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine

Print Publication Date: Sep 2010 Subject: History, European History


Online Publication Date: Sep 2012 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195373141.013.0024

Abstract and Keywords

Eugenics is a powerful tool used both for imperial control and for nationalist anti-imperial
challenges from the Baltic to the Balkans. This article deals with the role of race theories
and eugenics that has become a subject of scholarly engagement. Eugenics serves as a
rationale for separating communities according to their national identity and to
redistribute resources along ethnocentric lines as part of an imperial discourse. It
presents an array of institutional developments connected to eugenics in this region. It
shows that as the medical profession flourished in post-imperial eastern Europe, doctors
of the new ethnic majorities saw opportunities open up—professionally, economically, and
socially. Finally, it examines the importance of constructing a discourse that focuses on
preserving and strengthening the potentialities of the underprivileged, poor, uneducated
peasants for the purpose of making a persuasive argument with the political and social
elites.

Keywords: eugenics, imperial control, ethnic majorities, eastern Europe, medical profession

IN the late nineteenth century eugenics became a powerful tool used both for imperial
control and for nationalist anti-imperial challenges from the Baltic to the Balkans.
Starting around that time public health began to develop as an important arena for
constructing modern states that emulated “proper” European institutions and intellectual
discourses. Doctors, biologists, and even some philosophers, lawyers, and politicians
became fascinated with eugenics as the most appealing and “progressive” synthesis to
preserve the past while controlling the future in the wider European context. After World
War I, eugenicist discourses were reshaped to effect an internal colonization which
rendered, for instance, illiterate peasants into active agents of ethnic purification and
fulfillment of “biological capital.”1 While some of this activity corresponds to similar
developments elsewhere (in South Asia, for instance), the contradictory but simultaneous

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

scientific and political claims to a European cultural allegiance and race hierarchy render
the eastern European imperial lands a fascinating case study in the intertwined history of
colonialism and eugenics.

In the early nineteenth century the southeastern European borderlands became areas of
intense contestation between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. There has been little
attempt to integrate this period of colonial rule inside Europe within the larger literature
on colonialism.2 Recent work on Bosnia-Herzegovina shows that after 1878 this new
province became the object of a “civilizing mission” engineered by Viennese colonial
administrators bent on modernizing an overwhelmingly pre-modern society through,
among other policies, programs of public health and “social hygiene.”3 This preliminary
research suggests the need to further examine the discourses and specific programs that
Austria-Hungary sought to implement in (p. 399) Bosnia, to better understand the sources
and effects of bio-political ideas spun in Vienna in the late nineteenth century.

Nationalism as a concept has been at the heart of much of this scholarship, at first
implicitly and more recently explicitly, including comparisons with anti-colonial
movements elsewhere.4 But questions regarding the role of race theories and eugenics in
particular have only recently become a subject of scholarly engagement. Marius Turda is
one of the first historians to identify race theories developed in the nineteenth century as
influential in the shaping of public health in Hungary and Romania, and to make a claim
for the centrality of this racial discourse in the later development of nationalist
discourses.5 A few historians of Poland, Romania, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria are
beginning to integrate new research on early eugenics into the rich literature on the
nationalist movements in eastern Europe before World War I.6

What is particular about the intra-European colonial legacies is the allegiance of anti-
imperial nationalist movements (including eugenicists) to European civilization.
Nationalists from Poland to Greece conceptualized their people's authentic core,
traditions, and claim to sovereignty and legitimacy among the nationalist elites not as a
counterweight to the European imperial presence, but as either a precursor to, or as
actively constructing, European civilization.7 The post-imperial discourses in Europe
sought integration and acceptance in a larger European home rather than distance and
separation from the “civilizing” goals of European colonialism. Eugenics was one of the
intellectual discourses through which practitioners in aspiring new professional and
intellectual disciplines sought to situate themselves alongside their western European
peers, as partners in creating a better European society, a goal they understood as
biological.

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Imperial Ambitions and Anti-imperial


Contestations: Eugenics in Eastern Europe
before 1918
The literature on science in the late nineteenth century clearly places biologists and
doctors in Britain, Germany, and France at the forefront of the development of eugenic
discourses. In the Habsburg lands and the Balkans, too, eugenics became significant in
the 1880s, at the same time that doctors, scientists, and social reformers in western
Europe began to embrace Francis Galton's ideas.8 Vienna became a training ground for
many eastern European doctors, some of whom later promoted eugenics in the imperial
borderlands. The Balkan (post)-imperial lands figure only marginally in the historiography
of science in modern Europe, however. Doctors and scientists here generally had limited
institutional support, yet given their (p. 400) training at medical centers in Vienna, Paris,
and Berlin, eugenicist discourses were significant among the emerging medical and
science elites in Bulgaria, Romania, and elsewhere.9

