Alfred Schittenhelm was born in Stuttgart on October 16, 1874, the son of Wilhelm von Schittenhelm, a senior government official, and his wife Julie, née Hauck. His father was a civil servant in the Royal Württemberg service, who was later elevated to the ranks of nobility. He married his wife, who came from a merchant family in Heilbronn, on September 16, 1871. After attending grammar schools in Stuttgart and Heilbronn, Alfred Schittenhelm completed his military service with the Infantry Regiment 125 from October 1894 to March 1895. He then studied medicine, first in Breslau and Geneva, then in Tübingen, where he received his doctorate in 1898 with a thesis on a "Fall vollständiger Agenesie des Vorder-, Mittel- und Zwischenhirns" (A Case of Complete Agenesis of the Forebrain, Midbrain, and Diencephalon".
Schittenhelm became an assistant at the Karl-Olga Hospital in Stuttgart (1899/1900) and at the Medical Clinic in Breslau (1900-1903). He undertook additional studies at the First Chemical Laboratory of the University of Berlin. He habilitated in internal medicine at the University of Göttingen in January 1904, where he worked as an assistant in the Medical Clinic (1904/05). He then returned to the First Chemical Laboratory in Berlin for further study, became an assistant at the Medical Clinic at the Charité, and received the title of professor in 1907. He was associate professor of clinical propaedeutics and history of medicine in Erlangen from 1907 to 1912, moved to Königsberg as director of the Medical Clinic, and followed a call as director of the Medical Clinic of Kiel in 1916. However, he did not follow calls to the University of Leipzig (1924/25), to the I. Medical Clinic Vienna (1930/31) and to the I. Medical Clinic Berlin (succession of Wilhelm His 1932/33). The latter also came as a surprise to his colleagues in Kiel, as he had been working at the Charité in Berlin on a stand-in basis since April 1932.
Schittenhelm's main fields of work are considered to be nucleic and purine metabolism with their ferments, uric acid formation and gout, anaphylaxis and allergy, endocrine glands (thyroid, iodine metabolism), pituitary/interbrain system, hematology, infectious diseases, radiology, zinc fever and climatology.
Member of NSDAP and SS
Schittenhelm had been a member of the NSDAP (no. 2732711) since May 1, 1933. He was also a member of the SS (No. 259429), the NSD-Dozentenbund, the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, the NSD-Volkswohlfahrt, the NSD-Ärztebund, the Reichsluftschutzbund, the NS-Altherrenbund, and the NS-Reichskriegerbund. In the SS, he was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer i.S. and SS-Führer z.b.V. RFSS (Sanitätsamt) effective January 30, 1935. His wife had joined the NSDAP at the same time as Schittenhelm (No. 2732712) and was a member of the Frauenschaft. The son belonged to the "Hitlerjugend".
Schittenhelm moved to the University of Munich as full professor of internal medicine and director of the Second Medical Clinic in June 1934. Here he succeeded Friedrich von Müller, who does not mention him in his "memoirs", but finds favor with the SS. The "Reichsführer-SS" Heinrich Himmler assured "that the matter of 'Professor Schittenhelm' should by all means be promoted by the SS" (Reichsarzt der SS, SS-Standartenführer Georgi to Stabsführer des Rasse- und Siedlungsamtes SS, SS-Sturmbannführer Günther Brandt, 12 Yule month/December 1934). Willy Scheide, the Munich local group leader responsible for the Munich-Ludwigstrasse local group, assessed Schittenhelm's "social behavior" as "very good" and wrote about him that he was "a very good National Socialist and completely unblemished in political matters" on January 12, 1939. He was registered at Ludwigsstraße 22a in Munich in 1939.1
As head of the DGIM, Alfred Schittenhelm stands for adaptation to the dictatorship in anticipatory obedience, for self-co-ordination – like many functionaries in the early years of the "Third Reich".2 He conducted the removal of his predecessor in the office of DGIM chairman, Leopold Lichtwitz, who was persecuted as a Jew, without a qualm. He "was one of the few medical full professors of rank who turned to National Socialism" and enjoyed Himmler's "special support" at the time.3 He called for the election of the NSDAP as a representative of the "German intellectual world" prior to the Reichstag elections on March 5, 1933. His signature is found under the declaration printed the day before in the "Völkischer Beobachter" and signed by a total of 300 professors and private lecturers, which reads: "We [...] German university and college professors declare today in public that we see in Adolf Hitler's assumption of power and the unification of the national forces that want to be active in the reconstruction of the German people the right way to put a stop to the immense misery and impoverishment of the German people. [...] The Marxist-Bolshevik influences on the spirit of our people must cease."4 The "Völkischer Beobachter" thanked him for his intercession in a congratulatory note on his 60th birthday: "Schittenhelm was known for his national stance in Kiel, where he also opposed the Judaization of the university, and was therefore subject to much hostility from the ruling circles of the time."5
Protagonist of "Selbstgleichschaltung" (Self-Synchronization)
Schittenhelm did not look for room to maneuver, but rather for confirmation from the Nazi state, which was thus able to establish itself all the more easily. He inquired in Berlin "whether a suitable personality should be appointed by the Reich government as leader of the Society of Internal Medicine or whether, as before, the leader should be determined by election from the executive committee of the society."6 It was decided in Berlin that the society's internal elections should be confirmed by the ministry in future.7 The Ministry thus followed a line that had been established after a petitioner, a Dr. Adolf Schiemann, requested in the run-up to the Berlin Congress of Surgeons and the Wiesbaden Congress of Internists on March 25, 1933, "that the chairmanship and the sequence of lectures not be controlled predominantly by gentlemen of Jewish confession."8
