Eugenics Ideals, Racial Hygiene, and the Emigration Process of German-American Neurogeneticist Franz Josef Kallmann (1897-1965)

Stephen Pow & Frank W Stahnisch. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. Volume 25,  Issue 3. 2016.


Beyond the obvious advantage of providing access to a plenitude of individual neuroscientists’ biographies and institutional-clinical histories, the “artificial” situation of the massive exodus of scientists and physicians from the German-speaking countries also offers unique insights into the contingencies, contexts, and individual structures of knowledge transfer in neurogenetics and biological psychiatry (Ash & Soellner, 1996, pp. 10-15). The interests of this article are primarily related to how the process of forced migration influenced the cultural aspects of scientific and professional dynamics, as these pertain to interdisciplinary advances in biological psychiatry and clinical neuroscience since the middle of the twentieth century. It is clear that research into mental illness and neurological clinical care in North America and in the German-speaking countries changed significantly in twentieth-century biomedicine after the expulsion of so many émigré psychiatrists and neuroscientists (Magoun, 2002, pp. 165-240). A look at some of these early psychiatric and neuroscientific researchers allows us intriguing insights into the actual production of knowledge in the life sciences. Rather than seeing the phenomenon merely in terms of the escape of large numbers of émigrés to the United States and Canada, it can also be regarded as the unfolding of interactions between many knowledge groups. Refugee physicians and researchers introduced useful scientific directions, which differed from the traditional disciplinary methodologies, while establishing new and encompassing educational and training programs.

Individual neuroscientists, such as the Breslau neurological and psychiatric geneticist Franz Josef Kallmann (1897-1965), or local scientific milieus, for example, the specific working conditions he encountered at the Psychiatry Department at Columbia University’s Medical School where psychoanalysis was predominant, had decisive impacts on the future development of the neurosciences at large. This article on Franz Josef Kallmann’s forced migration and medical career, as neurogeneticist, biological psychiatrist, and early epidemiologist, intersects well with a recent and larger historical research project that the corresponding author has begun over the past several years (e.g., Stahnisch, 2009). The latter has been attempting to investigate the emerging and coevolving neuroscience centers at the beginning of the twentieth century as places that brought together methods, practices, and approaches from the previously distinct clinical and research fields of neurology, anatomy, pathology, and especially brain psychiatry (today better known as biological psychiatry), as they were understood roughly a century ago (cf. Stahnisch, 2016a, pp. 25-30). The focus of our coauthored article for this Special Issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences relates to particular developments in basic neuroscience that we refer to as the “neuromorphological sciences”—avant la lettre (i.e., before the term of the “neurosciences” was coined in the early 1960s; Pickenhain, 2002, p. 241f.)—and that strongly influenced the many émigré psychiatrists and neurologists who were affected by the process of forced migration in central Europe during the 1930s and 1940s (Stahnisch, 2010). The clinical fields of neurology and (brain) psychiatry come into the picture here, insofar as individual researchers and physicians were often actively trained in the basic neurosciences—in the German-speaking field of Nervenheilkunde or took thematic problems from the clinical and public health side and integrated them into their research programs (Koehler & Stahnisch, 2014, pp. 1-4). In general then, we want to locate this process in the historical prelude to the development of the neuro-sciences as an interdisciplinary field in North America, that is, during the Second World War and during the crucial postwar period of the 1950s and 1960s. The overall trends in the field are well illustrated by focusing on the process of forced migration and on a particular individual researcher who was affected by these historical events (see Roelcke, 2007, pp. 173-190).

The driving assumption underlying this article is that the first four decades of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of new and distinct cultures of experimental neurology, neuroanatomy, and clinical brain psychiatry. These could be characterized as being proto-interdisciplinary and organized along the new lines of group research—Gemeinschaftsarbeiten in the terminology of the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), which had used such working arrangements since the 1920s. They were early forms of big (neuro)science, which included the use of large funds, and they were attempting an integration of formerly disciplinary-bound knowledge spheres (Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013, pp. 1-24). These cultures likewise served as important research bases for innovative approaches in the laboratory investigation of the central nervous system (e.g., regenerative concepts or cortical brain-mapping projects), while also becoming hubs of new research trends in clinical neurology and psychiatry (Stahnisch, 2016b, pp. 1-3). This was a very important development in itself, as the changes in the early decades of the twentieth century not only led to important transformations on the organizational level in brain research but were necessary conditions, if the production of new forms of knowledge was to become possible at all.

Based on an influential interpretation by the Heidelberg and Berlin psychiatrist and neurologist, or Nervenarzt, Wilhelm Griesinger (1817-1868)—who stated that “all forms of mental disease are in fact diseases of the brain” (1867, p. 113)—early biological psychiatric research during the first half of the twentieth century was based in a number of interrelated disciplines, such as neurology, neuropathology, and areas of clinical psychology (Engstrom, 2003, pp. 51-55). The German-American psychiatric geneticist Franz Josef Kallmann is a very good, and also instructive, example of a highly innovative and multidimensional researcher from clinical neuroscience, who functioned exceptionally well in both scientific cultures—early in the field of neuropathology in Germany, as well as during his forced exile on the other side of the Atlantic—despite the marked differences in the contexts of his scientific pursuit between Berlin and New York (Mildenberger, 2002, pp. 183-200). Possessing innovative ideas, however, could be an ambiguous advantage for émigré neuroscientists, who were forced to leave Germany, Austria, and other countries of central Europe that were occupied before and during the course of the Second World War, since such ideas could easily lead to clashing scientific views. In some cases, they could result in the newcomer being sidelined in existing clinical or basic research programs (Born, 2011, pp. 79-83).

In this article, we will first introduce Kallmann’s own development as a scientist and neuropsychiatrist, specifically in Munich and Berlin. Second, we will describe his later flight from Nazi Germany a few years before the outbreak of the Second World War and his adjustment to the American research and psychiatric context. Finally, we will assess the process of his adaptation to North American neuroscience and some of the constraints and resistance he encountered as a leading pioneer of genetic psychiatry and neurology in the United States of America.

Franz Josef Kallmann’s Early Career in Germany

The continuing changes in the political and organizational frameworks of the German-speaking medical and health care system from the Weimar Republic to the seizing of power of the Nazi government in 1933 (Weindling, 1989, pp. 441-488) had a discernable influence on the Berlin-based psychiatric geneticist Franz Josef Kallmann. Yet, unlike many of his scientific peers, Kallmann can be viewed as an example from biological psychiatry of an individual researcher transitioning seamlessly in both political and cultural systems of the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany (Benbassat, 2016, p. 1). Nazi laws and attitudes regarding his own Jewish ancestry eventually made continued residence and any sort of productive work in his homeland something of an impossibility, so that he ultimately took part in the large-scale pattern of emigration from Germany to North America in 1936 (Peters, 1996). What is truly remarkable, however, is that this by no means ended his close collaboration and research sharing with his colleagues who remained in Nazi Germany. Moreover, Kallmann once again transitioned successfully, this time into the American biological psychiatry milieu, so that rather than being sidelined like many of his colleagues who struggled with, for instance, the process of acculturation, he had a fruitful career in the United States and his contributions were widely recognized there, at least in the field of human genetics and biological psychiatry. His example testifies to the fact that research in the wider biomedical and health care area had already assumed a very important international and cosmopolitan character by the 1930s and 1940s, bringing together researchers and trainees from both sides of the Atlantic.

Franz Josef Kallmann was born in 1897 near Breslau (modern-day Wrocław in Poland), which was then part of the Prussian province of Lower Silesia. The son of Marie Kallmann (1874-1942, née Mordze/Modrey) and Bruno Kallmann (1861-1941) (Cottebrune, 2009, pp. 296-300), his father was a trained surgeon who worked as general practitioner in his hometown. Born into the Jewish faith, Bruno had converted to Christianity in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Soon after Franz Josef Kallmann’s graduation from high school (Gymnasium), he volunteered to join the German Army and took part in the counteroffensive against the advancing Russian troops on the Eastern Front in Prussia. Wounded on the battlefield multiple times, he returned to Breslau in 1916 and took up his medical studies (Mildenberger, 2002, p. 186). Already in the final stages of the First World War, Kallmann was receiving training at some of the German hotspots interested in the application of new experimental biological investigations of human genetics—namely, the Friedrich Wilhelms University of Bonn and the Friedrich Wilhelms University of Breslau. Franz Josef Kallmann received his Dr. med. degree from the latter institution in 1919 and began to practice as a clinical physician in psychiatry and neurology in various general hospitals of the city. During this time, he became quite interested in pursuing postgraduate scientific training, and, with this purpose in mind, he got into contact with Franz Alexander’s (1891-1964) psychoanalytic institute in Berlin and the psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer at the Charité Hospital. It was with Bonhoeffer that he collaborated on questions of electrotherapy in neuropsychiatric patients with progressive paralysis (Marcuse & Kallmann, 1929), a group that included those he had first seen while working in the Breslau hospitals (Weber, 1993, p. 191).

At the University of Breslau, he had further shown some initial inclination toward the study of criminology, judging by his thesis, Zufaellige Stichverletzungen als Todesursache [Accidental Stab Wounds as Cause of Death] (Kallmann, 1921). Yet, it was neuropathology, particularly, that drew his scientific interest in the interdisciplinary and uniquely German field of Nervenheilkunde, that was characterized by an important overlap of approaches and methodologies with neurology, neuroanatomy, and neuropathology as they were practiced at the time (Stahnisch, 2014, pp. 25f.). He asked the eminent neuropathologist Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt—of Creutzfeldt-Jacobs Disease fame—for advice and received an encouraging reply that he ought to pursue a career in neuropathology and brain psychiatry (Duckett & Stern, 1999, pp. 21-34). Creutzfeldt was also instrumental in bringing Kallmann into contact with Ernst Ruedin, the successor to psychopathologist Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) in the directorship at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, with whom he began to collaborate for a substantial period on investigations of sibling inheritance of schizophrenia (Roelcke, 2006, pp. 73-80).