This is not to overstate the centrality of eugenicist discourses in countries barely


embarking on the institutionalization of public health. Historians of eastern European
eugenics differ on how forceful this movement was, partly because they approach the
phenomenon from different entry points—specialized publications, policy-making, policy
implementation, versus their echoes in state politics.10 Historians of science and medicine
have generally been even less observant about the impact of eugenics in this region.11 Yet
the fact that medical institutions were quite underdeveloped at a time when doctors and
scientists interested in eugenics were returning from western Europe played in these
young enthusiasts' favor. Albeit toned down by respect for tradition, eugenics framed
modernization persuasively, defining collective identity above individual rights in ways
that resonated with the collectivist discourses in their countries.12

Recent research on Austro-Hungarian public health policies in the new colony of Bosnia-
Herzegovina (1878–1918) shows that advocates of eugenics in Vienna hoped to mobilize
and control newly acquired populations through bio-politics. A discourse that blended a
biologically determinist view of cultural specificities (especially regarding the Islamic
populations in Bosnia) with a desire to make the population healthier catalyzed programs
to train doctors in pre- and post-natal care, as well as to develop public health programs
from inoculation against epidemics to personal hygiene.13 It should be stressed that the
goal was not the individual well-being of Bosnians, but rather the ability of this population
to serve the Austro–Hungarian interests in the area.

Eugenics served as a rationale for separating communities according to their national


(read biological) identity and to redistribute resources along ethnocentric lines as part of
an imperial discourse. This was the case not only with the more marginalized Magyars
and Poles, but also with the German populations. Germanic race-based eugenicist
discourses served implicitly as a tool for contesting the imperial cohesion of Austria-
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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Hungary, especially by those who looked toward the Volksdeutsche across the border in
Germany as their community, rather than to the assimilated Jewry in Vienna.14 In Vienna,
for instance, a number of anthropologists who supported the concept of biological/racial
hierarchies conducted anthropometric measurements in the army as a way to separate
more clearly (presumably more scientifically) the various ethnic groups serving together
in the multi-ethnic military.15

In the Habsburg Empire, articulating theories of biological determinism along racial and
ethnic lines seemed like a “silver bullet” for sorting out the great linguistic, religious, and
overall cultural diversity of the populations that lived in such borderland regions as
Transylvania and Vojvodina. Such distinctions had not mattered 50 years earlier, when
dreams of independence from or federal autonomy inside the empire had not yet budded.
But by the 1880s, Austrians, Italians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles,
Czechs, Ruthenes, and Romanians had embarked (p. 401) upon contests for legitimate
control over resources and territory at the expense of the old idea of loyalty to the
dynasty. Historical precedents, linguistic/cultural identity, and legal precedents were the
lines of argument employed by most nationalists. But all these arguments proved
contestable and led to unsolvable antagonisms among various ethnic groups and vis-à-vis
the imperial center. Eugenics promised a way out. By 1914, it played a growing role
among doctors and biologists, not just as a ticket for greater professional empowerment,
but also as a means to shape nationalist debates. The same theories came to be used for
two opposing ends: the imperial dreams of modernizing and controlling a variety of
populations, and the desires of the emerging nationalist elites to shape the future by
means of biological segregation.

Eugenics and Internal Colonization after World


War I
After the war, when Bulgarians, Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Serbs, and Romanians
acquired independence, they initially welcomed self-determination. Few thought much
about the importance of the League of Nations and Minorities Treaties in overseeing their
internal affairs. Yet challenges from minorities soon appeared, and these states spent a
great deal of effort responding to or trying to cover up violations of the treaties. In this
environment of unquestioning acceptance of ethno-nationalism and ethnic tension over
the outcomes of the war, eugenics offered an important tool for political legitimation and
for embracing modernization in what appeared to be a rational, scientific view of the
world.16

The array of institutional developments connected to eugenics in this region varied, of


course, in each country and among the case studies presented here. The Austro-
Hungarian legacies were the oldest in the region. Eugenically inflected courses in biology,
medicine, and anthropology had been taught at the University of Vienna since the late

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

nineteenth century, although no formal eugenics society existed prior to World War I. The
Viennese Society for Racial Hygiene was founded in 1924 by Otto Reche (1879–1966),
director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Other supporters
of eugenics included the world-famous psychiatrist Julius Wagner-Jauregg (1857–1940).

In contrast, historians focusing on Poland and Hungary have identified structures


embracing eugenicist ideas starting at the turn of the twentieth century. In Poland, the
Society for Combating Sexually Transmitted Diseases (1903) began to advocate a
biologically–determinist vision of venereal disease and prostitution. The society gradually
evolved into the Polish Eugenics Society (1922) under the leadership of Leon Wernic
(1870–1952), a physician trained in Warsaw. In Hungary, debates about eugenics and the
social utility of this science began around the same time, but (p. 402) a formalized
Eugenics Society was created only in 1914; it later grew into the Hungarian Society for
Racial Hygiene and Population Policy (1917), under the leadership of József Madzsar
(1876–1940), Lajos Dienes (1885–1974), and István Apáthy (1863–1922).

