Hans Dietlen

born 13.02.1879 Holzkirchen near Nördlingen
d. 13.01.1955

DGIM Member 1912 – 1955

Hans Dietlen, who headed the DGIM in 1940, was one of the few internists, who made himself available to the forced sterilization policy of the National Socialists. At the same time, he was a symbolic figure during the war, because he came from the Saarland, which had been "reclaimed" in 1935. He joined the NSDAP (no. 6920391) in 1938. He was also a member of the "NSD Ärztebund" (National Socialist Doctor's League).

Hans Dietlen had obtained his university entrance qualification at the classical Gymnasium St. Anna (high school) in Augsburg in 1897.1 He passed the "Physikum" (preliminary medical examination) in Erlangen in 1899, followed by his license to practice medicine and his doctorate in Munich in 1902. He worked at the medical clinics in Greifswald, Giessen, and Strasbourg from 1904 to 1913. He habilitated in Strasbourg in 1909 and was appointed associate professor in 1915. He left Strasbourg in 1918 and worked as a pulmonary specialist in Davos and Oberstdorf from 1919 to 1921. Dietlen had participated in World War I as a staff physician in the reserves.

He took over as head of the internal department of the regional hospital in Homburg/Saar in 1922. He temporarily worked as a TBC welfare doctor in the Homburg district. He moved to the Bürgerhospital in Saarbrücken on October 1, 1936. He succeeded Oscar Gross (1881-1967), who had been persecuted by the Nazis and was forcibly dismissed for being Jewish. Dietlen headed the internal department until the end of 1949. Dietlen died on January 12, 1955 after having been appointed honorary professor of the Saarland University.

Distance of the Saarlander

The special development in the Saar also gave Dietlen reason to describe "achievements" there as worth preserving. After the Saar region had once again become an integral part of the German Reich, the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift published a comprehensive article about the Homburg regional hospital written by Hans Dietlen, whose internal department he headed. The very open and critical appraisal of "his" hospital culminates in a summary in the final paragraph that signals both inherent satisfaction with the situation prior to 1935 and hope for support from the German Reich:

"Thus, at the end of this report, it is worth mentioning that with the Homburg State Hospital, an institution was created and developed which, in many respects, bears a distinctive character of its own, which differs from that of other large hospitals, and which was granted the privilege of participating – beyond its actual purpose and within the set limitations – in the preservation and cultivation of German culture in the Saar region. After the institution has also proven its economic viability, it is hoped that it will remain in its present form even after the reincorporation of the Saar region into the German [sic] Reich."2

This was not a subservient declaration in the direction of the new rulers. On the contrary, the National Socialists could hardly have liked Dietlen's sympathies for forms of psychiatry later regarded as trend-setting. For example, he emphasized the integration of psychiatric patients: "The originally cherished fear that a psychiatric department within a general hospital might have a deterrent effect on the influx of the rest of the sick has turned out to be erroneous." On the contrary, he stated "an advantage for the overall operation that should not be underestimated."3

Authorized to Perform Forced Sterilizations by Irradiation

Dietlen was considered one of the pioneers of radiology, with a focus on the heart and lungs. As such a renowned radiologist, he became the only physician in Saarland, along with his colleague Hans Erbsen of the Bürgerhospital in Saarbrücken, who was not a DGIM member, who was allowed to use "radiation treatment" "to perform infertility treatments" (forced sterilizations)4 This was done under the "Gesetzes zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses" (Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases). As an internist, Dietlen was thus responsible for a type of Nazi medical crime otherwise associated primarily with gynecologists and surgeons.

Chairman of the Congress in the First Year of the War

Dietlen joined the DGIM committee in 1936, and was soon thereafter appointed to the executive committee. As chairman for 1939/40, he chaired the first Wiesbaden congress during World War II. It had not at all been certain that there would be a DGIM congress during the war. The "Deutsche Gesellschaft für Kreislaufforschung" (German Society for Circulatory Research), which usually met in Bad Nauheim in close proximity to the DGIM, had cancelled its congress.5 For even in the early phase of the war, which was successful from the Nazi point of view, considerable restrictions on holding a scientific congress were to be expected. What is more, quite a few observers thought a quick end to the war was probable, so that a congress seemed dispensable for a year or two.

