Fantasies of Degeneration: Some Remarks on Racial Anti-Semitism in Interwar Romania


Contemporary scholarship separates the idea of the nation from the biological concept of “race.” This line of reasoning, so popular in the literature on nationalism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, was explicated by such influential authors as Ernst Nolte, who argued that race doctrine was “an extreme manifestation which, despite some points of contact, stood outside the highly differentiated main strand of European thinking.”[1] But such a precise demarcation cannot be made. In his Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism, George L. Mosse refuted the view that racial thinking should be treated as peripheral to the vital centres of European political history.[2] “Race” was a vital part of the arguments of biological and medical sciences of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the end of the nineteenth century, for instance, most scientists took the existence of racial identity for granted. Certainly, few disputed that the category of race was a legitimate one for scientific inquiry and that racial differences played an important part in shaping society and culture.

Since the eighteenth century, a major transformation has occurred in European culture as a result of the growth of medical sciences. This development interacted with the emergence of the idea of “race” in European thought, an idea that was embraced by the scientific community and increasingly imbued with precise biological meaning. The major consequence of integrating “race” into scientific discourse was that the sense of difference embodied by European representations of the “Other” were interpreted as a difference of “race,” that is, as a primarily biological and natural difference that was inherent and unalterable.[3] Moreover, the supposed difference was presented as scientific fact.[4] Within Europe, representations of the “Other” as an inferior “race” focused, most prominently, on the Jews. This was sustained partly by proclaiming the biological superiority of the Nordic “races,” but it was also the result of the emergence of anti-Semitism as a modern phenomenon.

Late-nineteenth century physical anthropology classified the Jews as a “race.” The racial classification differed, of course, from one anthropologist to another.[5] Whether the differences between the Jews and the Gentiles were inherited or constructed constituted one of the focal points of the debate over Jewish racial identity and difference. As Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943), the “father of Jewish sociology,” wrote in 1906: “Almost all inquiries into the social, intellectual, and physical differences between Jews and Christians address the question whether these differences have their root in the particular racial makeup, or in the economic and political conditions of the Jews over the past two thousand years.”[6] It was during this transfer from religious to physical signs that anti-Semitism replaced anti-Judaism.[7] It is also within this transformation from anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism that the theme of degeneration – the idea that the Jews were condemned to physical deterioration – infiltrated the discourse of racial anti-Semitism.[8]

In this paper, I look at a case that is rarely explored by scholars working on racial anti-Semitism: interwar Romania. While there are many accounts of interwar anti-Semitism in Romania, systematic surveys of the theme of degeneration in anti-Semitic rhetoric are still lacking.[9] Moreover, the existing accounts of extreme right movements do not reflect the particular conceptual framework I intend to adopt with respect to racial anti-Semitism in Romania.[10] There are no consistent attempts to connect political anti-Semitism with scientific arguments about race.

Racial anti-Semitism used generalised scientific explanations, which circulated freely between science, society and politics. Moreover, these scientific explanations were not rigid structures; they were based on powerful metaphors. Degeneration was one of these metaphors, or as Nancy Stepan suggested, it was “a compelling racial metaphor.”[11] As a metaphor, degeneration transgressed national boundaries, but was then re-conceptualised, i.e. used in local contexts, where it became entangled with a multiplicity of traditions and integrated into very different institutional settings. One of these settings, hitherto unexplored in the scholarship, is the medical profession.

In order to probe the interaction of medical sciences, eugenics and politics in interwar racial anti-Semitism in Romania, I offer a brief survey of biological discourses on race and their impact on discussions of degeneration at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. I then take a closer look at the role of the eugenicist discourse in interwar Romania, a discourse which inspired medical doctors to reconcile the eugenic movement’s conflicting impulses: individual emancipation and social awareness within an organic conception that placed the national community at the forefront of a distinctly radical vision of the nation-state. Also, the affirmation of humanism – as the final objective of science – conflicted with the radical measures advocated by eugenicists with respect to the Jews and national minorities. I conclude with some reflections about anti-Semitism and racism in the evolution of eugenic discourse after 1918 in Romania.

I. “Race” and Degeneration

In the nineteenth century, there were a number of sciences concerned with measuring and representing the human body that contributed to knowledge about racial identity and difference. Craniometry, physiognomy, and phrenology were all regarded as indispensable tools in the science of “race.” By the beginning of the twentieth century, anthropology, biology, statistics and medicine were already considered central to racial thinking; all shaped, and were in turn shaped, by the concept of “race.” These disciplines provided much of the interpretative and conceptual language of the developing scientific discourse about ethnic and racial differences.

