After the fall: Political whitewashing, professional posturing, and personal refashioning in the postwar career of Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer

Isis. 2010 Dec;101(4):722-58. doi: 10.1086/657474.


Despite the numerous books and articles preoccupied with the formidable legitimizing role and unethical medical transgressions of the German human geneticist Otmar von Verschuer (1896-1969) during the Third Reich, scholars have neglected to focus on his career trajectory during the postwar period, especially in the years after he received the first chair of genetics on German soil in 1951. While an examination of von Verschuer's trials, tribulations, and ultimate triumph in post-1945 West Germany is fascinating in its own right, it also raises broader historical issues. First, it lays bare the professional posturing of German biomedical scientists as they attempted to retake control over their once tainted fields of research when Cold War realities opened a window of opportunity for them. Second, it reveals the fine line between adherence to professional ethics and disciplinary solidarity when scientists were faced with a potential outside threat to their profession. Finally, such an analysis demonstrates the macromechanics of professional refashioning on the part of the publicly tainted scientists as they forged a new symbiosis between their field and the politics of a new era in the interest of pursuing research.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes / history
  • Concentration Camps / history
  • Eugenics / history
  • Genetic Research / ethics*
  • Genetic Research / history*
  • Germany
  • Germany, West
  • History, 20th Century
  • Human Experimentation / ethics*
  • Human Experimentation / history*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • National Socialism / history
  • Politics
  • Religion and Science
  • World War II

Personal name as subject

  • Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer