A comprehensive assessment: the ‘Racial Hygiene Research Centre’

To define the Sinti and Roma in accordance with the ‘Nuremberg Laws’, the Nazis made use of racial research, a field already established before the start of the Nazi dictatorship that was hugely influential in terms of the public discourse. The ‘Rassenhygienische Forschungsstelle’ [‘Racial Hygiene Research Centre’] was establi­shed in Berlin in late 1936; its director was Dr Robert Ritter. Pur­suant to Himmler’s order of 8 December 1938, the ‘research centre’ was to assess all Sinti and Roma living in the Reich and classify them in terms of ‘racial biology’; it was to do so through close co-operation with the SS and police apparatus.

With the support of official state and church bodies, Dr Ritter and his staff conducted genealogical and anthropological examinations on Sinti and Roma. They compelled their test subjects to provide information about their family relationships and carried out elabo­rate measurements. Besides compiling detailed genealogical tables, they took thousands of anthropological photographs. Countless blood and hair samples were also taken.

By the time the war came to an end, Dr Ritter’s institute had drawn up some 24,000 assessments that used ‘racial diagnosis’ to classify the Sinti and Roma either as ‘gypsies’ or ‘gypsies of mixed blood’. These assessments were instrumental in the deportations to concentration and extermination camps.

01 | Staff at the ‘Racial Hygiene Research Centre’ conducting their examinations. They even made face masks and head sculptures. Federal Archives, photo R 165 photo 244-64
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02 | Federal Archives, photo R 165 photo 244-66
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03 | Head sculptures of Sinti and Roma inside a display cabinet at the ‘Racial Hygiene Research Centre’, 1942 Federal Archives, photo 146-1998-049-30
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04 | Two preserved head sculptures are on display today as exhibits at the Sachsenhausen Memorial as part of the exhibition entitled ‘Medicine and Crime 1936-1945’. Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, photographer: Friedhelm Hofmann
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05 | Federal Archives, photo 146-1989-110-33 
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01 | Portrait photos and photos of the eyes, hands and noses of Sinti and Roma taken as part of the ