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1930s Fascism Spawned Public Health Initiatives

University Park, Pa. -- Anti-tobacco campaigns, whole grain breads, breast self examination and control of carcinogens in the workplace are normal approaches to preventing or controlling cancer today, but, according to a Penn State historian of science, in the 1930s and 1940s, it was actually Nazi Germany that pioneered many such practices.

"Nazism took root in the world's most powerful scientific culture boasting half of the world's Nobel Prizes and a sizable fraction of the world's patents" says Dr. Robert N. Proctor, professor of the history of science. "The story of science under German fascism cannot be just a narrative of suppression and survival, we also have to explain how and why Nazi ideology promoted certain areas of inquiry, how research was turned and twisted, how projects and policies came and went with the movement of political forces."

In his book, "The Nazi War on Cancer," (Princeton 1999), Proctor charts the path of Nazi science and medicine throughout many different twists and turns, focusing on cancer. The atrocities and injustices of Nazi Germany are not ignored, but Proctor is primarily interested in how the philosophies that created concentration camps, mass sterilization and "racial hygiene" influenced other, less well-known aspects of public health and safety.

"In the Nazi period, health officials developed safeguards against exposure to deadly chemical toxins at the same time the efforts were also underway to use some of those very same toxins to kill millions of Jews and Gypsies," says the faculty member in the College of the Liberal Arts.

The Nazi effort against cancer took many forms, including nutritional and diet therapeutics, mitigation of occupational hazards such as asbestos and an aggressive anti-tobacco program. Hitler's vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco influenced preventive approaches, as did the increasing scarcity of supplies in a country long at war. <
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
3-May-1999


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