In Romania, there were several important centers for research, teaching, and
experimental policy-making: the Institute for Hygiene, affiliated with the Medical School
in Cluj, led by Iuliu Moldovan (1882–1966), who trained a new generation of increasingly
radically-racist anthropologists, among them Iordachi Făcăoaru and Petre Râmneanţu
(1902–1981); the Institute of Anthropology, affiliated with the Medical School in
Bucharest, with Francisc Rainer as its leader; and the Institute for Demography, funded
by the Ministry of Health, led by Sabin Manuilă (1894–1964). All these state-funded
centers coordinated the publishing of research, the popularization of eugenics through
textbooks, curricular integration of eugenics in various disciplines (biology, hygiene,
anthropology), and the training of public health specialists in the spirit of eugenicist
ideas. The extent of the support Romanian eugenics received from the state seems unique
in the region.

The Bulgarian Society for Racial Hygiene (1928) capitalized on the interest in eugenics
among doctors and anthropologists. Stefan Konsulov (1885–1954) was a prominent figure
in this circle, though many others also published treatises on eugenics and sought to
connect theoretical scientific debates with policy-making, especially in the realm of
eradicating malaria. In Greece, doctors, anthropologists, and lawyers became interested
in eugenics around the same time. Stavros Zurukzoglu (1896–1966), a physician, was the
first to introduce eugenicist ideas (1925) into the Greek Anthropological Association,
whose leader, Ioannis Koumaris (1879–1970), became an ardent supporter of eugenics.
Similar discussions around race and biology, and about the need to establish clear
scientific hierarchies among ethnically diverse and mixed populations preoccupied
physicians and anthropologists in Yugoslavia, where, in 1920, racial biologist Svetislav
Stefanović (1874–1944), the president of the Association of Yugoslav Physicians,
published Eugenics: The Hygiene of Human Conception and the Problem of Heredity,
under the official auspices of the Ministry for National Health. But much like in Greece,
interest in eugenics did not translate into specific institutional developments and

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

publications dedicated exclusively to eugenics, as had been the case in Romania, for
instance.

In most of these cases, where birth control policies with a eugenicist character were
passed, the main proponents of eugenics were not the architects of such legislation.
Romania was an exception, as Moldovan was the main author of a eugenically inspired
comprehensive public health law in 1932. Even there, however, the shape of the
legislation and its ultimate implementation were controlled by politicians and bureaucrats
with varied understandings of eugenic ideas, sometimes in conflict with the aims of the
eugenicist institutions and professional enthusiasts. Alongside these institutional
developments, there were characteristic intellectual, social, and political trends in many
of these countries.

(p. 403) A New Technocratic Elite


As the medical profession flourished in post-imperial eastern Europe, doctors of the new
ethnic majorities saw opportunities open up—professionally, economically, and socially.
They were engaged in building new state institutions for medical education and practice,
and specific public policies that implied greater need for doctors and greater resources
allocated to medical practice. Though welfare measures of the kind contemplated in
western Europe were absent in eastern Europe in the 1920s, access to medical services
and public health were discussed as measurements of modernization and progress.
Historians such as Mária Kovács have emphasized the importance of doctors in the
development of the larger field of professional technocrats in postwar eastern Europe.17

Doctors in these countries helped construct eugenicist discourses. The experience of the
war and the active role many doctors played dealing with the catastrophic effects of
epidemics such as typhoid fever, as well as chronic conditions such as sexually
transmitted diseases, rendered these health care providers active proponents of the need
for the state to manage, if not directly control, the spread of disease as a means to
prevent future catastrophes and to augment the biological capital of their own ethnic
group.18

These developments coincided with an international trend in medicine and social


discourse that favored eugenicist views. Such views conveniently (for the doctors) and
persuasively (for ethno-nationalist politicians) connected with the interests and practical
challenges in the new eastern European states. Thus, it comes as little surprise that many
doctors plucked eugenicist ideas out of their medical school education and transferred
them to the particularities of their own territories.

As many historians have underscored, eugenicist convictions met with professional


opportunism to create a solid alliance, but not one necessarily oriented toward a right-
wing ideological position.19 Turda focuses on the increasingly nationalist racist elements

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

that characterized Romanian eugenics after World War I, which he considers brought
about an alliance between eugenicists and radical right-wing parties in Romania.20 I see
both evidence of right-wing radicalism and distance from it: some doctors were politically
neutral, or aligned expediently with whichever party lent them greater public authority.
In Poland, for instance, there was a wide range of affiliation among eugenicists with
existing political parties.21 This variety of political leanings suggests that, for some
eugenicists, political identification was opportunistic, a platform for advancing their
technocratic dreams of controlled progress and medical care.22 For others, eugenics and
political party affiliations offered a means for advancing their personal agendas of
acquiring social and economic power. And for some, eugenics was part and parcel of a
deeper self–identification with a racist-nationalist political ideology.