Racial representations of the human body also became central elements in the construction of anti-Semitic narratives.[12] The shapes of heads and noses, the colours of eyes, hair, and skin all helped researchers in their task of defining and classifying individuals and groups. Somatic features as much as language and history were viewed as constitutive of a given ethnic group. Typological thinking became an intrinsic part of the science of race. Furthermore, the body itself offered the explanation of moral and intellectual achievements: the volume of the cranium and the weight of the brain, to mention two of the most well known examples, were taken as indicators of intellectual dexterity or, conversely, retardation.[13]

Degeneration played a decisive role in forming images and conceptions about the functioning of the human body. As Nancy Stepan remarked: “The study of ´degeneration` in human races seemed especially critical to these issues by providing information about the extent of racial variation in physical and psychological traits in the human species and the changes brought about by reproduction, especially those from crosses between very different ´races.`”[14]

In many ways, the idea of degeneration was a nineteenth century invention.[15] There are three main strands of thought that dealt with degeneration in the nineteenth century. They could be termed: civilisational (referring to the decline of civilisations and cultures), legal (advocating judicial and legislative measures against degeneration) and cultural (integrating degenerated individuals within cultural frameworks). They intersected and influenced each other. Arthur de Gobineau articulated the idea of civilisational decline; Cesare Lombroso developed legal measures against degenerated people; and, finally, Max Nordau elaborated the idea of cultural degeneration.

Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882) was a French diplomat and writer. His Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines was published in four volumes between 1853 and 1855.[16] Gobineau’s book had an enormous influence upon the development of racist theories and practices in Western Europe.[17] What Gobineau attempted in the Essai was to chart a genealogy of racial decay.[18] He regarded degeneration as one of the most important elements of his racial philosophy, which included the idea that race mixing was the most valid explanation for the decline of civilisations. Looking at classical periods in European history and keeping in mind the social deprivation of the French aristocracy after the Revolution of 1789, Gobineau prophesised the inevitable collapse of his contemporary world because of racial mixing and degeneration. As miscegenation seemed to him unstoppable, mankind was destined for biological and therefore social mediocrity. His description of the “hybrids” (people resulted from mixed marriages) that they are either “beautiful without strength, strong without intelligence, or, if intelligent, both weak and ugly”[19] is illustrative in this sense.

Gobineau’s fatalistic reading of European civilisation was not influenced by a biological formulation of ethnic differentiation, but by a profound disdain for racial miscegenation between different social classes. The notion of aristocratic decline can be identified in the texts of numerous nineteenth-century authors. In this respect, Gobineau was not an original thinker. His elaboration of the concept of degeneration was, however, remarkable. The works of two Jewish thinkers, Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau, complemented Gobineau’s aristocratic lament over the decline of civilisations. By the late nineteenth century these authors became standard reference points on the work on degeneration.

Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) was a liberal Jew and the founder of the science of criminal law. To him, degeneration was a sign of inherent criminality. Thus, the criminals were physically detectable by bearing signs of degeneracy. These features included: enormous jaws and high cheekbones, handle-shaped ears, “found in criminals, savages and apes.”[20] Lombroso believed that criminals are irreversibly lost for the society and must be exterminated. Capital punishment, he argued, was a part of a process of “deliberate selection,” which served to supplement and strengthen natural selection.[21] Later racists were impressed by this argument and used it extensively in their portrayal of Jews as criminals.

Max Nordau (1849-1923) was the real populariser of the concept of degeneration. A Hungarian-born Jew, Nordau was an ardent Zionist, and wrote extensively on Jewish issues as the Paris correspondent for various newspapers in Vienna and Berlin. His book, Degeneration, published in 1892-93, was dedicated to Lombroso. It was mainly due to Nordau’s book that the concept of degeneration infiltrated in the cultural vocabulary of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Contrary to Lombroso, however, Nordau was preoccupied with explanations of science and culture, and not with clinical analysis or legal arguments. In a Social Darwinist vein, he believed that “irresistible and unchangeable” physical laws applied as much to man as to nature. According to Nordau, only science could oppose and prevent degeneration. According to this theory, as diverse people as Tolstoy, Auguste Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec were “degenerate,” for they opposed what Nordau considered to be the “middle-class morality.” Nordau´s concept of degeneration praised liberal virtues and shunned those who rejected them.

