AN EMINENT Austrian scientist who specialised in genetics and won the Nobel prize for his work on malaria has been revealed as an exponent of racial purity who advocated the forced sterilisation for people regarded as genetically impure.
The discovery that Julius Wagner-Jauregg was a member of the Nazi party and backed Hitler’s ideas about racial purity has shocked Austrians, who have named schools, roads and hospitals after the respected former physician and psychiatrist.
Wagner-Jauregg, considered one of the leading scientists of his time, was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1927 for his work in the field of malaria inoculation.
He died in 1940, but, instead of being discredited after the war, his role promoting Nazi ideology and close links with them were swept under the carpet.
The truth came to light after a Vienna city councillor, David Ellensohn, called for a review of all people awarded honorary status at the city’s central cemetery in the period under Nazi occupation.
A team of historians was commissioned to examine the lives of more than 200 Austrians in this category. They found Wagner-Jauregg was a proponent of racial purity before the country became part of Hitler’s Third Reich in 1938.
Member of the commission, Wolfgang Neugebauer from the Documentation Centre of the Austrian Resistance, has presented the findings to the Vienna City Council.
Wagner-Jauregg applied to become a member of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) in 1939 after calling for a ban on "people with mental diseases and people with criminal genes" from reproducing.
According to his biographer, Madga Whitrow, his first attempt to join the party failed on account of "race". Whitrow said Wagner-Jauregg’s first wife, Balbine Frumkin, was Jewish. But in her biography she wrote: "It isn’t clear if his unhappy marriage to Frumkin fuelled his anti-Semitic sentiments."
Nevertheless, Wagner-Jauregg continued to promote his theories and said people with mental diseases or criminal genes were "individuals who, because of lasting genetic mental defects, are a danger to the community and unable to fit in".
He also backed a proposal for a law to carry out sterilisations for "eugenic purposes", which was rejected by the pre-war parliament. Working women were also commented upon by Wagner-Jauregg. He described them as "degenerate" and said they would be unable "to bear children or breast feed".
Head of the commission, Kurt Scholz, said: "I cannot recommend Wagner-Jauregg’s honorary status is maintained. His statements concerning ‘racial care’ and attitude after 1938 alone are enough."
He added that a public debate on academics’ participation in Nazi doctrines following the end of the Second World War was absolutely non-existent, and Wagner-Jauregg’s role had been a whitewash.
Green councillor Ellensohn said not only should Wagner-Jauregg’s honorary status be withdrawn, but "in face of the facts - both about his activities in illegal Nazi circles and his membership in the NSDAP - all public places named after him should be renamed".
Vienna City Council has promised a full review and expects to make a decision in summer.