In their attempt to capture state resources for their own public health agenda, these
doctors embraced a form of internal colonization among the populations they treated. At
the broadest level, eugenicists connected those least linked to the state—peasants in
especially remote areas—to state control through public health (p. 404) policies; and in
more localized forms, doctors aimed at, and partly succeeded in, defining populations
along ethnic/racial lines in their individual locales, while linking them to a spectrum of
“blood” and anthropometric hierarchies. These biologically deterministic hierarchies
were tied to ethnic-nationalist notions of state responsibility for the well-being of citizens,
and connectedly, the duties of citizens toward the state. Ultimately, eugenicists wanted to
reshape the behavior of these populations toward biological separation and to encourage
greater rates of reproduction among the “healthy” populations, invariably defined as the
ethnic group to which these doctors belonged.

Yet eugenicists also offered a positive vision of progress through public health policies:
they sought to acquire greater funding for public health programs as a means to
improving the well-being of people across the country.23 They argued that the new states
could achieve their full potential only when their populations were well-educated, healthy,
and fully mobilized in the service of the country. The crucial element of their claims was
that specific rural populations in remote areas retained essential components of their
ethnic group's vitality, which needed to be both found and cultivated, much like turning a
precious natural resource into an important source of revenue. Eugenics offered the
ideological framework for articulating this desire to mobilize these resources as an
organic, naturally desirable process. Hidden in this positive picture of coaxing the
“biological capital” was the implicit hierarchization of how public health policies were to
be implemented locally, giving priority to the members of the ethnic majority, while
ignoring (if not outright excluding) others.24

Modernization

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Eugenicists in eastern Europe were self-avowed advocates of controlled modernization.


Doctors and practitioners of newly recognized professions (for example, lawyers,
architects, engineers) were deeply invested in discourses that advocated progress, as was
the case elsewhere. Eugenicists often spoke about the encroachment of “social illnesses,”
from tuberculosis to venereal diseases, in the context of their mostly unmodernized
countryside, which they nonetheless described as the fount of strength, the élan vital of
their nation. Contrasting non-cosmopolitan, provincial sites as places where strength and
purity should be preserved against the encroachment of metropolitan vice was common
in the anti-colonial movements.

In eastern Europe, this discourse made sense for similar reasons: the countryside was
where the majority of the new ethnic majorities were often located, and where there was
little ethnic or religious intermarriage;25 and it was also in the countryside where the lack
of public health services and education was most acute and, by many observers' accounts
(be they ethnic exclusivists or not), most urgently needed. Thus, for the purposes of
making a persuasive argument with the political and social elites, constructing a
discourse that focused on preserving and strengthening the potential (p. 405) ities of the
underprivileged, poor, uneducated peasants seemed like a noble and necessary dream,
and at the same time a politically and socially innocuous one. It fit existing views of the
peasantry and of the role educated elites needed to play in the countryside. Two
stumbling blocks stood in the way of success, however. First, the peasants, much like
those colonized by the British, were human beings with strong cultural roots in religious
belief, and not particularly trusting of the science-based view of the world that
eugenicists preached. Second, the doctors themselves were more willing to write about
the need to do the hard work of education and enlightenment in the countryside than
actually to undertake the work themselves.

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Race and Racism


In the interwar period, ideas of racial-biological hierarchy became popular all over post-
imperial eastern Europe, taking on different meanings in varying locations and resulting
in different kinds of policies around controlling or protecting the purported racial
hierarchies. Historians of eastern European eugenics seldom agree about the degree of
racism in these movements, especially about their relationship with racist politics. Some
are quicker to identify the use of race-based theories in these countries as a sign of
growing exclusionary social policies and an important force in shaping racist policies,
especially in the late 1930s and during World War II.26 Others view these race-based
theories as one of several elements that framed the scientific discourse, especially the
policy ideas of the eugenicists.27

Following research and measurements developed in western Europe and the United
States, many eastern European doctors and biologists attempted to situate their own
populations within a continuum of racial/ethnic identities. These researchers also sought
to isolate the qualities of ethnic minorities. In some cases, there were efforts to
segregate, for instance, Serbs from Croats.28 There were also efforts to assimilate, for
instance, Szeklers into Romanians.29 As several historians have shown, blood
agglutination and anthropometric measurements as uncontestable proof of specific racial/
ethnic identities were in vogue in the 1920s and 1930s. These measurements were
employed differently, depending on the particular policy intention. For instance,
assimilation of the Hungarian-speaking Szeklers seemed more advantageous to Romanian
researchers trying to claim Transylvania as part of Romania rather than as part of
Hungary.30 If Szeklers could be proven to be serologically closer to Romanians, one could
presumably argue that they, and the territory they inhabited, should remain under the
control of the Romanian state, rather than be claimed by revisionist Hungary. Such
arguments clashed with the research done in Hungary, which sought to prove that the
majority of the population in Transylvania was in fact “biologically” Hungarian.31