Gobineau was rightly characterised as the “father of racist ideology,” but neither Lombroso nor Nordau was a racist. However, all of them contributed to the creation of a vocabulary of stigmatisation and rejection from which many racists extracted much of its rhetoric. A. C. Cuza, the famous Romanian anti-Semite, used many of Gobineau’s arguments in his descriptions of the Jews as a plague for the Romanian nation. Cuza was an inflexible proponent of violent anti-Semitism, based on the notion that Jews were a degenerate and inferior race.[22] By adapting Nordau’s arguments, he claimed that the Jews were undermining Romanian morality, thus obliging those who aimed at “protecting” Romanian national values to argue for legal measures against them. He was also one of the “spiritual fathers” of Romanian extreme-right movement. These were the political arguments Romanian anti-Semitism had used them since mid-nineteenth century.[23] In the interwar period, however, they received a new impetus.

Medical doctors and eugenicists embraced many of these arguments. As Maria Bucur asserted: “Cuza’s views about the need for national purification through the exclusion of the Jews bore similarity to those of some of the more aggressive eugenicists, such as Iordache Facaoaru.”[24] Like elsewhere, Romanian doctors too were concerned with the problem posed by degenerated individuals. Gradually, the Jews were added to the feebleminded and the mentally ill in medical research. They were considered a biological menace. This is not to say that anti-Semitism and eugenics were indistinguishable from one another, but instead to suggest that they agreed intersected exactly on what both movements perceived as the central point of their argumentation: the protection of the Nation.[25]

II. Medical Doctors, Eugenics and Anti-Semitism in Romania

Interwar Romania was the scene of intense debates on the shape and the role the new Romanian state created in 1918 should perform with respect to the homogenisation of the national community.[26] During the interwar period, Romanian politics exploded in many new and different directions.[27] Racial anti-Semitism was one of these directions. The political stage became filled with various groups defined by their commitment to an ideology that emphasised common features of nationality and race. As ideas of race purification circulated widely in Europe, especially in Germany, Romanian intellectuals and professionals increasingly focused on the negative effects the Jews had on “the health of the nation” and on the ways to prevent their “destructive” presence.

When Francis Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883, he defined it as “the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally.”[28] As such, eugenics aimed at recognising and regulating the undesirable elements in a population through relevant social controls (negative eugenics), while at the same time encouraging the reproduction of the better elements (positive eugenics). By the early twentieth century, these suggestions achieved considerable currency as the various eugenics movements urged government action to prevent national and racial decline.

Many medical doctors in interwar Romania suggested that eugenics would be the best strategy to achieve a new body politic and state. The state, they argued, should become modern not only in terms of infrastructure, economic developments and political institutions, but also in terms of education, public health and modern hygiene. All of these efforts, however, should be conducted to preserve the biological capital of the nation. This “rejuvenation” of the Romanian nation could be achieved either by creating a system of public health or by detecting the social illnesses prevalent in the country. Thus, in addition to those afflicted with tuberculosis, alcoholism and mental illness, certain groups were considered purveyors of various “maladies.” The Jews figured prominently in this terminology. Although external factors were important in shaping racial anti-Semitism in interwar Romania, the development of a racist discourse was ultimately a decision made by the medical doctors and eugenicists themselves, reflecting their own negative eugenics thinking and the popularisation of anti-Semitic political discourse.

The medical doctors who embraced eugenics believed that the genetic qualities of the nation had a direct impact on the social and political development of the modern state. As George Mosse pointed out: “Eugenics must be practised on behalf of the superior race, to keep it from degeneration, and that meant the elimination of the unfit.”[29] Furthermore, they believed that a biologically based identification with the nation, with one’s racial characteristics, would be a prerequisite for preserving the differences between the Romanian majority and national minorities.

Furthermore, to those engaged in debates over “the Jewish question” in interwar Romania, eugenic theories offered a theoretical basis for disputing the national integration and uniformisation the state was trying to achieve by democratising political life. As a consequence, these theories produced a range of biological arguments that ultimately penetrated Romanian nationalism and anti-Semitism. As Nicolae Rosu, a prolific author on nationalism and racism in the interwar period, put it:

Blood is the biological substrate of heredity; consanguinity, on the intellectual, emotional and social level, means the same sentiments, ideas and tendencies. Race is therefore the condition of a nation’s existence; it is its conception of life itself. The nationality principle is based on this fundamental truth. There is thus a profound difference between the members of the same state, amalgamated together into a heterogeneous mixture through the notion of citizenship and the members of the same race, pre-destined, through heredity, to co-work unitary and harmoniously.[30]

In the 1940s, these arguments coalesced into a new medical agenda that combined science with politics and, most importantly, contrasted the Jews with the Romanians. The Jews became “undesirable,” both politically and medically. Degeneration was one of the arguments used most consistently in stigmatising the Jews and opposing them to the “healthy” Romanians. As Dr. D. Grigorescu formulated it:

The Jews – a people exposed throughout the centuries to so many hardships and emotions – have become arthritics, nervous; the majority of them [are] un-healthy. Their inter-marriages, added to other causes, make this race to degenerate, and we can find a series of typologies in which we could even see changes of a pathological nature – apart from those of plastic and morphometric nature. These unhealthy individuals do not disappear, but on the contrary, they procreate (and it is know the high natality among Jews) a series of elements,[which are] deviated, [and] susceptible to produce very special maladies – specific [to their] race.