Schittenhelm also took pains during the Congress to signal devotion to the new regime. This probably would not have required the rumor, allegedly spread by Ludolf von Krehl, that an "SA-Sturm" was standing by "to intervene if anything occurred that violated party views."9 Schittenhelm, with the approval of the committee, saw to it that the congress sent "a welcome telegram to Reich President v. Hindenburg and to Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler."10 Hindenburg was sent "the commitment to faithful work for the health of our people in the sense of a national ‘Volksgemeinschaft' (people)"; the longer telegram to Hitler, which reached him on his 44th birthday, reads, "The German Society of Internal Medicine, assembled for its 45th Congress in Wiesbaden, expresses its most humble congratulations and its most sincere veneration to the Führer of the new Germany on this day. As German physicians, we see our main task in serving public health to the best of our ability through research and the development of medical science. As German men, we joyfully place ourselves at the service of all the endeavors that are intended to promote the national and moral reconstruction of our people."11 The telegram, which ignored the few women in the DGIM, was signed by Schittenhelm and Géronne on behalf of the board.12
An attentive observer, such as the Romanist Victor Klemperer, brother of Georg Klemperer, who was awarded honorary DGIM membership in 1932, noted in his diary: "And everyone obeys. How pathetic the medical congress in Wiesbaden, thanks to Hitler – even if the race question has not yet been settled, even if the 'foreigners', Wassermann, Ehrlich, Neisser, have given us significant things – we thank Hitler, Germany's saviour!"13
Schittenhelm's congress-opening speech, which glossed over Lichtwitz's expulsion from office, was much noted: "Today's meeting stands at the beginning of a new era. The tremendous upheavals brought about by the national revolution, which is now in full swing, have also taken hold of our society. The chairman elected for this year's meeting, Mr. Lichtwitz, relinquished the chairmanship in appreciation of the changed circumstances. Some changes had to be made to the program at the last hour. The discussion of the adrenal problem and a number of registered lectures were omitted". Schittenhelm found words befitting this new "era" in the words of the founding father Frerichs from 1882: 'German medicine stands on its own ground, it has not followed foreign influences and inspirations for decades; it is at least equal to that of all other cultural peoples, whose impulses do not guide us, are not authoritative for us, as much as we like to acknowledge them, as they deserve in our estimation.'" Schittenhelm assured that "in the spirit of our founders," the DGIM wants to "intervene in the great questions of our time, insofar as they affect the medical point of view."
The DGIM chairman supported the integration of all ethnic Germans, especially from our neighboring countries, which was "aimed at by National Socialism," and sharply attacked foreign critics: "I feel the need to declare from this point that the recently initiated agitation of foreign countries originated from anti-German motives and lacked any factual basis. Even after the experience of the German medical profession, it must be called spiteful, intemperate, and untrue."
Lately, "the German medical profession has had to suffer increasingly from the deterioration of conditions, whereby its influence on public health care has also slipped away more and more." Satisfied, he stated that the "unfortunate political fragmentation and the lack of understanding in wide circles, unfortunately also in his own ranks" had now been overcome: "The great national rallying and unification and the energetic attack on all national tasks has finally created the possibility of a thorough reorganization in the medical profession, in which it is cooperating with all the forces at its disposal. Our society – an important section of the German medical profession – has the duty and the will to intensively promote national reconstruction on its part as well."
Schittenhelm, his words make clear, considered the time of democratic controversy to be over, even within the DGIM, and wanted to turn the professional society into an instrument of National Socialist racial policy: "One of the aims of our government, which has come under particular attack abroad, is, as the Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler recently explained to the representatives of the leading medical associations under the leadership of Mr. Stauder and Mr. Wagner, the purification of the people and especially of the intellectual strata from foreign influence and non-racial influence, so that German cultural and intellectual life will once again do justice to Germany's natural claim to inherent intellectual leadership. In contrast to the pre-war period, a great flood of foreign elements, especially from the East, has poured over Germany in the last 15 years, who, in a misconceived liberalism, have often been able to acquire not only a temporary right of hospitality, but the right of domicile, so that the excessive mixture of foreigners has actually become a danger to the German race and culture. Now this preponderance is to be eradicated and eliminated. That this will not be without hardships in individual cases is clear. [...] If I discuss these current questions here in a somewhat broader context, it is not only because I would like to give our foreign participants an insight into the new German world of ideas, but also because – precisely in front of the forum of our society – questions of race and hereditary biology must be given special consideration."