While the ethnic diversity of eastern European countries made it complicated to construct
a unitary, persuasive, and scientifically acceptable theory of racial/ethnic (p. 406)
hierarchy by the standards of the time, most of these countries shared one racist
assumption recast by eugenicists in biological terms: anti-Semitism.32 But even this did
not have the same force in all eastern European eugenics movements. In Romania, for
instance, some eugenicists placed much greater emphasis on where Hungarians were
racially situated vis-à-vis the Romanians than on where Jews were to be placed in racial
hierarchy. And for ethnic groups that had become minorities overnight in newly formed
states, eugenics offered a way of constructing either new strategies for autonomy, or an
ideological platform for revisionism. In Romania, for instance, German populations in
Transylvania articulated a strong eugenicist discourse that blended cultural and
biological attributes to claim the need for this community to remain united and pure
(biologically), as an island of Germanness in the Romanian state. The long standing

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

historical precedent of the German (Saxon) communities in this area as autonomous


colonists at the border of Christendom since the Middle Ages served as an important
argument for their purported biological purity, and also for why the Saxons needed to
maintain this unique identity. Theirs, Saxon eugenicists claimed, was a unique and
culturally important mission, one that needed to be secured and preserved through self-
imposed biological isolation and other public health self-help policies. While this group
never made political claims against the Romanian state, they advocated a virtual
apartheid.33

These examples suggest that while racist ideas espoused by colonial powers in Africa and
Asia convinced their own elites of the factual basis of their hierarchies, such ideological
victories could not be claimed in eastern Europe. Whether they acknowledged each other
across state and ethnic lines or not, eastern European eugenicists were often in conflict
with one another regarding the claims of biological purity and superiority on behalf of
different ethnic groups.

Illiberalism
One common trait of most eastern European eugenics was their disregard for liberal
pluralist parliamentary politics.34 Parliamentary pluralism had developed in the imperial
eastern European lands in a few places (the Austro-Hungarian Empire in particular), but
had been rather narrow in its definition of citizenship and the electorate.35 Thus, even in
places such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, where some political parties or factions had
existed for half a century, the explosion of political formations and the emergence of
universal suffrage after 1918 proved chaotic and resulted in largely unstable political
processes. Overall, the newly emerged, more democratic electoral policies of the 1920s
brought about fluidity and even instability rather than the solidification of stable
institutions and policies. Therefore, it was unsurprising that parliamentary pluralism and
democratic electoral policies came under fire with the Great Depression, as historians of
eugenics during this period agree.36 These illiberal voices merged with eugenicist visions
of organicist national unity, building on ideas of health, strength, and vitality.37

There are two exceptions in this regard. In Poland, scholarship thus far has
(p. 407)

emphasized the “progressive” angle of the movement and political leanings that
embraced change through political negotiation in a parliamentary setting.38 And in
Greece, where interest in eugenics developed much more after World War II than in the
rest of eastern Europe, the movement operated largely within the confines of a
parliamentary democracy, with doctors and other supporters there focusing on legislative
change within this political setting.39

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Legislation and Implementation


The most important weakness of the eugenicist movements in eastern Europe was their
inability to mobilize and control human energies. For states facing a dizzying array of
problems—political, administrative/institutional, economic, and military—the eugenic
agenda, especially expressed as an overarching imperative for completely restructuring
the state, rather than implementing piecemeal reforms, met with resistance on the part of
politicians. Even where there was sympathy for these ideas across the political spectrum,
heavy war debt payments in the 1920s and crippling economic crises in the 1930s
dictated severe choices that impaired the eugenicist agenda.40

Given these problems, governments could turn to a variety of expenditures to see quick
returns for their goal of establishing the primacy of the majority ethnic group. The
military was foremost on that agenda, followed by education. Eugenicist ideas were
partially integrated through courses, textbooks, and student selection, but most
politicians directed their educational reforms to focus on linguistic or cultural, rather
than biological, unification. Public health lagged behind in political and especially fiscal
state support.

It was only during World War II, when Nazi-allied Hungary and Romania participated in
the anti-Soviet offensive, that some of these dreams of eugenicist colonization were more
directly integrated in state policy and expenditures. The Hungarian government used
notions of racial hierarchy in their control of northern Transylvania, and the Romanian
government that ruled Transnistria during the war underwrote studies that attempted to
uncover the “true” Romanian biological essence of the inhabitants of that region, whether
they spoke Romanian, Russian, or Ukrainian. The same administrations also adopted the
anti-Semitic views of Nazi Germany and of their own leadership to lead or collaborate in
the implementation of the Final Solution. In the wild new racist ideology of Lebensraum,
“purifying” by means of genocide and incorporating into one's own ethnic group by
means of biological measurements were part of the same colonizing quest, abruptly
terminated by the end of the war at the hands of the Soviet Armies.