From 1928 to 1935, Kallmann began to work as a neuropathologist in the large psychiatric asylum of Berlin-Herzberge on the eastern outskirts of the Prussian capital, where he continued to collect and amass considerable amounts of genetic data from the dissection “material” that he saw in the city pathological departments of Berlin. It was at the start of this period that he first became interested in the role of genetics in schizophrenia, a topic of research that was greatly facilitated by his collaboration with Ruedin in Munich. Between 1931 and 1935, Kallmann received several fellowships at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry (now the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry), which housed more or less all of the leading figures of genetic psychiatry and, significantly, psychiatric twin studies, including Erik Essen-Moeller (1901-1992) and Hans Luxenburger (1894-1976) (Gershon, 1981, p. 273). Munich had become the center for this type of research ever since the founding of the German Research Institute for Psychiatry and its Genealogic-Demographic Department (Genealogisch-Demographische Abteilung) in 1918 after the end of the Great War.

Under the leadership of Ernst Ruedin, it provided the world’s first institutional platform for the field of psychiatric genetics and scientific epidemiology. The years between the two world wars saw the Genealogic-Demographic Department grow in importance, garnering much international respect and often becoming a model for similar institutions elsewhere, such as at the University of Basel (Ritter & Roelcke, 2005, pp. 263-270). The close collaboration between the Genealogic-Demographic Department’s protagonist Ernst Ruedin and the National Socialist regime, after its rise to power in 1933, was by no means an inhibiting factor for the growing worldwide recognition of the eugenic research conducted in Munich (Weber, 2000, pp. 234-250). Nonetheless, there were enormous transformations taking place in the general health care system of Nazi Germany. These have already been the subject of considerable research, looking at the legal pressures, changes in public health policies, and the reprehensible actions of many Nazi physicians in the eugenics and euthanasia programs that were being advanced since the start of the 1930s (Kater, 1992). Indicative of a formulation of eugenic policies predating the Nazi regime is a telling letter by Ernst Ruedin, written in early 1930, in which he was asking for financial research support and an alliance of psychiatric institutions, public health departments, and epidemiological research programs. Altogether, Ruedin and his collaborators in Munich aimed at:

counting and identifying the mentally ill and handicapped as well as the respective disease prevalence in the individual regions of Germany, as we only know the numbers of the mentally and neurologically ill in the university and state hospitals and asylums, but do not know the prevalence of mental disease in the German provinces.

As the political situation shifted, Kallmann’s prolonged collaboration with the Munich institute also helped lay the groundwork for his becoming a pioneer in the field and protagonist of genetic research on psychiatric and neurodegenerative conditions. It further belongs to this period that, in 1934, he described a genetic medical condition that later came to be associated with his name—the so-called “Kallmann Syndrome” (Dodé & Hardelin, 2010). It is a genetic condition that phenomenologically causes the failure to commence or the noncompletion of puberty and is characterized by hypogonadism, as well as a total lack of sense of smell (anosmia) or a greatly reduced sense of smell (hyposmia).

Though that genetic disorder bears Kallmann’s name, the much more significant result of his work with the Munich German Research Institute for Psychiatry and its director Ernst Ruedin related to questions of the inheritance of schizophrenia in siblings. In that area, Kallmann had become one of the most well-known early researchers of genetic psychiatry on the international scale—as medical historian Florian Mildenberger from the University of Frankfurt/Oder has previously argued (Mildenberger, 2002, pp. 183-200).

For Kallmann, his role with the Munich researchers could only continue for a limited time following the Nazi seizure of power. Nazi leadership, of course, differed greatly from their predecessors in their ability to actually institute extreme policies aimed at racial hygiene, making use of the latest genetic research to justify these measures. Yet, it must be noted that Kallmann shared many of the prevalent views that even guided his mental health and genetic thinking in the postwar American public health context many years later:

It is rather unfortunate, therefore, that large segments of scientific workers, professional organizations and public health agencies are still inclined to cling to an attitude of timid inactivity, ideological compartmentalization or cynical indifference when confronted with some of the complexities of family relationships and population policies. If interdisciplinary approaches to the problems of mate selection, marital adjustment and parenthood are a necessity in modern societies, it is even more imperative that they should be plainly decodified and resolutely integrated. (Kallmann, 1952, p. 239)

While modern psychiatric geneticists have at times wished to downplay any affinity between the legitimate researchers in Munich and the Nazi ideologues, who eventually instituted eugenic policies, it is a difficult position to take based on the evidence (Joseph, 2006, pp. 142-143). Ruedin turned out to be an active protagonist of Nazi eugenics as were many of Kallmann’s other colleagues. In this regard, Ruedin had to act as quite an ambivalent protégée to Kallmann, particularly when it became known that Kallmann was “half-Jewish” with respect to the Nuremberg Race Laws enacted by the Nazis in 1935 (Aly, 1994, pp. 26-29). In 1936, Ruedin was so worried that he might lose him—or better his exceptional research “know-how”—that he suggested Kallmann flee and find a new position in the United States from which they could still continue their mutual collaboration without Kallmann’s life being put at risk by the Nazi government.