The board under Dietlen, nevertheless, decided to organize a congress. Admittedly, it took place later than usual, shortly before Whitsun in early May, and had required the permission of the Wehrmacht. Dietlen specifically thanked Colonel General Erwin von Witzleben, who "gave us permission to hold the convention within his area of command."6

Distinct Enthusiasm for the War

Although the term "war congress" is generally applied to the Vienna DGIM meeting of 1943, the 52nd congress of 1940 already took place entirely under the impression of the previous eight months. This is expressed in the opening speech of the war-enthusiastic chairman. The congress' "deeper meaning" was also to fight for victory. Dietlen praised the Führer and the Wehrmacht: "That we can meet here in Wiesbaden, 100 km behind the Siegfired Line, during this time of war, in a place that is familiar and dear to us, we have the Führer – the creator of this protective wall – and our Wehrmacht to thank for."7The honoring of the dead, which had so far been dedicated to deceased DGIM members, now also included the commemoration of "the unknown soldiers of the war and the soldiers of labor".8

From now on, only attendees from abroad were greeted and "warmly welcomed [who came] from friendly Italy and from neutral states that stand in neighbourly friendship with us".9 The "colleagues" from conquered territories, "from the youngest German Gaue [districts], and here again especially from Danzig," were also mentioned separately.10

The scientific program reflected the war situation in the margins. "Topics important to the war" such as "dysentery, mud fever and [...] protein" were included at short notice, without other things being deleted. Therefore, Dietlen self-critically admitted, "the program was somewhat overloaded," so that "it was a bit rushed."11 Classic internal medicine topics dominated, especially since this time there was cooperation with the German Society for Circulatory Research and the German Hematological Society.

Health Policy Demands

It is striking that Dietlen addressed the problem of "the more psychologically than somatically caused conditions of poor performance" in times of "performance medicine."

"They are increasing precisely in those circles to which the main burden of leadership and responsibility falls. It is essential that we as physicians raise our admonishing and warning voice here in good time."12 Dietlen also by no means held back on education policy. He took the liberty to criticize the shortening of medical school while at the same time "bringing in numerous new compulsory subjects" and  extracurricular obligations for students imposed by the state.13

Honors After 1945

Hans Dietlen became an honorary member of the DGIM (1950), the German Radiological Society, which also presented him with the Rieder Medal (1952), the Saarland Medical Society, and the Austrian Radiological Society.14 The Hans-Dietlen-Weg in Saarbrücken was renamed on January 9, 2019, due to recent research findings on Dietlen's Nazi past.15


Hans Dietlen, Das Landeskrankenhaus Homburg (Saargebiet), in: Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift, vol. 61 (1935), no. 1, pp. 18-20, p. 20.Dietlen, LandeskrankenhausDietlen, Landeskrankenhaus, p. 19.See Arthur Gütt/Ernst Rüdin/Falk Ruttke (eds.), Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses vom 14. Juli 1933 nebst Ausführungsverordnungen, 2. neubearb. Aufl., Munich 1936, p. 377 ff. cited in Ralf Forsbach, "Euthanasie" und Zwangssterilisierungen im Rheinland (1933-1945), in Portal Rheinische Geschichte (, 5.2.2017).See H. [ans] Dietlen, Opening Address of the Chairman, in Verhandlungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin 52 (1940), pp. 1-11, p. 4.Dietlen, Opening Address, pp. 1.Dietlen, Opening Address, p. 1.Dietlen, Opening Address, p. 4.Dietlen, Opening Address, p. 2.Dietlen, opening address, p. 3.Hans Dietlen, closing address, in Verhandlungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin 52 (1940), p. 514.Dietlen, opening address, p. 5.Dietlen, opening address, p. 7.See H. Weil, Prof. Dr. Hans Dietlen, M.D.,† in Saarländisches Ärzteblatt, 8th ed. (1955), p. 1; information provided by Nina Keil/Deutsche Röntgengesellschaft, July 1, 2013.See, einges. 2/10/2020.

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