After the war, denazification processes and political realignment along the ideologies and
strategic interests of the Soviet Union in Europe meant that most of the supporters of
eugenics were either purged from their official positions, regardless of their (p. 408)
actual actions on behalf of fascist governments and ideas, or had to make a volte-face in
their public statements in order to continue to work in a professional capacity.41 Thus,
eugenics as a movement was brought to a halt in all but one country, Greece, where
interest in eugenics in fact emerged more strongly in the postwar period.42

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Conclusions
The eastern European case offers both similarities and important differences from extra-
European colonial/imperial lands, as well as from eugenics in western Europe. The
eastern Europeans' self-identification with and aspiration toward inclusion in European
civilization is the most important departure vis-à-vis non-European colonized people. The
ways in which eugenicist ideas were deployed in the Habsburg and post-Habsburg lands
both at the imperial center (Vienna) and on the periphery (for example, in Transylvania)
in order to stimulate biologically controlled progress, often using the same ideas and
employing the same racial hierarchies, most clearly illustrate this important particularity.

In the realm of eugenics, this region is unique in Europe in terms of the difficulty
eugenicists faced in articulating non-self-contradictory theories of racial hierarchy and
arguments about the need to modernize, segregate, and mobilize people. If it was easy
for British colonizers to claim racial superiority to non-European populations on the basis
of race hierarchy, similar racial claims could not be sustained in eastern Europe without a
great deal of convoluted explanation about hidden hereditary facts, such as blood
agglutination. Some racial hierarchies were easier to “sell” than others, on the basis of
already well-established racist clichés, especially regarding Jews. Ultimately, this case
stands as an example of both the attempt to criticize the hegemony of western European
colonial-eugenicist hierarchies and also the desire to emulate similar developments in
these post-imperial states while affirming European racial hierarchies.

Further Reading
Baader, Gerhard, Veronika Hofer, and Thomas Mayer, eds., Eugenic in Österreich.
Biopolitische Trukturen von 1900–1945 (Vienna: Czernin Verlag, 2007).

Bucur, Maria. Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania (Pittsburgh, PA:


University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002).

Bucur, Maria. “Awakening or Constructing Biological Consciousness? Astra's Role in the


Romanian Eugenic Movement,” Colloquia. Journal of Central European History 2, no. 1–2
(1995): 172–185.

Bucur, Maria. “In Praise of Wellborn Mothers. On Eugenics and Gender Roles in Interwar
Romania,” East European Politics and Societies 9, no. 1 (1995): 123–142.

Bucur, Maria. “From Private Philanthropy to Public Institutions. The Rockefeller


Foundation and Public Health in Interwar Romania.” Romanian Civilization 4, no. 2
(1995): 47–60.

Daskalova, Krassimira. “Foremothers: Fani Popova-Mutafova,” Gender and History 14, no.
2 (2002): 321–339.

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Eugenics in Eastern Europe, 1870s–1945

Dugac, Željko. Protiv bolesti I nesnania: Rockefeerova fondacija u meduratnoj Jugoslaviji


(Zagreb: Srednja Europa, 2005).

Feinberg, Melissa. Elusive Equality: Gender, Citizenship and the Limits of Democracy in
Czechoslovakia, 1918–1950 (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006).

Gawin, Magdalena. Rasa I nowodzsność. Historia polskiego ruchu eugenicznego, 1880–


1952 (Warsaw: Neriton, Instytut Historii PAN, 2003).

Kovacs, Maria M. Liberal Professions and Illiberal Politics: Hungary from the Habsburgs
to the Holocaust (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Oxford : Oxford
University Press, 1994).

Turda, Marius, Christian Pomnizer, and Sevasti Trubeda, eds. Health, Hygiene
(p. 412)

and Eugenics in Southeast Europe to 1945 (Budapest: Central European University Press,
forthcoming, 2010).

Turda, Marius. “ ‘To End the Degeneration of a Nation’: Debates on Eugenic Sterilization
in Inter-war Romania,” Medical History 53, no. 1 (2009): 77–104.

Turda, Marius and Paul J. Weindling, eds. “Blood and Homeland:” Eugenics and Racial
Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe, 1900–1940 (Budapest: Central European
University Press, 2006).

Turda, Marius. “From Craniology to Serology: Racial Anthropology in Interwar Hungary


and Romania,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 43, no. 4 (2007): 361–
377.

Turda, Marius. Eugenism şi antropologie rasială în România, 1874–1944 (Bucharest:


Editura Cuvântul, 2008).

Notes:

(1.) This term was used most prominently in Romania by Iuliu Moldovan and his
followers. See Maria Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania
(Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002).