Kallmann’s Forced Emigration to the United States and Later Career

It was not actually an easy decision for Kallmann to emigrate from Germany to the United States, particularly since he had been a German patriot since his days of military service during the First World War. While the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 had deemed him “half-Jewish,” Kallmann himself did not identify along such racial or religious lines, and, when political pressure was exerted to end his work, he even relied on his colleagues in Munich to present his papers (Gershon, 1981, p. 273). He furthermore wholeheartedly approved of eugenics and the very restrictive medical programs in the Nazi public health service (Kallmann, 1945, pp. 522-524). In fact, he viewed them as rational and medically advanced and, thus, as part of a social progressivist program with which he himself associated the benefits of social psychiatry, psychiatric, and neurological genetics. Kallmann’s own personal risk to stay in Germany, and even more so the unknown future his parents faced in Breslau, finally led him to the difficult decision to emigrate (Rainer, 1972, p. 358f.). This was facilitated by letters of reference written November 21, 1936, by Dr. Karl Johann Petersen-Berstel (b. 1880?) from the Provincial Hospital and Nursing Home in Plagwitz near Leipzig to the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) at Columbia University who was then in the role of president of the German-American League for Culture (Deutsch-Amerikanischer Kulturverband):

Dr. Kallmann has been working at this institution since April 24, 1920. Since Dr. Kallmann possessed at the moment of his joining a certain preliminary education in psychiatry because of his work at the University Psychiatrical Clinic at Breslau, we soon could put him [in] charge of his own sick stations, under supervision of an older physician. […] We got to know Dr. Kallmann as a young colleague, particularly qualified for the science of psychiatry, who is ambitious and industrious. We wish him all that is good for his future.

Boas was very well connected and, as a member of the board of the Emergency Committee of German Displaced Scholars, stayed in contact with numerous physicians, scientists, and engineers, while trying to help place refugee academics in ongoing positions in the United States. To state that the process of emigration was simplistic for neurologists, psychiatrists, or any of their fellow exiles would be a gross exaggeration. Individuals like Kallmann rather found themselves in the foreign environment of North America, where they had to manage the new challenges of daily life, to support their families, to become relicensed and to try to achieve professional acceptance. They had to learn social and cultural codes, different mentalities, and “soft working skills” that were often learned the “hard way” (Rheinberger, 2005, pp. 187-197). For many, it meant having to change research interests, so as to fit more closely with the acceptable clinical and scientific paradigms of the often hands-on, capitalist, and technophile North American society (Stahnisch, 2016b, p. 5). For Kallmann in particular, the challenges were quite severe. He barely spoke English upon his arrival in New York in the autumn of 1936. Social conventions, especially those in an academic setting, were strange to him and a serious issue of contention was his preference for genetic research over psychoanalysis (Kallmann, 1939). He initially worked in the psychology department of the New York State Psychiatric Institute for a small stipend, and his first attempts to return to genetic research were aided only by his wife, Helly (1899-1984) (Erlenmayer-Kimling et al., 1965, p. 123). She often took on the laborious data compilation and analysis work for him (Gershon, 1981, p. 274). A letter, written to anthropologist Franz Boas shortly after his arrival in North America, expresses what Kallmann must have hoped would make his past experience in Germany’s genetic research programs an advantage rather than a liability in an American employment setting:

Besides other scientific work in the realm of Clinical Psychiatry and cerebral anatomy (list is attached), I devoted myself since 1929 principally to research in hereditary psychiatry and hereditary biology and carried on an investigation of the hereditary genetic and fertility conditions within the circle of the various forms of schizophrenia in which investigation I was aided by the above mentioned clinics and the Berlin authorities and which in the meantime had been generally acknowledged by the competent scientific circles and particularly by the German scientists as being fundamental.

In another even earlier letter to Boas, Kallmann describes his sense of upheaval while being careful to indicate his own distance from the alarming ideology and policy formulation that was taking place in the German psychiatry and neuropathology milieu from which he himself had scientifically emerged:

I arrived here [in North America] with my wife 14 days ago and am trying to get back to normal both professionally and as a human being. As you can glean from the appended documents, I am a psychiatrist and neuropathologist by training, but I’ve been mainly concerned with psychiatric genetic research over the past years. And since, on the basis of my particular work and experiences, I believe I am capable and justified—as well as feeling obligated—to commence a battle against the pseudoscientific political theories in modern-day Germany, which I intend to rebut, I would appreciate it very much if you could offer me the kind opportunity for a personal meeting and exchange with you.

We can see already in this letter the development of a narrative, which, if not fully accurate, was probably deemed by Kallmann to be indispensable if he was to have any hope of integration into the American psychiatric community. His “official biography,” which came to be vociferously defended by some of his later students, was that, in the first years of the Third Reich, he had spoken out against Nazi laws calling for the “compulsory sterilization of psychotic patients,” for which he was driven into exile. In fact, Mildenberger has demonstrated that, while he was in Germany, Kallmann called for an even more radical sterilization program for the mentally ill than that in place (Mildenberger, 2002, pp. 186-189).

