Robert Koch’s Bacteriology and Hitler’s Final Solution

Richard A. Koenigsberg,  whose title is “Hitler as the Robert Koch of Germany”

On March 24, 1882, the German physician and scientist, Robert Koch, presented his discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Subsequently, the causal organisms of a great number of bacterial diseases were isolated. Writing on the history of German medicine, Paul Weindling (1989) describes how bacteriologists became aligned with the state—through the use of military analogies in their observations on bacteria. Koch described how “alien parasites” entered the body. Bacteriology was glamorized by comparing laboratory researchers to soldiers, “Warriors against Disease.”

koch at work Robert Koch at work

Weindling explains how spectacular advances in bacteriology during the 1880s and 90s greatly enhanced the public prestige of laboratory science. There was widespread adulation of Koch. Thousands of handkerchiefs on which his face was embroidered were sold.

Bacteriology and experimental biology inspired the hope that degenerate germplasms could be located, and prevented from reproducing. Just as pathogenic bacteria could be isolated, so it was hoped that the germs of psychopathic mental illness, criminality and feeble-mindedness could also be located.

The basic message of bacteriology was simple: each disease was caused by a specific pathogenic organism. If one could identify and isolate this organism—the disease could be cured.

Hitler, we have observed, conceived of himself as a political physician. He insisted that every distress “has some cause or another.” His mission as a politician was to “penetrate to the cause” of Germany’s disease, and to effect a cure. On the evening of July 10, 1941, Hitler declared at his table: “I feel I am like Robert Koch in politics. He discovered the bacillus and thereby ushered medical science onto new paths. I discovered the Jew as the bacillus and the fermenting agent of all social decomposition.”

At Hitler’s table talk on 22 February 1942, the following statement was recorded: “The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! We shall regain our health only be eliminating the Jew.”

Robert Proctor observes that Hitler was celebrated as the “great doctor” of German society and as the “Robert Koch of politics.” As Robert Koch had discovered the Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, Hitler imagined that he had discovered the Jewish bacterium (or virus): the cause of Germany disease and suffering.

The Final Solution was enacted with the purpose of curing Germany’s (and Europe’s) disease by removing or eliminating its cause.

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