Proponents of "Racial Hygiene"
The congress president gave an overview of researche and speeches by Erb, Ziegler, Martius, and Morawitz to current investigations on "Zwillingstuberkulose" (twin tuberculosis) by Diel and Verschuer, and continued: "From the medical point of view, it can be joyfully welcomed that the hereditary-biological problems and the importance of miscegenation, which touches the fate of a people in the closest way, are taken up energetically. It is to be gratefully acknowledged that the Reich Chancellor himself and the circles behind him gave a strong impetus to the discussion of these important questions [...]. The question of the importance of racial crossbreeding is, of course, as Eugen Fischer recently pointed out, not yet completely clarified in the scientific sense. But he expresses the opinion that it makes a tremendous difference, for example, whether offspring of all cultivated Jewish families interbreed with Nordic people or those from recently immigrated Eastern Jewish families. The clarification of all questions connected with racial interbreeding will still require many years of research. Undoubtedly the sense of a pure ethnicity is best preserved through national renewal."
Unlike the later Nazi murder policy, Schittenhelm believed he could make distinctions with regard to Jews. In this sense, he also found a word for some "foreign-born people who had been residents in Germany," referring to Jewish pioneers of medicine such as Ehrlich, Neisser, Minkowski, and Wassermann: "One can well assume that the long influence of external conditions, especially living together with the German race and its way of life and thinking, was of considerable importance for the development of these personalities."
The "racial hygiene" was to be enforced by the family doctor, whose importance was to be strengthened, and whom Schittenhelm contrasted with the "system of quacks", which was branded as unhealthy.14
Extension of the Presidency
Schittenhelm's Nazi course was also carefully registered abroad. For example, the New York Times reported on the DGIM Congress on April 20, 1933, under the headline "To Study, 'Race Problem.' German Medical Society Will Have New Program, Says Chairman". The report conveyed Schittenhelm's word of agitation ("atrocity propaganda") as well as his confidence regarding the "new era [...] in which the medical society would 'actively and practically employ its energies in promoting national reconstruction.'" "The maintenance of the German race and German culture", readers of The New York Times learned, was to become the focus of future internist congresses.15
The question of whether Alfred Schittenhelm, having presided over the 1933 Congress, should now also preside over the 1934 Congress, which he had originally been designated to preside over, was decided unanimously. Paul Morawitz gave the direction. The committee agreed with his view that the "Congress of 1933" was "in its scientific program not a congress of Mr. Schittenhelm, but predominantly the congress of Mr. Lichtwitz". Therefore, Schittenhelm should also preside over the 1934 congress, especially since "the stability of the presidium [...] is desirable at the present time."16 Schittenhelm's course of adaptation to the Nazi regime was recognized. Richard Siebeck, for example, used idiosyncratic metaphors to praise Schittenhelm's actions as substitute chairman for the persecuted Lichtwitz. He expressed "heartfelt thanks to him, which the latter deserved all the more because he had stepped in at the last hour before the battle and guided the heavily and richly laden ship presenting the Congress with a sure and firm hand through the turmoil of the times."17
Schittenhelm announced after his confirmation that he wanted to strengthen the DGIM congress through centralization: "The various congresses for subfields of internal medicine, such as the Congress of Metabolic Diseases, the Balneologists' Congress, the Circulatory Congress, etc. " should "unite in time and place" with the large congress of the DGIM and hold their own congresses "subsequently if possible."18 Soon there was talk of "affiliating other societies."19This concern of Schittenhelm's was not new. He had already taken steps in this direction twenty years earlier to make it easier for physicians to keep track of the breadth of research. He was among the initiators of the "Zeitschrift für die gesamte experimentelle Medizin," founded in 1913, and the "Kongresszentralblatt," that had been published since 1912.20
Subject Setting Close to NS Policy