(2.) One important departure is Patrick Zylberman, “Civilizing the State: Borders, Weak
States and International Health in Modern Europe,” in Medicine at the Border: Disease,
Globalization and Security, 1850 to the Present, ed. Alison Bashford (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2006), 21–40.

(3.) Brigitte Fuchs, “Gender, Religion, and Hygiene in Bosnia–Herzegovina 1878–1914,” in


Health, Hygiene and Eugenics in Southeast Europe to 1945, eds. Marius Turda, Christian
Pomnizer, and Sevasti Trubeda (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010,
forthcoming).

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(4.) For an example of the older primordialist scholarship, see Peter F. Sugar and Ivo J.
Lederer, eds., Nationalism in Eastern Europe (Seattle, WA: University of Washington
Press, 1969). For new scholarship reframing the significance and usefulness of
nationalism from a constructivist perspective, see Jeremy King, “The Nationalization of
East Central Europe: Ethnicism, Ethnicity, and Beyond,” in Staging the Past: The Politics
of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present, eds. Maria Bucur
and Nancy Wingfield (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2001), 112–152. On
nationalism and colonialism in eastern Europe, see Katherine J. Fleming, The Muslim
Bonaparte: Diplomacy and Orientalism in Ali Pasha's Greece (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1999); Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 1997); and Larry Wolff, Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of
Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

(5.) See Marius Turda, “Heredity and Eugenic Thought in Early Twentieth-Century
Hungary,” Orvostörténeti közlemények. Communicationes de Historia Artis Medicinae 51,
no. 1–2 (2007): 101–118; Marius Turda, “The Nation as Object: Race, Blood, and
Biopolitics in Interwar Romania,” Slavic Review 66, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 413–441.

(6.) See the individual contributions to Marius Turda and Paul J. Weindling, eds., “Blood
and Homeland”: Eugenics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe,
1900–1940 (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006) and Turda et al., Health,
Hygiene, and Eugenics. The contributors to the latter volume and a few additional
scholars presented papers on the themes of the book at a conference held in Berlin in
May 2007, entitled “Hygiene—Health Politics—Eugenics: Engineering Society in 20th-
Century Southeastern Europe.” A related conference entitled “Medicine in the Balkans:
Evolution of Ideas and Practice to 1945” was held in London in January 2008.

(7.) These kinds of claims vis-à-vis the political past and cultural belonging coexist in all
the countries cited here, and indeed in all the countries of the area. The comparative
weight of these lines of argumentation depends, however, on politics, cultural
preferences, and regional contests, as they developed over time from the nineteenth
century. For an excellent critical look at the Balkan region in terms of such contests, see,
for example, Katherine E. Fleming, “Orientalism, the Balkans, and Balkan
Historiography,” American Historical Review 105, no. 4 (2000): 1218–1233.

(8.) Turda, “Heredity and Eugenic Thought”; Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization;
Turdaand Weindling, “Blood and Homeland”; Turda et al., Health, Hygiene and Eugenics.

(9.) Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization; Gergana Mircheva, “Marital Health and
Eugenics in Bulgaria, 1878–1940,” in Turda et al., Health, Hygiene and Eugenics,
forthcoming.

(10.) These differences were reflected best in the lively discussions that took place during
the “Hygiene—Health Politics—Eugenics” conference in Berlin, May 2007, and is

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reflected in both the upcoming volume, Turda et al., Health, Hygiene and Eugenics, as
well as Turda and Weindling, “Blood and Homeland.”

(11.) In my own research on Romania, I found virtually no references to eugenics in the


specialized literature focusing on the history of medicine in that country. See Bucur,
Eugenics and Modernization.

(12.) Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization; Turda, “The Nation as Object”; Turda,
“Heredity and Eugenic Thought”; Rory Yeomans, “Of ‘Yugoslav Barbarians’ and Croatian
Gentlemen Scholars: Nationalist Ideology and Racial Anthropology in Interwar
Yugoslavia,” in Turda and Weindling, “Blood and Homeland,” 83–123.

(13.) Fuchs, “Gender, Religion.”

(14.) See Margit Berner, “From ‘Prisoner of War Studies’ to Proof of Paternity: Racial
Anthropologists and the Measuring of ‘Others’ in Austria,” in Turda and Weindling, “Blood
and Homeland,” 41–54.

(15.) Margit Berner, “The Distribution of ‘Race’ and Types: National Surveys of the
Viennese Anthropology Society, c. 1870–WWI,” paper presented at the Council for
European Studies Sixteenth International Conference, Chicago, March 2008.

(16.) Presented here are what I see as common attributes of the eugenics movements in
eastern Europe in the interwar period. Yet there was diversity and even conflict: the same
ideas were used for opposite claims, especially between ethnic majorities and ethnic
minorities. Therefore, while these attributes describe the shape of eugenics in eastern
Europe, they do not accurately define every eugenic movement, or even “eastern
European” eugenics.