Kallmann’s intimation that his arrival in New York signaled a break with his former scientific practices, theories, and colleagues was expedient but events bear out that it was far from the truth. Despite what genuine resentments he felt toward his homeland, what is clear is that, from the mid-1930s, Kallmann brought the field of study, which he had put into practice in Munich, to the United States (Rainer, 1966, p. 413). His interests continued to mirror those of contemporary researchers in the Third Reich. During the same time period, when Ernst Ruedin at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, Ottmar Freiherr von Verschuer (1896-1969) at the Berlin Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, and the SS (Security Services) physician Josef Mengele (1911-1979) at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene at the University of Frankfurt began their twin studies in psychiatric asylums and later in concentration camps, such as Auschwitz (Weindling et al., 2016, p. 1f.), Kallmann himself embarked on his twin studies of schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness on the data of 700 siblings in various New York State hospitals with the support of the Department of Mental Hygiene (Kroener, 1998, pp. 32-35). For many years, these findings in conjunction with the former Berlin psychiatric data provided the major evidence for the influence of genetic factors in schizophrenic and manic-depressive illnesses a full generation before American and Danish adoption studies came to confirm these findings (Essen-Moeller, 1941, pp. 3-19; Slater, 1968, pp. 15-26).

The twin studies, which he had mainly conducted in Germany, led to the important publication of Kallmann’s most well-known work only two years after his arrival in the United States. This was his hallmark study, The Genetics of Schizophrenia: A Study of Heredity and Reproduction in the Families of 1,087 Schizophrenics (1938a), which became the major reference publication for psychiatric and neurological twin studies and was a seminal textbook for the foundation of modern psychiatric epidemiology (Kaplan & Sadock, 1995, p. 1324). In fact, the work was based on the data he collected earlier from his time at Berlin-Herzberge and that he had brought with him on the steamship to Ellis Island, New York. It had been assembled from the Berlin district pathological departments of the city’s public health department (Torrey & Yolken, 1966, pp. 105-106). Based on 13,851 relatives of 1,087 patients admitted to Berlin hospitals over a decade, Kallmann’s published research showed that siblings of schizophrenics have a 10 times increased risk for being diagnosed with the disease as well. The likelihood for other relatives of schizophrenics was only slightly higher than in the normal population—a conclusion he reiterated in his influential paper “The Genetics of Human Behavior” in the American Journal of Psychiatry (Kallmann, 1956, pp. 496-501). So, it could be said that Kallmann’s initial work in the United States was the publication of his findings made in his early career on the other side of the Atlantic.

Moreover, he still held very close ties to his former colleagues and researchers, such as the Berlin psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer, Ernst Ruedin, and the Berlin psychologist Theodor Lange (b. 1891). This continued during the Nazi period, and long after Kallmann had assumed his new position within the New York State Psychiatric Institute. These relationships were lasting, and, with Kallmann’s reputation as a formidable presence in biological psychiatry through his major publication in 1938, his views on the role of government policy regarding eugenics appear to have survived the transatlantic voyage as well:

The danger of the development of new schizophrenic cases, arising from such unions, is so great that there should be legal power to intervene, in addition to the general eugenic program of the biological education of all adolescents, marriage counsel, obligatory health certificates for all couples applying for a marriage license, and the employment of birth control measures. (Kallmann, 1938b, p. 107)

Kallmann ran his genetics laboratory at the New York State Psychiatric Institute for more than two decades between 1938 and 1961, as he steadily regained his central role as a major international player in clinical psychiatric research and human genetics (Panse, 1966, pp. i-iv). He also managed to organize, despite obstacles, the first department of genetic research in the United States. His successful integration in North America was further emphasized when he became a cofounding member of the American Society of Human Genetics in 1948; and he later assumed his presidency (1952). The foundation of this society ultimately led to the planning of the Human Genome Project. Perhaps as the culmination of his career, he took on the directorship of the New York State Psychiatric Institute after 1955. During this period and until his death, Kallmann was financially supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), based on his collaborative investigations with the Laboratory of Psychology (Slater, 1965, p. 1440).

It should not be imagined that Kallmann’s gradual success in American medical and scientific communities was commensurate with his ability to adapt and take on the prevailing cultural attitudes toward eugenics and anything resembling racial hygiene. In fact, even in the postwar period, he remained quite outspoken about his positive views of “eugenics” as a foundational science area for a future biological psychiatry and the neurological assessment of inherited disorders. In fact, few years after the end of the Second World War, he asserted that the geneticist had a social obligation to pursue eugenics in his presidential speech, delivered at the fifth annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics at Cornell University (1952). The speech appeared as an article for the American Journal of Human Genetics, entitled “Human Genetics as a Science, a Profession, and as a Social-Minded Trend of Orientation” (Kallmann, 1952, pp. 237-245). For Kallmann, research on schizophrenia had convincingly established a genetic connection, which later studies were only to confirm. Though the Danish and American adoption studies swayed public opinion toward a genetic connection in schizophrenia only in the late 1960s (Essen-Moeller, 1941, pp. 3-19; Slater, 1968, pp. 15-26), Kallmann had arrived at such conclusions long before (Kallmann, 1950). Moreover, since he had observed genetic connections, it was his firm opinion that the aim of psychiatry in the field of schizophrenia had to be, primarily, a eugenic one:

[A]s long as psychiatrists are satisfied by the theory that schizophrenia is only a psychopathological reaction which can be produced by unfavorable environment, illegitimacy, or psychosexual or other traumas, so long will it be impossible to make definite advance toward the eugenic goals of psychiatry in the field of schizophrenia. (Kallmann, 1938b, p. 105)

Thus it was that Kallmann continued to actively pursue a eugenic cause. He became the director of the American Eugenic Society (AES) in 1952 (Mehler, 1988, pp. 308) and, after a year, returned to that role from 1954 to 1965. A long-term member of this group was none other than Otmar Freiherr von Verscheuer, the aforementioned eugenics director at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics and a strong advocate for racial hygiene in the Nazi era. Like many of his colleagues, he had made the transition to becoming a legitimate genetics researcher who was unquestioned in the international sphere during the postwar era. Many networks remained in place through the twentieth century’s upheavals.

Eugenics was of course not Kallmann’s sole focus. He was fundamentally a physician and educator whose work inspired geneticists in training (Gershon, 1981, p. 273). A prolific writer, he wrote 176 papers and 49 books and pamphlets touching on subjects such as schizophrenia, tuberculosis, and genetic disorders. He was also involved in the development of family counseling, and, in 1955, he engaged in a pilot study to find better ways to provide counseling for deaf psychiatric patients, increasingly inspired by the growing trend of social psychiatry (Cottebrune, 2009, pp. 320-321). He died of cancer on May 12, 1965, at the same Columbia Medical Center where he had devoted roughly three decades to his scientific and clinical pursuits. His former student, John D. Rainer (1922-2000), remembered him as “a scientist in the broadest sense with a fertile imagination […] a scanning interest in all of human activity […] and the constant ability to frame richly suggestive hypotheses and to formulate careful research plans for their investigation” (Rainer, 1966, p. 413).

On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Cutting-Edge Research As a Refugee Scientist

Since his arrival in the United States in 1936, Kallmann had fought an uphill battle for his acceptance into the North American scientific community, but ultimately he was able to establish himself as a leading researcher in the field of psychiatric genetics (Shorter, 2005, pp. 118-120). Interestingly enough, the fact that his type of research had been heavily supported by the National Socialist regime before was not an insurmountable barrier to his acceptance. At the New York State Psychiatric Institute—then an associated part of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital (“The Old Presb”)—he was able to continue his pioneering sibling studies. Eventually, he even became head of medical genetics at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and developed a full-scale research program, which he had early on envisioned in a letter to Franz Boas in 1936:

The research [which I now intend to carry on] must be as representative and scientifically exact as possible and thus should fill a gap in our knowledge. It is hoped that this research will not only enable us to ascertain the cause for the origin of certain hereditary diseases, but also a way to prevent them. To carry on this research, a small special department is required at a psychiatric or genetic institute of first rank like for instance at the Psychiatric Clinic of Columbia University.

Kallmann’s work in New York included the examination of race-hygienic motifs, and he designed a research program that was directly based on concepts and methods from Ernst Ruedin’s team of epidemiological researchers in Munich (Joseph & Wetzel, 2013, pp. 1-5). The only deviation from the original research, which he had practiced in Germany, was in terms of the use of eugenic prophylaxis in order to align his research to the context of North American democracy in the postwar era. However, the eugenic goal of elimination of certain categories of peoples remained unchanged—and Kallmann even continued to lecture on such negative eugenics methods even into the 1960s, for instance, at workshops of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.

Clearly, the political intentions of Nazism were very different from the mental health care system in the United States in the postwar period, but it is necessary to see the similarities in the scientific approaches in the medical and research landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic. Medical scientists were, in the pursuit of their research aims, among the protagonists and inventors of racial hygiene and broadened medical genetics, even if the idea of genetic differences in human behavior found little support among psychiatrists. It was exactly at this point in the mid-twentieth century, when there was uncertainty regarding the direction of future research, that the contributions of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) became vital for the advancement of interdisciplinary thought in the growing field of biological psychiatry that Kallmann was helping to foster. The founding of the National Institutes of Health in 1948 and particularly the research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health in the 1950s were landmark events, marking a pivotal phase in the formation of early neuroscience research activities when many émigré doctors and neuroscientists received relicensure and intended to resume professional work in medical research and clinical care in North American postwar neuroscience institutions (Pearle, 1984, pp. 112-137). This was undoubtedly an advantageous turn of events for Kallmann personally. When looking into the annual reports of the National Institute of Mental Health, it is possible to trace the financial support for his research program based on collaborative investigations with the Laboratory of Psychology in the intramural program for a period of nearly one and a half decades between 1952 and 1965 (Slater, 1965, p. 1440).