From a racial point of view, the Romanian people represents a solid nucleus – with indubitable physical and moral qualities – and with the luck of living on a terrain with a climate and a food, rich in all the minerals necessary for the keeping up a good biological equilibrium. But external toxic (alcohol) and infectious causes (syphilis and tuberculosis) seem to knock at our door, and in some place they had come in a long time ago, with horrible desires to alter our elite race. Let us open our eyes in time and everything will be corrected.[31]

Romanian doctors thus envisioned a national community based upon the exclusion of all those deemed to be “alien,” “hereditary ill,” or “anti-social.” The Romanian national community itself was categorised in accordance with racial criteria. These criteria included not only ideas of “racial purity,” but also biological measures against the Jews.

An equally important process paralleled the medicalisation of anti-Semitism: the social and political affirmation of medical profession. After 1918, the social role of the medical doctor changed considerably. He was not anymore a simple physician, but the expert in “socio-biological sciences,” who was entitled to decide which parts of the population were “racially” valuable and which ones needed correction. As Iuliu Hatieganu, a famous Romanian eugenicist, put it in 1925: “through his career, a doctor is chosen as the most useful and important social agent in a state.”[32] However, the same author continued, medical doctors would be able to implement their eugenics ideas only when “governments will understand that no progress and no prosperity are possible without seriously organising the state’s hygiene and fighting against social diseases [in order to] favour creating a more robust human species … and protect the race.”[33]

Closely connected to the protection of race was the issue of heredity. At the beginning of the twentieth century, heredity became an influential concept in the debate about the treatment of a wide range of mental diseases and disorders, and had a considerable impact on the psychiatric profession. There were many reasons why heredity was considered so important. The main argument was that medical doctors hoped that the knowledge about how mental diseases are transmitted would also be the key to control them. For instance, eugenic psychiatrists claimed that mental conditions were, to a large degree, inheritable. On the other hand, psychiatrists inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis stressed the social causes of mental disorders and diseases and argued that psychotherapy would be the only effective treatment. These are two among a spectrum of possible interpretations, but they illustrate the importance attached to the heredity problem in explaining mental and physical degeneration. Psychiatrists helped to popularise the concept of heredity in the common culture of society; they also connected heredity to degeneration.

Romanian psychiatrists too were preoccupied with the question of whether and to what extent psychiatric disorders and diseases were inherited.[34] In 1941, Petru Tiparescu, a psychiatrist from Bucharest, published Rasa si degenerare, cu un studiu statistic asupra jidanilor[35] (Race and Degeneration, with a statistical study on the Jews). Tiparescu conducted his research in the Central Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases in Bucharest in the late 1930s. Tiparescu`s statistics were based on research on a population from Oltenia, Muntenia and Dobrudja and were conducted in 1930. According to the 1930 census in these three provinces there were 6.357.658 inhabitants; out of which 5.597.364 were Romanians; 93. 645 were Jews and other minorities.[36] The total number of the mentally ill interned in the hospital was 2.448. Comparing this number to the total number of inhabitants, the result of ill people is 3, 85 % of 10.000. Thus, “Romanians – 5.597.364 and 1.959 ill people – give 3,49 % of 10.000 inhabitants; Jews – 93.645 inhabitants and 280 ill people – give 29,90 % of 10.000 inhabitants.”[37]

What is of interest in Tiparescu’s book is that, even though his argumentation is phrased entirely in terms of the medical discourse of its time, it has very specific political overtones. Tiparescu was a supporter of hereditary determinism. To him the fact that:

[the Jews] are a degenerated race can be seen in all of their manifestations on the sociological level. Many famous authors, Romanians and foreigners, have convincingly proved it, and, finally, today these works on racial hygiene began to influence our state policy, [thus] preconditioning measures for the supremacy of the majority ethnic element and for the protection of our nation. The question also requires a special study and, we think, it would be necessary to found an official eugenic institute in our country, for the study of races and for finding eugenic norms, adaptable to the conditions of our country.[38]