(17.) Maria M. Kovacs, Liberal Professions and Illiberal Politics: Hungary from the
Habsburgs to the Holocaust (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1994); Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization.

(18.) Turda and Weindling, “Blood and Homeland”; Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization;
Turda, “The Nation as Object”; Christian Pomnizer, “Muslims, Typhus and the Nation:
Medicalisation of Ethnic Distance in Bulgaria,” in Turda et al., Health, Hygiene and
Eugenics.

(19.) Pauline M. H. Mazumdar, Eugenics, Human Genetics and Human Failings: The
Eugenics Society, Its Sources and Its Critics in Britain (London and New York: Routledge,
1992).

(20.) Turda, “The Nation as Object.”

(21.) Magdalena Gawin, “Eugenics and Progressivism in Poland, 1905–1939,” in Turda


and Weindling, “Blood and Homeland,” 167–183.

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(22.) Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization.

(23.) See especially Turda et al., Health, Hygiene and Eugenics; and Bucur, Eugenics and
Modernization.

(24.) Here there is great variety within each country and among countries in the area.
Given their dizzying array of ethnic groups, and where each eugenicist movement
situated various distinct ethnic/racial groups within their larger race hierarchies, they
might seek alliances with some (for example, the Romanians with the Germans in
Romania), seek to exclude others (for example, the Jews in Hungary), or ignore some
groups (for example, the Serbians with the Muslim Bosnians).

(25.) This was the case in Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania, but much less so in
Bulgaria, or less of a concern in the more urbanized Czechoslovakia.

(26.) Turda, “The Nation as Object;” Rory Yeomans, “Colonizing the National Body:
Demography, Abortion and the Limits of Science in the Independent State of Croatia,” in
Turda et al., Health, Hygiene and Eugenics.

(27.) Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization; Sevasti Trubeta, “Serving the Nation and Race:
Physical Anthropology in Greece (1924–1950),” paper presented at the Council for
European Studies Sixteenth International Conference, Chicago, March 2008; and Vassiliki
Theodorou and Despina Karakatsani, “Eugenics and ‘Puericulture’ in Interwar Greece:
Medical Concerns for Ameliorating the Biological Capital,” in Turda et al., Health,
Hygiene and Eugenics, forthcoming.

(28.) Yeomans, “Colonizing the National Body.”

(29.) Turda, “The Nation as Object;” Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization.

(30.) Romania had acquired Transylvania from Hungary after the Tiranon Treaty (1920).

(31.) Marius Turda, “From Craniology to Serology: Racial Anthropology in Interwar


Hungary and Romania,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 43, no. 4
(2007): 361–377.

(32.) Kovacs, Liberal Professions; Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization; Turda, “The Nation
as Object.”

(33.) Tudor Georgescu, “In Pursuit of a Purged Eugenic Fortress: Alfred Csallner and the
Transylvanian Saxon Eugenic Discourse in Interwar Romania,” in Turda et al., Health,
Hygiene and Eugenics.

(34.) Kovacs, Liberal Professions; Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization; Turda, “The Nation
as Object.” Magdalena Gawin offers a different view regarding the Polish case, as do
historians of eugenics in Greece. See Magda Gawin, Rasa i nowoczesność. Historia

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polskiego ruchu eugenicznego (Warsaw: Neriton, 2003) and Trubeta, “Serving the
Nation.”

(35.) Universal male suffrage was introduced only in 1907, and property limitations that
framed political rights for most of the nineteenth century eliminated most rural
populations.

(36.) Kovacs, Liberal Professions; Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization; Turda, “The Nation
as Object”; Mircheva, “Marital Health”; Trubeta, “Serving the Nation.”

(37.) The illiberalism of eugenics attracted allies from fascists to peasantists and
feminists.

(38.) Gawin, “Eugenics and Progressivism”; Gawin, Rasa i nowoczesność.

(39.) Trubeta, “Serving the Nation.”

(40.) For an overview of eastern Europe in the interwar period, see Ivan Berend, Decades
of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II (Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press, 1998).

(41.) On legacies in the postwar period in Romania, see Bucur, Eugenics and
Modernization.

(42.) Trubeta, “Serving the Nation;” Turda and Weindling, “Blood and Homeland.”

Maria Bucur

Maria Bucur's research and teaching interests focus on European history in the
modern period, especially social and cultural developments in eastern Europe, with a
special interest in Romania (geographically) and gender (thematically). Her
publications include Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania (2002),
Making Europe (2007), Gender and War in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe
(2006), Staging the Past (2001), and Heroes and Victims: Remembering War in
Twentieth-Century Romania (2009). She is coordinator of the women's and gender
history network for the European Social Science History Conference and Director of
the Russian and East European Institute at Indiana University.

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