So there was a complex interplay, which yielded both advantages and disadvantages for Kallmann, who was receiving support from the National Institute of Mental Health while simultaneously struggling to find acceptance, or at least tolerance, from the wider discipline of psychiatry. As Eric Kandel (b. 1929), a fellow émigré psychiatrist, later reflected, the 1950s were a time when academic psychiatry willingly abandoned its roots in biology and evolved into “a psychoanalytically based and socially oriented discipline that was surprisingly unconcerned with the brain as an organ of mental activity” (Kandel, 1998, p. 457). Kallmann’s speech as president of the American Society of Human Genetics in 1952, the same year that he started receiving National Institute of Mental Health funding, reflects the legitimate fear that transgressing the duality of mind and body would inevitably trigger hostility and stigma toward the geneticist:

I was tempted for a short time to dwell on the need of giving priority, in man, to the mutative effects and selective values of mental traits, apt to be subject to the same genetic principles as demonstrated for scores of essential physical potentialities. However, such a topic of psychiatric coloring was certain to reopen the door to that hoax of dualistic setting, which contributed so heavily to a crippling division in other scientific disciplines. In fact, the urge to maintain a dichotomy of body and mind seemed almost as harmful as splitting a personality, and I soon remembered that psychiatrists were trained to cure schizophrenic phenomena rather than provoke them. (Kallmann, 1952, p. 239)

The dynamic of tension that persisted in those early years between biological psychiatrists and the psychoanalysts was echoed in the National Institute of Mental Health director’s introduction, Dr. Seymour S. Kety (1915-2000), to the annual report of 1954, which clearly stated the widespread reluctance to accept genetic evidence as an integral part of biomedical knowledge in the psychiatric, and in the psychological or psychoanalytical communities, as well:

As a result of the concern expressed by the National Advisory Mental Health Study Section over the failure of past research efforts to produce more definite results in relating the biological sciences to the field of mental health, a committee was established to determine the reasons for this failure and to search for means to stimulate better research in this area. […] It was brought out that in some areas indefinite results have been due to failure to realize the complexity of the nervous system. The Committee also found that the most productive studies to date have been carried out on mental subjects, in which the imposed biological and psychological variables can be more adequately controlled. A continuing concern of the Committee has been the biophobic and psychophobic attitudes of representatives of the behavioral and biological disciplines, respectively, and the problem of communication that exist between one field and another. (Kety, 1954, p. 3)

Thus, the story of Kallmann’s emigration and adaptation in the United States reflects the intricate relationship between the new field of psychiatric genetics, eugenics, and public health politics in the Third Reich, as well as strategic research decisions taken by the directors of the individual National Institutes of Health on the western side of the Atlantic. We are constantly reminded of the ongoing influence that Nazi political and social developments had on these fields. Though Kallmann’s work ended up being well received among American and international geneticists, the idea of genetic differences hardly caught on in contemporary psychiatry in the United States during his lifetime, as he himself lamented while reflecting on the 1950s psychiatric community’s unwavering focus on environmental influences:

It is a plain but easily misjudged fact that in relation to human health and personality development, hereditary influences are thought of as static, while environmental influences are believed to be amenable to almost infinite manipulation. Actually, there is no single force in man’s life and struggle for existence, which is more powerful, more dramatic or more inspiring than the one derived from the dynamics of human heredity. (Kallmann, 1952, p. 244)

The major reasons for this has already been intimated; as eminent historian of psychiatry Gerald N. Grob (2000, pp. 232-240) has pointed out, it was largely a result of the strong influence of a particular group of émigrés, the psychoanalysts, who came to dominate clinical psychiatry in the United States from the 1940s to the 1960s. The psychoanalysts established an important new cultural and philosophical trend, in which genetics played no significant role and was often regarded as a dangerous form of knowledge, after Nazi medical atrocities had been brought to light at the end of the Second World War (Grob, 1983, pp. 126-143). Indeed, that it took Kallmann a long time to establish the field of psychiatric eugenics in the United States can partially be explained by the predominance of psychoanalytic clinical research methods, which characterized the period and milieu in which he had reestablished himself. In the immediate postwar decades, the psychoanalytic clinicians and therapists showed a determination to give hereditary transmission short shrift. A few years before his death in 1965, Kallmann composed an autobiographical chapter that he entitled “That Rare Specimen—A Psychiatrist Concerned with Genetics” (unpublished), which alluded to the contemporary sense that no rapprochement would be forthcoming between clinical psychiatry and genetics (Kallmann, 1963). However, as John D. Rainer noted in a speech, upon the Stanley R. Dean Award being bestowed posthumously to Kallmann in 1966 for his contributions to schizophrenia research and the advancement of biological psychiatry, such a rapprochement was actually starting to take place, “sparked by the refinement of laboratory techniques as well as the detailed study of the differences among infants and children” besides Kallmann’s own role in establishing interdisciplinary networks that encompassed geneticists, neurologists, pathologists, psychiatrists, and others (Rainer, 1966, p. 413).

Kallmann’s example can thereby be interpreted as a double fracture of the historical events. Medical scientists and clinicians were among the social protagonists who pursued their research aims in a health care system framed by Nazi philosophies, and they were also among the major theorists of racial hygiene, which largely subsumed medical genetics as a scientific foundation for the ideals and applications of eugenics (Cornwall, 2003, pp. 71-90). Pursuing the goals of racial hygiene in the Third Reich, they had played a role in driving a large part of their Hippocratic brethren out of office and into exile. When the same neurologists and psychiatrists were, in turn, compelled to relocate or work in North America, diverging scientific traditions came to meet once again under changed scientific and hierarchical contexts in North American democratic societies (Davie & Koenig, 1949).