Tiparescu devotes an entire chapter on the Jews’ special predisposition towards degeneration. It is entitled “The Degeneration of the Jews as a Race.”[39] Relying on N. C. Paulescu`s book The Degeneration of the Jewish Race (1930), Tiparescu enumerates the following causes of Jewish degeneration: intoxication, infections and the congenital lesions of the brain. He adds, however, that heredity is the main cause of “the degeneration of the Jews as a race.”[40]

According to Tiparescu, Jews are prone to constitutional psychopathies, by which he meant mental maladies derived from the hereditary font.[41] They occur, he believed, because the Jews had degenerated as a race. Based on his research at the Central Hospital, Tiparescu elaborated on the taxonomy of maladies: racial, familial and individual. The constitutional psychopathies are incurable, though they could be alleviated. Further, he considered that racial maladies – “due to the unchanging nature of racial characters” – are incurable: “they are like the unnecessary part of the race or of human species, which through natural selection are eliminated from the series of human reproduction.”[42]

Tiparescu illustrated his arguments with a series of charts. For example:

Entire population Romanians Jews
Degeneration 2,93 % 2,84 % 22,42 (20,63) %
Psychic-constitutional 14,29 % 11,88 % 161,24 (148,37) %
Toxic psychoses 5,47 % 5,21 % 28,83 (25,53) %
Toxic-organic 13,14 % 12,99 % 63,00 (57,97) %
Organic 1,90 % 1,67% 18,15 (16,70) %

He deduced from the these investigations that: “comparing to the entire populations and to Romanians, the Jews are 7 times more degenerated; from 10 to 13 times in constitutional psychoses; 4, 5 times more in toxic psychoses; 4 times more in organic-toxic; 8-10 times in organic.”[43]

With respect to the constitutional psychoses, i.e. those determined by heredity, Tiparescu offers the following picture:

Psychoses Entire population Romanians Jews
Maniacal 1,41 % 1,07 % 14,94 (13,75) %
Melancholic 0,86 % 0,66 % 10,67 (9,82) %
Maniac-depressive and periodical melancholy 1,52 % 1,16 % 25,62 (23,58) %
Periodical mania 1,71 % 1,32 % 10,67 (9,82) %
Paranoia 0,80 % 0,67 % 9,61 (8,84) %
Para-phrenology 1,05 % 0,91 % 11,74 (10,80) %
Schizophrenia, catatonia and premature dementia 6,91 % 5,71 % 77,95 (71,73) %
(The percentage is to 100,000 inhabitants)

Tiparescu`s arguments thus portray the Jews as medically different than the Romanians. According to him: “comparing to the entire population and the Romanians, the Jews give a percentage of 9 to 13 times bigger in maniacal [psychoses]; in melancholy, from 11 to 16 times; in manic-depressive and periodical melancholy, [from] 19 to 22 times bigger; [in] periodical mania, 5 to 7 times bigger; [in] paranoia, 11 to 14 times bigger; in “para-phrenology”, 10 to 12 times bigger; [in] schizophrenia, catatonia and premature dementia, 10 to 13 times bigger.”[44]

Tiparescu concludes his analysis by suggesting that the new research agenda should shift its focus – from the feebleminded to the Jews. The implementation of racially hygienic policies presupposed the existence of a public medical bureaucracy, administratively and legally empowered to pursue racial hygiene policies. However, the health system and financial resources in Romania were insufficient. The need for implementation of radical measures surfaces in Tiparescu’s conclusions. He remarked:

To discover the superior race or even to find out what makes my race superior comparing to the racial value of other peoples, a very complex study is necessary, which is not possible today. There are a number of elements that necessitate special research within the study of races; and to mention only those hitherto neglected: cranial capacity, the ossification of the skull, cranial malformations [which are] racially specific, the differences of the nervous cell, the racial characteristics of the circumvolutions of the brain, the racial value of the psychosomatic constitutions, the functional characters of races, the biochemical racial index, the glandular constellations specific to races, racial and familial maladies, etc., etc.”[45]

As other racial doctors, Tiparescu also believed that the degeneration of the Jews might be averted through negative eugenics. In the end of the book, Tiparescu claimed: “It is thus absolutely necessary that we take urgent and radical measures against the Jewish danger. We must defend the country, the nation, the race!”[46]

The discourse on degeneration was not exclusively medical as one might assume from the example presented here; it included popularised versions of racism and nationalism as exploited by politicians and intellectuals alike. Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, for example, the leader of the Iron Guard, the extreme right movement in interwar Romania, declared:

The worst thing that Jews and politicians have done to us, the greatest danger that they have exposed our people to, is not the way they are seizing the riches and possessions of our country, destroying the Romanian middle class, the way they swamp our schools and liberal professions, or the pernicious influence they are having on our whole political life, although these already constitute mortal dangers for a people. The greatest danger they pose to the people is rather that they are undermining us racially, that they are destroying the racial, Romano-Dacian structure of our people and calling into being a type of human being that is nothing but a racial wreck. They present us with the type of politician who has nothing left of the nobility of our race within him, but only dishonours our race, degrades it and condemns it to oblivion.[47]

In addition to medical doctors and political leaders, philosophers of culture, theologians and poets also included “race” in their visions of Romania’s destiny. Nichifor Crainic, for instance, the theoretician of “Gandirism,” a traditionalist-Orthodox literary movement in the interwar period,[48] posited many racial concepts in his characteriology of Romanian essence. “Blood itself is tradition,” he claimed, “it is the biological tradition.”[49] Other authors, however, attempted to connect “Romanianness” with the Aryan myth. Alexandru Randa thus argued that: “The creation of a social Romanian consciousness is a primordial condition for the affirmation of Romanianism on the international arena… This Romanian racism would naturally be based on the Aryan myth… – The racial basis of Romania is the same with that of Aryan Europe.”[50]

However, the pervasive usage of race concepts in interwar Romania did not go unchallenged. P. P. Negulescu, a well-respected philosopher a culture, in his influential Geneza formelor culturii (1934) rejected the concept of race based on the myth of blood.[51] Lucian Blaga, a celebrated Romanian poet, expressed the same criticism towards the usage of race.[52] Even Iuliu Moldovan, founder and leader of the eugenic movement in Transylvania in the interwar period, tried to distance himself from the racist predisposition of many intellectuals and scientists of his time, by declaring in 1943 that: “the concept of race cannot ever be a forceful idea and a goal [for Romanians].”[53]

These intellectual repudiations notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that many academics and scientists in interwar Romania were involved in the formulation and implementation of racial and eugenics ideas. Racial anthropologists, biologists, and hygienicists, economists, geographers, historians, and sociologists created a conceptual framework that relied upon the scientific legitimacy of eugenics. Having imposed a logical structure on various forms of classification and discrimination, the same academics and scientists voluntarily offered their knowledge for the general public’s anti-Semitic tendencies.

Final Remarks

This paper argued that anti-Semitism and degeneracy were inextricably linked in the racial bio-medical discourse in interwar Romania. The projection of mental degeneration on the Jews during the 1940s was understood in political as well as medical terms. As such, the concept of degeneration became for interwar racial anti-Semitism a central term for the political and medical categorisation of the Jews. The new medical and racial order advocated by Tiparescu and others was based upon “the purification of the nation,” i.e. the elimination of all those categorised as being “alien” and “degenerated.” That category included the Jews as well as the mentally and physically handicapped. Obviously there were major quantitative and qualitative differences in the degree of persecution to which these groups were subjected. The Jews, as the racial group which some Romanian anti-Semitic doctors regarded as the greatest threat, undoubtedly constituted the largest stigmatised group.

In a way, Romanian eugenicists and medical doctors reproduced social and biological schemes already implemented by the Nazi regime in Germany. As some authors have rightly pointed out, the new biomedical interpretation of national belonging “was not a form of regression to past times,” but rather “its objectives were novel and sui generis: to realise an ideal future world, without ‘lesser races’, without the sick, and without those who they decreed had no place in the ‘national community.’”[54]

In interwar Romania, biological interpretation of mental diseases received an increasing plausibility and popularity. New theories of heredity gained influence among diverse explanations of the causes of mental disorders and psycho-pathological phenomena. Eugenics and psychiatric practices thus shifted from a rather progressive concept to a reactionary and even extreme right one. As a result, the notion of “kollektive Entartung” (collective degeneration) gradually became accepted in the nationalist and medical vocabulary of the interwar period. Degeneration seemed to threaten the “Volk,” the “Race” and most importantly, the “Nation.”

Copyright © 2003 by the author & Tr@nsit online. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically, in whole or in part, without written permission from Transit.

Marius Turda teaches at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. In 2003 he was an Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Fellow at IWM.


1. Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism (London: Weidenfeld, 1965), p. 286.

2. George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (London: Dent, 1979).

3. Gustav Jahoda, Images of Savages. Ancients Roots of Modern Prejudice in Western Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1999).

