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"One in Eight"

The featured public health propaganda film was made in 1941 to convince the German public to trust modern medical treatments for cancer over the “hocus pocus” offered by unqualified frauds promising miracle cures.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv

By the late 1920s, cancer had become the second leading cause of death in Germany.1 Germans increasingly encountered cancer-causing substances in the air and water, in the food they ate, and through the materials used at their jobs.

By the time the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, Germany had developed one of the highest rates of cancer in the entire world. Roughly 100,000 Germans died from cancer every year in the 1930s, and Nazi public health officials adopted a wide range of different preventive health measures designed to lower Germany’s cancer rate and improve the overall health of the so-called "Volksgemeinschaft" (German racial community).2 Nazi propaganda often urged Germans to pursue “natural” lifestyles as a means of preventing cancer and other diseases,3 but the regime also embraced the widespread use of modern medical technologies such as X-rays.4 The SS and the German army organized mass X-ray screenings for cancer and other diseases, and the first scientific connections between tobacco smoke and lung cancer were made by German scientists in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The Nazi regime supported these new developments in cancer research and treatment, but many Germans still had more faith in superstitions and folk remedies than they had in modern science. The featured public health propaganda film—“One in Eight”—was made in 1941 to convince the German public to trust modern medical treatments for cancer over the “hocus pocus” offered by unqualified frauds promising miracle cures. In the film, a woman is successfully treated in a modern hospital while a man dies from his illness after seeking help from a quack doctor. As the film explains some of the scientific methods used to identify and treat cancer, the camera captures bright, clean hospital spaces that contrast with the poorly lit rooms of the phony healer.

In the early 20th century, many people throughout Europe believed in superstitions, mystical forces, and faith healing. Although many high-ranking Nazi officials such as SS leader Heinrich Himmler supported astrology and other occult practices, other Nazi leaders such as Reinhard Heydrich and Martin Bormann believed that psychics, faith healers, and others only exploited Germans’ superstitions for financial gain.5

The German police began a campaign against occult practices and quackery in 1937 that attempted to distinguish between harmful exploitation and so-called “scientific occultism” that was deemed to be more legitimate. Nazi leaders intensified their push to promote medical science over superstition in anticipation of the German attack on the Soviet Union in summer 1941. Heydrich explained that belief in magical solutions would threaten the mental and physical strength of the German people during the coming struggle, and a flurry of arrests was made. “One in Eight” was part of the public propaganda campaign that accompanied these arrests. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels personally approved the film, describing it as a “sharp attack on quackery.”

Cancer replaced tuberculosis as the second leading cause of death among Germans in 1928. Heart disease remained the leading cause of death.

To learn more about Nazi anti-cancer campaigns, see Robert N. Proctor, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

For an example of Nazi propaganda suggesting a life close to nature as a means of preventing disease, see the Experiencing History item, "Sexually Transmitted Disease Is an Obstacle to Marriage."

Nazi officials disagreed internally on several policies, including public health issues such as organic foods and X-rays. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History items, "The English Disease" and "Police Order on X-ray Screenings."

To learn more about the Nazi regime's campaigns against the occult and the conflicting views within the Nazi Party, see Eric Kurlander, "The Nazi Magicians' Controversy: Enlightenment, 'Border Science,' and Occultism in the Third Reich," Central European History, 48 (2015): 498–522.

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[Doctor speaks to colleague] Time and time again, this damn undue embarrassment. This incomprehensible aversion to a thorough examination. They’d rather go to a quack doctor. The disease spreads, and you’ve seen what happens then. Who’s the next patient?

[Colleague] Mrs. Hoffmann: Suspicious findings.

[Doctor] So, Mrs. Hoffmann, let’s take a look now. Please take this off so I can examine you. Now raise your arms, please. When did you notice this for the first time?

[Mrs. Hoffmann] About three weeks ago, Professor. When I was drying off after my bath, I noticed something.

[Doctor] Was it painful?

[Mrs. Hoffmann] No, it didn’t really hurt.

[Doctor] Yes, that’s the really insidious thing about such tumors, that you don’t feel any pain at all at first. It’s good that you’ve come here this soon. Well, we can fix this. First we’ll do a biopsy. [To his colleague] Please [make arrangements], colleague.

[Doctor] First we’ll remove a small amount of tissue from the tumor. You won’t feel anything at all. Then this little piece of tissue goes to the lab and is dealt with there. It is embedded in paraffin so that the extremely thin slices needed for microscopic examination can be made. From the normal or abnormal nature of this tissue, the experienced physician can tell whether he is dealing with cancer or merely a benign change. In addition, we will test your blood for various markers. We will also do an X-ray to see whether your lungs are all right. And then there are all sorts of other things. For certain patients, we examine the excretions of organs, such as gastric juices or urine. If something suspicious has been found, there are two possibilities. Either an operation or radiation, in some cases both. There is radiation with radium and with X-rays, and that will be the given treatment in your case.

[Mrs. Hoffmann] Yes, but, Professor, how am I supposed to pay for all this?

[Doctor] Dear Mrs. Hoffmann, when a suspicious tumor has been detected, these days no one needs to go without medical help anymore. So you really don’t need to worry about it.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv
Accession Number 2001.359.1
RG Number 60.3706
Source Number 2630
Date Created
Duration 00:02:23
Time Selection 5:33–7:56
Sound Yes
Videographer / Creator
Walter Ruttman
Reference Location
Moving Image Type Documentary
How to Cite Museum Materials

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