Eugenics ideals, racial hygiene, and the emigration process of German-American neurogeneticist Franz Josef Kallmann (1897-1965)

J Hist Neurosci. Jul-Sep 2016;25(3):253-74. doi: 10.1080/0964704X.2016.1187486.


Biological psychiatry in the early twentieth century was based on interrelated disciplines, such as neurology and experimental biology. Neuropsychiatrist Franz Josef Kallmann (1897-1965) was a product of this interdisciplinary background who showed an ability to adapt to different scientific contexts, first in the field of neuromorphology in Berlin, and later in New York. Nonetheless, having innovative ideas, as Kallmann did, could be an ambiguous advantage, since they could lead to incommensurable scientific views and marginalization in existing research programs. Kallmann followed his Dr. Med. degree (1919) with training periods at the Charité Medical School in Berlin under psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer (1868-1948). Subsequently, he collaborated with Ernst Ruedin (1874-1952), investigating sibling inheritance of schizophrenia and becoming a protagonist of genetic research on psychiatric conditions. In 1936, Kallmann was forced to immigrate to the USA where he published The Genetics of Schizophrenia (1938), based on data he had gathered from the district pathological institutes of Berlin's public health department. Kallmann resumed his role as an international player in biological psychiatry and genetics, becoming president (1952) of the American Society of Human Genetics and Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute in 1955. While his work was well received by geneticists, the idea of genetic differences barely took hold in American psychiatry, largely because of émigré psychoanalysts who dominated American clinical psychiatry until the 1960s and established a philosophical direction in which genetics played no significant role, being regarded as dangerous in light of Nazi medical atrocities. After all, medical scientists in Nazi Germany had been among the social protagonists of racial hygiene which, under the aegis of Nazi philosophies, replaced medical genetics as the basis for the ideals and application of eugenics.

Keywords: Cultural adaptation; Europe; Franz Josef Kallmann (1897–1965); North America; eugenics; forced migration; racial anthropology; social contexts; transatlantic transfers; twentieth-century neuroscience; émigré neurogeneticists.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Emigrants and Immigrants / history*
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Genetics / history*
  • Germany
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • National Socialism / history*
  • Neurosciences / history*
  • Racism / history*
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Franz Josef Kallmann