4. Robert Miles, Racism (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 30-31.

5. See John M. Efron, Defenders of the Race. Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994).

6. Quoted in Mitchell B. Hart, Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), p. 169.

7. Klaus Hoedl, “Physical Characteristics of the Jews,” in Jewish Studies at the Central European University, ed. András Kovács (Budapest: Central European University, 2000), p. 63.

8. J. Edward Chamberlain, Sander L. Gilman, Degeneration. The Dark Side of Progress (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

9. For the general context, see Ezra Mendelson, The Jews of East Central Europe between the World Wars (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983).

10. See Armin Heinen, Die Legion Erzengel Michael in Rumanien Soziale Bewegung und politische Organisation (München: Oldenbourg, 1986) and Leon Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism. The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s, translated from the Romanian by Charles Kormos (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1991).

11. Nancy Stepan, “Biological Degeneration: Races and Proper Places,” in J. Edward Chamberlain, Sander L. Gilman, Degeneration. The Dark Side of Progress (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 97.

12. Andrei Oisteanu, Imaginea evreului in cultura romana (Bucuresti: Humanitas, 2001).

13. See Peter Weingart, Jürgen Kroll, Kurt Bayertz, Rasse, Blut und Gene. Geschichte der Eugenik und Rassenhygiene in Deutschland (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1988), pp. 121-125.

14. Nancy Stepan, “Biological Degeneration: Races and Proper Places,” p. 97.

15. Peter Weingart et. al, Rasse, Blut und Gene,, pp. 42-46.

16. Arthur de Gobineau, Essai sur L`Inégalité des Races Humaines, ed. Hubert Juin (Paris: Pierre Belfold, 1967).

17. On Gobineau’s life and impact, see Michael Biddiss, Father of Racist Ideology. The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau (London: Weidenfeld, 1970) and Patrick von zur Mühlen, “Die Rassentheorie Gobineaus,” in: Rassenideologien. Geschichte und Hintergründe (Berlin: Verlag J. H. W. Dietz, 1977), pp. 52-73.

18. See the chapter “De ce qu`un doit entendre par le mot degeneration; du mélange des principes ethniques, et comment les sociétés se forment et se défont.” In Gobineau, Essai sur L`Inégalité, pp. 57-66.

19. Gobineau, Selected Political Writings, ed. Michael D. Biddiss (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), p. 139.

20. Cesare Lombroso, “Introduction,” to Gina Lombroso Ferrero, Criminal Man According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso (New York and London, 1911), p. xv.

21. Ibid, xviii.

22. See A. C. Cuza, Meseriasul roman (Bucuresti, 1893).

23. William Oldson, A Providential Antisemitism: Nationalism and Polity in Nineteenth Century Romania (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1991).

24. Maria Bucur, Eugenics and Modernisation, p. 56.

25. Maria Bucur is sceptical about establishing connections between the eugenic movement and the extreme right ideology. This is a topic that needs further research and here I could only suggest some preliminary observations. Both eugenicists and the theorists of extreme right discussed the same theme – the creation of a new Romanian national identity – even if the language they employed was different (scientific and rational, for the former; mystical and irrational, for the latter).

26. Irina Livezeanu, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania: Regionalism, Nation Building and Ethnic Struggle, 1918-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

27. Vago Bela, The Shadow of the Swastika. The Rise of Fascism and Anti-Semitism in the Danube Basin, 1936-1939 (London: Saxon House, 1975).

28. Francis Galton, “Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope and Aims” (1904) in Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst, The Fin-de-Siècle. A Reader in Cultural History, c. 1880-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 329-333).

29. George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, p. 87.

30. Nicolae Rosu, “Ideea de rasa la doi ganditori romani” Revista fundatiilor Regale VIII (1941): 400. Quoated in Zigu Ornea, Anii treizeci. Extrema dreapta romaneasca, rev. ed. (Bucuresti: Ed. Fundatiei Culturale Romane, 1996), p. 112.

31. Dr. D. Grigorescu, “Fundamentul biologic al rasei,” Gandirea, an XIV, no. 2 (Februarie 1935): 107.

32. Iuliu Hatieganu, “Rolul social al medicului în opera de consolidare a statului national” Transilvania, 54 (November – December 1925): 588.

33. Iuliu Hatieganu, “Rolul social al medicului:” 590.

34. Peter Weingart et al., Rasse, Blut und Gene., pp. 47-50.

35. Petru Tiparescu, Rasa si degenerare, cu un studiu statistic asupra jidanilor (Bucuresti: Tip. Bucovina, 1941).

36. Recensamantul general al populatiei Romaniei 1930, vol. II (Bucuresti, 1930).

37. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 53.

38. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 45.

39. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, pp. 49-58.

40. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 49.

41. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 50.

42. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 51.

43. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 56.

44. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 57.

45. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 60.

46. Tiparescu, Race and Degeneration, p. 64.

47. Corneliu Codreanu, “The Resurrection of Race,” in Roger Griffin, ed., Fascism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 221.

48. See Keith Hitchins, “Gandirea:’ Nationalism in Spiritual Guise,” in: Kenneth Jowitt, ed., Social Change in Romania, 1860-1940: A Debate on Development in a European Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 140-173.

49. Quoted in Zigu Ornea, Anii treizeci, p. 108.

50. Al. Randa, Rasism romanesc (Bucuresti, 1941), p.1. Quoted in Ornea, Anii treizeci, p. 109.

51. P. P.Negulescu, Geneza formelor culturii (Bucuresti: Ed. Minerva, 1993).

52. Lucian Blaga, “Despre rasa ca stil,” Gandirea, an XIV, no. 2 (Februarie 1935): 69-73.

53. Quoted in Maria Bucur, Eugenics and Modernization, p. 40.

54. Michael Burleigh, Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State, p. 306.



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    Rudolf Stamm war von 1975 bis 1988 Korrespondent der Neuen Zürcher Zeitung für Osteuropa und Österreich, anschließend bis 1999 für Italien, dann bis zu seiner Pensionierung 2002 für die USA mit Sitz in Washington D.C. Er starb 2010 in der Schweiz. 1985 erscheinen seine NZZ-Reportagen aus Osteuropa in dem Band Alltag und Tradition in Osteuropa. …
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  • Paul Starr

    Paul Starr ist Professor für Soziologie an der Princeton University und Mitherausgeber von The American Prospect. Er ist Pulitzer-Preisträger.   Print

  • Martina Steer

    ÖAW APART Fellow (History)
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  • Kristina Stoeckl

    Research Director
    APART Fellow, Austrian Academy of Sciences; Department of Political Sciences, University of Vienna
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  • Roman Szporluk

    Roman Szporluk is Professor em. of Ukrainian History at Harvard and Professor em. of History at the University of Michigan. He is a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine. His research focuses on modern Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish history, and on Marxism and nationalism in Eastern Europe.   Print

  • Charles Taylor

    IWM Permanent Fellow
    Professor em. of Philosophy, McGill University, Montréal
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  • Maria Teteriuk

    PhD candidate in Mass Communications and senior lecturer in Media Studies, National University of 'Kyiv-Mohyla Academy', Ukraine
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  • Philipp Ther

    Junior Professor of Polish and Ukrainian Studies, Europa-Universität Frankfurt / Oder
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  • Maria Todorova

    Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
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  • Balázs Trencsényi

    Balázs Trencsényi, Ph.D., is Associate Professor at the Department of History, CEU. His research focuses on the comparative history of political thought in East Central Europe and the history of historiography. He is co-director of Pasts, Inc., Center for Historical Studies at CEU and Associate Editor of the periodical East Central Europe (Brill). He was …
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  • Stefan Troebst

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  • Marius Turda

    Lecturer in the Education Abroad Program, Eötvös Lorand University, Faculty of Humanities, Budapest
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  • Andreas Umland

    Andreas Umland ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Euro-Atlantische Kooperation Kiew sowie Herausgeber der Buchreihe Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, ibidem-Verlag Stuttgart. Print

  • Victoria Vasilenko

    Assistant Professor of Contemporary History and International Relations, Belgorod National Research University
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  • David G. Victor

    David G. Victor is a Professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.   Print

  • Harald Welzer

    Harald Welzer ist Forschungsprofessor für Sozialpsychologie an der Universität Witten/Herdecke und Direktor des Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research am Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts Essen.   Print

  • Karolina Wigura

    Adjunct of the History of Ideas, University of Warsaw; Co-Editor of Kultura Liberalna
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  • Volodymyr Yermolenko

    Volodymyr Yermolenko is a Ukrainian philosopher and essayist. He has a degree in Political Science from the EHESS, Paris, and teaches at Kyiv Mohyla Academy in Kyiv. He is the author of the book Narrator and Philosopher: Walter Benjamin and his time (2011, in Ukrainian). Print

  • Oksana Zabuzhko

    Free-lance writer, Kiev
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  • Tatiana Zhurzhenko

    IWM Research Director, Russia in Global Dialogue and Ukraine in European Dialogue
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