Cover image for The Nazi war on cancer
The Nazi war on cancer
Proctor, Robert, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 380 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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RC268 .P77 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Collaboration in the Holocaust. Murderous and torturous medical experiments. The "euthanasia" of hundreds of thousands of people with mental or physical disabilities. Widespread sterilization of "the unfit." Nazi doctors committed these and countless other atrocities as part of Hitler's warped quest to create a German master race. Robert Proctor recently made the explosive discovery, however, that Nazi Germany was also decades ahead of other countries in promoting health reforms that we today regard as progressive and socially responsible. Most startling, Nazi scientists were the first to definitively link lung cancer and cigarette smoking. Proctor explores the controversial and troubling questions that such findings raise: Were the Nazis more complex morally than we thought? Can good science come from an evil regime? What might this reveal about health activism in our own society? Proctor argues that we must view Hitler's Germany more subtly than we have in the past. But he also concludes that the Nazis' forward-looking health activism ultimately came from the same twisted root as their medical crimes: the ideal of a sanitary racial utopia reserved exclusively for pure and healthy Germans.

Author of an earlier groundbreaking work on Nazi medical horrors, Proctor began this book after discovering documents showing that the Nazis conducted the most aggressive antismoking campaign in modern history. Further research revealed that Hitler's government passed a wide range of public health measures, including restrictions on asbestos, radiation, pesticides, and food dyes. Nazi health officials introduced strict occupational health and safety standards, and promoted such foods as whole-grain bread and soybeans. These policies went hand in hand with health propaganda that, for example, idealized the Führer's body and his nonsmoking, vegetarian lifestyle. Proctor shows that cancer also became an important social metaphor, as the Nazis portrayed Jews and other "enemies of the Volk" as tumors that must be eliminated from the German body politic.

This is a disturbing and profoundly important book. It is only by appreciating the connections between the "normal" and the "monstrous" aspects of Nazi science and policy, Proctor reveals, that we can fully understand not just the horror of fascism, but also its deep and seductive appeal even to otherwise right-thinking Germans.

Author Notes

Robert N. Proctor is Professor of the History of Science at Pennsylvania State University.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Under the Nazis, German epidemiologists were the first in the world to prove that smoking was the major cause of lung cancer. Proctor brings up other advances the Germans made, such as noting the dangers of passive smoking and radon, most of which have been overlooked by American historians. That oversight is most interesting, considering that after the war the U.S. military commissioned many of the German scientists involved in cancer research to write up their work. Proctor describes the Nazi-era programs and scientific work with tobacco, alcohol, and industrial chemicals in detail, enlivening his account with anecdotes and a smooth sense of humor. He also reports how the tobacco industry fought back. The text is well documented, and the illustrations--posters and other propaganda pieces--are striking and pertinent. The Nazis saw tobacco as a hazard to the race. Hitler had given up smoking before coming to power and seldom drank alcoholic beverages, and other Nazi leaders also served as role models. Fascinating stuff. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a book that plumbs both the dark and light sides of the utopian impulse, Penn State history of science professor Proctor (Racial Hygiene; Cancer Wars; etc.) takes a look at the healthy side of fascism. Hitler's government implemented many laudable public health measures, including the regulation of pesticides, asbestos and food dyes. Germany, Proctor notes, had the most aggressive anti-smoking campaign in the world, and German scientists were the first to link smoking with lung cancer. As Proctor outlines the sophistication of German medical science and the ambitions of Nazi public health policy, he asks provocative questions about the relationship between scientific culture and political culture, describing, for instance, how cancer metaphors were used to describe the "subhumans" the regime sought to exterminate as tumors on the German body. Proctor's moral compass stays true: he doesn't exonerate Nazi science but rather looks at how the cult of the Aryan race, which stressed healthy living, played out in the everyday work of scientists who concerned themselves with public health. "My intention is not to argue that today's antitobacco efforts have fascist roots, or that public health measures are in principle totalitarian," he writes. Instead, Proctor seeks to give his readers a more comlex appreciation of "how the routine practice of science can so easily coexist with the routine exercise of cruelty." At this, he succeeds admirably, giving readers a thoroughly researched account of Nazi medical science and posing difficult questions about the ultimate worth of good research carried out under the auspices of evil. Illustrations. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Proctor, a history of science professor at Penn State, is perhaps best known for Cancer Wars (LJ 3/1/95). In this new book, he continues to look at cancer while revisiting Nazi medicine, which he originally explored in Racial Hygiene (LJ 8/88). Here he extensively chronicles the many advances that Nazi Germany made in cancer research and prevention and considers them from an ethical perspective. Both good and bad medical policies were made, some based on valid scientific principles and some on the personal opinions of political leaders. Proctor is not a Nazi apologist, in fact the opposite, but he does put Nazi actions into their social context. Nazi Germany was ahead of most nations in labeling tobacco as hazardous to health and in identifying many hazardous chemicals, dyes, and occupational exposures. It is debatable whether Nazi anti-cancer efforts had long-term results in limiting cancer, but some current research shows a significant reduction in German lung cancer rates compared with other European nations. Proctors provocative book is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.Eric D. Albright, Duke Univ. Medical Ctr. Lib., Durham, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Examining the confluence of racist, expansionist, and public health goals in Nazi cancer policy, Proctor (history of science, Pennsylvania State Univ.) argues that science in the Third Reich was both more complex and accomplished than previously acknowledged. In this new study, he builds on his earlier Racial Hygiene (CH, Feb'89) and Cancer Wars (CH, Nov'95) by outlining the bifurcated Nazi cancer policy of high-quality prevention and care for "Aryans," together with sterilization, forced labor, and mass murder for "subhumanity." Proctor details Nazi public health initiatives, including history's most extensive antitobacco campaign, research about occupational carcinogens, and food additive bans. The study should have treated political-industrial relations more broadly, because in recounting several instances where the German chemical and tobacco industries caved in to party-state pressure, Proctor ignores how the command economy made the Nazi war on cancer profoundly dissimilar to the postwar US experience. A few errors about WW II and the Holocaust mar what is otherwise a fascinating, thoughtful, and beautifully illustrated tome. The findings complement Michael Burleigh's Death and Deliverance (CH, Sep'95) and Kristie Macrakis's Surviving the Swastika (CH, Apr'94). Recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above. J. R. White University of Nebraska--Lincoln