When the National Socialist state was created in 1933, an exodus of the anti-Nazi elite began, including mostly Jewish physicians and scientists but also political opponents (communists and socialists), as well as researchers from abroad who did not intend to stay in Germany under such austere and depressing conditions (Medawar & Pyke, 2001, pp. 231-240). However, some researchers who were forced to leave Germany approved of Nazi eugenic politics, and these included Jewish physicians and scientists as well, as Rakefet Zalashik has intriguingly argued (Zalashik, 2012, pp. 33-39). One of them was the psychiatrist Franz Josef Kallmann, a researcher on schizophrenia and mental health disorders, who demanded an even more radical sterilization policy than the Nazis. He cooperated closely with the German Research Institute for Psychiatry in Munich and its leader, Ernst Ruedin. Indeed, even after his exile, Kallmann continued to see Ruedin as a skilled colleague whose publications would be a great addition to the research literature being published in the United States of America, as this passage from a personal letter to Franz Boas at Columbia reveals:

It can be seen from numerous examples that researchers in totalitarian countries are not free from political pressure with regard to their choice of research subjects, scientific concepts and publications. This is particularly well illustrated in the areas of human genetics and demographic studies. […] Even the great authority of German psychiatric genetics, Professor Ernst Ruedin, head of one of the world’s largest, oldest and best financed research centers now appears […] to be hindered to finish his long-term, highly sponsored and extensive studies on the heredity of genius. […] If it is really the case that the scientific results of his research have no chance of getting past the censorship of today’s political leaders [of Nazi Germany], I am convinced that every publishing house, magazine and scientific institute of a democratic country with freedom to research such as America would be pleased to support Dr. Ruedin in publishing such unwanted research results. (Kallmann 1939).

If they seemed “strange bedfellows,” it should not entirely surprise us that Kallmann felt some personal appreciation toward his former director. From Ruedin, he received help in leaving Germany and finding a job in the United States of America, and Ruedin’s former collaborator, Theodor Lange, brought a collection of data material from Munich to New York City. In return, Ruedin received a de-Nazification certificate after 1945 from Kallmann who was already further cooperating again with the eminent psychiatrist and eugenicist Theobald Lang (1898-1957), formerly a scientific member of the German Research Institute for Psychiatry and, later, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Racial Anthropology in Berlin. All of this strikingly shows how the international networks in eugenics, human genetics, and biological psychiatry continued on—nearly unchanged—after the end of the Second World War (Hammerstein, 2000, pp. 214-219).

As Gerald Grob has demonstrated in many of his well-researched publications, the predominantly “biophobic attitude” among North American clinical psychiatrists was to a large extent a result of the immense influence of a specific group of émigrés: The psychoanalysts probably shaped the fields of psychiatry, mental health, and psychology more than any other group affected by forced migration. Similar to Kallmann’s development, the prevailing trend of reductionism in psychiatric and neurological research at the National Institute of Mental Health proved to be highly influential during the second part of the twentieth century. As these two fields were strongly supported through its extramural program and held strong ties with the clinical research branch, frictions between the various disciplines were inevitable as they competed to draw the research orientation and support of the National Institute of Mental Health (Farreras, Hannahway, & Harden, 2004, pp. 312-315). Similar to Kallmann’s own development, the prevailing trend of reductionism in psychiatric and neurological research at the National Institute of Mental Health proved to be highly influential during the second part of the twentieth century.

Looking at the example of early brain research activities supported by the intramural and extramural funding programs of the National Institutes of Health, the biographies of Kallmann and others tell us much about the actual production of medical and neuroscientific knowledge as a distinctive mirror. We see global history represented in very specific local milieus. As a general trend, the Machtergreifung of the Nazis destroyed the early careers and ambitions that many researchers had cultivated up to the end of the Weimar period. All of the émigré neuroscientists in the 1930s and 1940s came into preexisting clinical and research settings in North America, bringing their own specific interplay of conceptual, personal, and organizational relationships, originating from very different research environments (Magoun, 2002, pp. 151-153). However, it is problematic to overstate the differences and to downplay the active, international collaboration occurring in biological psychiatry in the interwar and postwar periods. Certainly, Kallmann’s views on the problem of schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses could have been, and were, voiced on both sides of the Atlantic:

Schizophrenic taints deteriorate the affected family stocks so consistently that even the best social conditions and the most favorable environment are unable to produce biologically satisfactory individuals and are so widespread that schizophrenic patients make up, in America as elsewhere, the majority of the resident population in mental hospitals […]. From a eugenic point of view, it is particularly disastrous that these patients not only continue to crowd mental hospitals all over the world, but also afford, to society as a whole, an unceasing source of maladjusted cranks, asocial eccentrics and the lowest types of criminal offenders. Even the faithful believer in the predominance of individual liberty will admit that mankind would be much happier without those numerous adventurers, fanatics and pseudo-saviors of the world who are found again and again to come from the schizophrenic genotype. (Kallmann, 1938b, p. 110)