Eugen Fischer was a German physician and anthropologist who gained notoriety for his work in eugenics and racial hygiene. He is best known for conducting medical experiments on the Herero and Namaqua people of what is now Namibia during the colonial period.
Fischer was born in 1874 in Karlsruhe, Germany. He studied medicine at the University of Freiburg and later became a professor of anthropology, medicine, and eugenics at the University of Berlin. In the early 1900s, he became involved in the eugenics movement, which aimed to improve the genetic quality of the human population through selective breeding, involuntary sterilization, and segregation.
In 1908, Fischer was appointed to lead the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin. He used his position to promote his views on racial hygiene, which he believed was necessary to preserve the supposed superiority of the Aryan race.
Fischer’s most notorious work, however, was carried out during his time as a physician in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) from 1904 to 1908. During this period, Germany was engaged in a brutal colonial war against the Herero and Namaqua peoples, who were fighting to defend their land and independence. It was the first genocide of the 20th century, occurring between 1904 and 1908.
Fischer saw this as an opportunity to carry out research on racial differences and to test his theories on the supposed inferiority of non-European peoples. He and his team conducted a series of medical experiments on Herero and Namaqua imprisoned in shark island concentration camp, including the measurement of skulls, the removal of body parts for anatomical study, and the sterilization of women.
Prisoners were used for medical experiments and their illnesses or their recoveries from them were used for research.
The experiments were carried out under horrific conditions, with many of the subjects subjected to extreme pain and suffering. It’s alleged that Fischer himself wrote in his diary that the Herero and Namaqua were “excellent material” for research because they were “under our knife.”
Live prisoners were subjected to experiments wherein they were injected with various substances including arsenic and opium, and the effects of these substances were studied via autopsy.
The captured women were forced to boil heads of their dead inmates and scrape remains of their skin and eyes with shards of glass, preparing them for examination by German universities.
An estimated 300 skulls were sent to Germany for experimentation, in part from concentration camp prisoners.
After the end of the Genocide, Fischer returned to Germany and published his findings in a series of papers and books, including his influential work “The Rehoboth Bastards and the Problem of Miscegenation among Humans.” In this work, he argued that the mixing of different racial groups was a threat to the purity of the Aryan race and called for strict controls on interracial marriage and reproduction.
Fischer’s work in Namibia had a profound impact on the development of the eugenics movement in Germany and around the world. His ideas on racial purity and the need to eliminate “inferior” genetic traits were used to justify a range of policies, including forced sterilization, euthanasia, and genocide.
Eugen Fischer died on July 9, 1967, at the age of 93. Despite the atrocities he committed during his time as a physician and researcher, he was never held accountable for his actions.
Efforts to return the Namibian skulls which were taken by Fischer were started with an investigation which was conducted by the University of Freiburg in 2011 and they were completed with the return of the skulls in March 2014.
Today, Fischer’s legacy is a controversial and deeply troubling one. His role in the colonial war in Namibia and his brutal medical experiments on the Herero and Namaqua people are a reminder of the dangers of scientific racism and the abuse of power.
Source: Talk Africana