Schittenhelm made sure that the 1934 Congress took up Nazi-related themes. He proposed that "the subject of heredity" be given prominence alongside "localization theory," "sexual hormones," and "heart treatment with quinidine and strophantine". "Possible speakers" included Eugen Fischer, Otmar von Verschuer, Wilhelm Weitz, and Otto Naegeli.21 The latter two were DGIM members. All four professors were protagonists of "racial hygiene" to varying degrees, accepted the invitation, and prepared the scientific ground for what Schittenhelm described politically in what is now his second congress opening speech: "One of the greatest merits that our Führer and National Socialism have obtained for the German people and, beyond that, for the world, is the great interest in all questions of heredity and the active advocacy of the racial care of the people."22Schittenhelm embraced Erwin Baur's goal of "positive eugenics" through "selection," not "negative eugenics" through segregation and killing. He quoted Baur approvingly: "Plants and animals, also man, can remain healthy as a 'species' only if a sharp breeding selection constantly eliminates everything hereditarily inferior. Since for cultured man the natural breeding choice is switched off to a large extent or is even replaced by a wrongly directed one, there is nothing else to be done than consciously taking measures in this direction. If we do not do this, then our people will perish." Schittenhelm concluded with his own words: "Following the demands of the new Germany, we want to discuss heredity in detail from our point of view in order to do our part in establishing and strengthening the foundation necessary for purposeful racial care."23
Longing for Kiel
His loyaty to party politics as DGIM chairman corresponds with Alfred Schittenhelm's demeanor as a university professor in Munich. Admittedly, he soon longed to return to Kiel, where he said he had spent his "happiest and most fruitful years." Schittenhelm founded a "Department for Hereditary Care and Hereditary Research" at the Medical Clinic in Munich, as he had done earlier in Kiel. This is remarkable, since Munich was already home to the Genealogical-Demographic Department (GDA) of the German Research Institute for Psychiatry under Ernst Rüdin and the Institute for Racial Hygiene of the Medical Faculty. Schittenhelm's department never emerged from their shadows.24By its founding, Schittenhelm had, however, signaled that he intended to place his work as a physician and researcher entirely in the service of National Socialist ideology.
With regard to sterilizations and abortions ordered by the Nazi system, Schittenhelm was not an agitator, but urged for prudence: "Daily practice, and even more so my work as an expert witness in some trials, showed me time and again with what ignorance and in some cases even recklessness it was proceeded here and there, and how often the exact indication was missed even though a group of physicians and specialists joined forces to assess the individual case."25Schittenhelm's essay thus obscures the new coercive character of sterilization and abortion, which took legal force on January 1, 1934, with the "Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses" (Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases) For as a proof of his thesis he refers to figures collected in Kiel from 1924 to 1931: "During this period 178 interruptions were performed, of which only 90 were interruptions and 88 sterilizations. In the same period, interruptions were refused 290 times."26
Schittenhelm also participated in cancer research funded by the DFG. Three years after Dietrich Albers and Karl Hinsberg began work on "Biologisch-chemische Untersuchungsmethoden zur Frühdiagnose des Karzinoms" (Biological-chemical examination methods for the early diagnosis of carcinoma) at the Berlin Pathological Institute in 1937, he was listed as a cooperating partner.27Funding for the project ended in 1941/42.28 In the field of nutritional research, Schittenhelm described the consequences of protein deficiency, without clearly describing the subject groups. There was suspicion of unlawful human experiments.29
Alfred Schittenhelm remained an internist during the Nazi era. He knew how to use opportunities skillfully in professional politics, not only by participating in appointment procedures.30 This also became clear a the Leopoldina, where he had been a member since 1919. Here he saw to it that colleagues loyal to the regime were elected, but at the same time he tried to maintain the international reputation of the academy by admitting foreign members. He successfully proposed Hans Eppinger, Wilhelm Nonnenbruch, and Fritz Schellong in 1940, and the Swiss Walter Frey and Alfred Gigon in 1941 and 1943 respectively.31 Schittenhelm himself, according to Max Bürger in a congratulation on his 70th birthday in 1944, educated personalities of his own stamp through his "leadership principles [...]." 32 Eight chairs were filled by his students at this time, five in internal medicine, two in physiology, and one in pharmacology.33 He singled out Walter Frey (Bern), Max Bürger (Leipzig), Fritz Schellong (Münster), Paul Wels (Greifswald), Edgar Wöhlisch (Würzburg), Erich Boden (Düsseldorf), C. Fieschi (Siena), and Karl Felix Saller (Munich) as former Kiel collaborators who later held chairs. He also recalled the Nobel laureate Gerhard Domagk, who had begun his studies in Kiel.34
Honors After 1945
After the end of the Nazi regime, Schittenhelm spoke of himself as a "completely apolitical person", who felt he had been unjustly persecuted.35 Schittenhelm sent Paul Martini portions of his correspondence with the head of Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg, Ferdinand Springer, to document the disengagement of former publishers and colleagues from him. He was made emeritus in 1949 and an honorary member of the DGIM five years before his death. This honorary membership was revoked in 2021. He was appointed honorary senator of Kiel University in April 1951. This honor was revoked in 201636 and the Schittenhelmstrasse in Kiel was renamed Rosalind-Franklin-Strasse the same year.37