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Targets of Eugenics

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Sterilization Order for August Alzen

August Alzen was born into a Catholic farming family in a rural German town before World War I began. He turned 20 years old shortly after the Nazi Party rose to power in early 1933. In May 1936, he was drafted into the German Army as the Nazi regime continued preparing the country and its military for another war. Alzen served as a laborer on military projects in the regions near his hometown north of Koblenz. A year after he was drafted, Alzen was notified that a so-called Hereditary Health Court1 would soon be meeting in the nearby town of Siegen to decide if he would be forcibly sterilized for an alleged intellectual disability.

Enacted by the Nazi regime in July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases2 had created these courts, which authorized forced sterilizations—medical procedures designed to make it biologically impossible to reproduce.3 The Hereditary Health Courts were three-person panels made up of two doctors and an official from the local court system.4 The doctors attached to the Hereditary Health Courts often made their decisions without ever personally examining the individual in question. During the years of Nazi rule, these courts approved the forced sterilizations of roughly 400,000 Germans. Nazi leaders believed that they could make the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft") stronger and genetically superior to other nations by regulating human reproduction.

The featured report summarizes the findings of the May 21, 1937 session of the Hereditary Health Court held in Siegen to decide if the 24-year-old Alzen would be sterilized. A doctor had first requested Alzen’s sterilization after he was diagnosed with an inherited intellectual disability—often called “hereditary feeblemindedness” at the time. The court agreed that sterilization was necessary because it seemed “highly likely that any of [Alzen’s] descendants will also suffer from severe mental or physical hereditary defects.” Their report not only focused on his intelligence, but also on his character and his ability to perform useful work. Alzen was likely sterilized at the court’s direction, but the German army did not discharge him for nearly three years. In early 1940, he was released after being found unfit for military service.

Other members of the Alzen family also became targets of persecution in Nazi Germany. August’s sister Agnes was investigated by the Koblenz Gestapo for allegedly making critical remarks about the Nazi regime. In late 1941, their father Johann was arrested and convicted of undermining German morale.5 He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but he died in Dachau in January 1945—just months before the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the camp by Allied forces.6

After the war ended, August’s mother Katharina successfully applied for compensation for her husband’s death as a political victim of Nazi persecution. But for decades after World War II, German courts—and popular opinion—generally considered the forced sterilizations of people diagnosed with disabilities as legitimate medical care rather than as persecution requiring justice or compensation.7 

For more on so-called Hereditary Health Courts under Nazism, see the related Experiencing History item, Lothrop Stoddard: "In a Eugenics Court." 

The so-called hereditary health law was part of the new regime's efforts to reshape German society according to Nazi theories of eugenics, or "racial hygiene." Nazi eugenics policies sought to prevent the births of children who might inherit traits deemed undesirable by Nazi authorities and German medical professionals—while encouraging large families among so-called "Aryans" with good "genetic health."

The 1933 sterilization law targeted people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, blindness, deafness, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, and alcoholism.

The eugenics movement found support in countries across Europe and the United States, influencing scientific research, public policy, and even popular culture. See the Experiencing History collection Targets of Eugenics, as well as the related items Eugenics Charts from the Kansas Free Fair and the Letter from Dr. Harry H. Laughlin to Dr. Carl Schneider

To learn more about forced sterilizations in Nazi Germany, see Nina Tripp, Standing on Infertile Ground: An Analysis of the Spectrum of Sterilization Experiences under National Socialism (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2019). For more primary sources about forced sterilizations, see the related Experiencing History items, Signed Testimony of Helga Gross and Letter to SS Doctor Gregor Ebner.

For more on the liberation of Dachau, see the related Experiencing History item, Norman Krasna, "Lest We Forget."

To learn more about postwar attitudes toward the Nazi-era persecution of people with disabilities, see Carol Poore, "Who Belongs? Disability and the German Nation in Postwar Literature and Film," German Studies Review 26, no. 1 (February 2003): 21–42; and "Remembrance, Commemoration, Memorialisation," in Michael D. Robertson, Astrid Ley, and Edwina Light, The First into the Dark: The Nazi Persecution of the Disabled (Sydney: UTS ePress, 2019): 209–232.

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Reference number: XIII – 44/37 to be added to all submissions.

in the hereditary health matter

concerning August Alzen in Weiselstein, Kreis Altenkirchen, born in said place on [month illegible] 26, 1913, son of the married couple Johann Alzen and Katharina Alzen née [?] in Weiselstein, 39 [?]straße,

represented by his father, Johann Alzen II in Weiselstein, 39 [?]straße, the caregiver [added by hand],
the Hereditary Health Court for the Siegen District Court [Amtsgericht], at the session on May 21, 1937, in which the following participated:

Chief District Court Clerk Vollbach as presider,
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Klein and General Practitioner
Dr. Röper as hereditary health judges

has reached this decision:

                      At the request of the public health officer in Altenkirchen, the sterilization of the aforementioned August Alzen is ordered. The costs of the legal proceeding are borne by the state treasury.


The public health officer in Altenkirchen has made an application for the sterilization of the aforementioned August Alzen. Objectively, the request had to prevail. According to the enclosed medical evaluations, the person named suffers from hereditary feeblemindedness. The intelligence test taken by August Alzen completely confirms the presence of feeblemindedness. His knowledge acquired at school and overall knowledge of life are very slight. He cannot solve the simplest arithmetic problems. His memory and retentiveness are poor; his powers of judgment and deduction are severely impaired.

(page 2)

He is unable to follow the simplest trains of thought. He cannot form an opinion about the simplest notions. As to his nature, he is mistrustful, hostile, and sedentary. Though he is praised at his place of employment, this does not rule out feeblemindedness. The tasks he has to perform are evidently purely mechanical in nature. The presence of feeblemindedness was accordingly deemed to have been proven. It can also be classified as hereditary. It was already apparent in early boyhood. His low level of ability was already in evidence in his schooldays. Though his father wants to blame the school for his son’s poor intellectual development, it is nonetheless certain that August Alzen, now 24 years old, after leaving school did not manage to further either the knowledge he had acquired at school or his general practical knowledge of life. This inability must be viewed as a manifestation of the mental defect in his genetic [?] intellectual make-up. There is no indication of a later onset of the feeblemindedness. The additional burdens among his blood relations offer proof of the hereditary nature of the affliction.

August Alzen accordingly suffers from a hereditary defect within the meaning of the Law of July 14, 1933. In terms of his age, he is capable of fathering a child. The heritability of such feeblemindedness is significant. With great probability, therefore, it is to be expected that any descendants of his will also suffer from severe mental or physical hereditary defects. His sterilization thus appeared necessary. Hence approval had to be granted to the application that was filed.

The ruling on legal costs is based on §15, subparagraph 1, of the law referred to. S

(page 3)

Signed Vollbach, Dr. Klein, Dr. Röper

[Official stamp of Siegen District Court]

Document issued by:
[Signed], employee of the court
serving as registrar of the Hereditary Health Court

[Written by hand at the bottom of the page]
Mr. August Alzen Weiselstein

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source Number 2001.205.1
Date Created
May 21, 1937
Siegen, Germany
Document Type Official document
How to Cite Museum Materials

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