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prologuep. 3
Chapter 1 Hueper's Secretp. 13
Triumphs of the Intellectp. 15
"The Number One Enemy of the State"p. 20
Erwin Liek and the Ideology of Preventionp. 22
Early Detection and Mass Screeningp. 27
Chapter 2 The Gleichschaltung of German Cancer Researchp. 35
The Fates of Jewish Scientistsp. 36
Registries and Medical Surveillancep. 40
The Rhetoric of Cancer Researchp. 45
Romancing Nature and the Question of Cancer's Increasep. 51
Chapter 3 Genetic and Racial Theoriesp. 58
Cancer and the Jewish Questionp. 58
Selection and Sterilizationp. 68
Chapter 4 Occupational Carcinogenesisp. 73
Health and Work in the Reichp. 74
X-Rays and Radiation Martyrsp. 83
Radium and Uraniump. 93
Arsenic, Chromium, Quartz, and Other Kinds of Dustsp. 102
The Funeral Dress of Kings (Asbestos)p. 107
Chemical Industry Cancersp. 114
Chapter 5 The Nazi Dietp. 120
Resisting the Artificial Lifep. 124
Meat versus Vegetablesp. 126
The Fuhrer's Foodp. 134
The Campaign against Alcholp. 141
Performance-Enhancing Foods and Drugsp. 154
Foods for Fighting Cancerp. 160
Banning Butter Yellowp. 165
Ideology and Realityp. 170
Chapter 6 The Campaign against Tobaccop. 173
Early Oppositionp. 176
Making the Cancer Connectionp. 178
Fritz Lickint: The Doctor "Most Hated by the Tobacco Industry"p. 183
Nazi Medical Moralismp. 186
Franz H. Muller: The Forgotten Father of Experimental Epidemiologyp. 191
Moving into Actionp. 198
Karl Astel's Institute for Tobacco Hazards Researchp. 206
Gesundheit uber Allesp. 217
Reemtsma's Forbidden Fruitp. 228
The Industry's Counterattackp. 238
Tobacco's Collapsep. 242
Chapter 7 The Monstrous and the Prosaicp. 248
The Science Question under Fascismp. 249
Complicating Quackeryp. 252
Biowarfare Research in Disguisep. 258
Organic Monumentalismp. 264
Did Nazi Policy Prevent Some Cancers?p. 267
Playing the Nazi Cardp. 270
Is Nazi Cancer Research Tainted?p. 271
The Flip Side of Fascismp. 277
Notesp. 279
Bibliographyp. 351
Acknowledgmentsp. 365
Indexp. 367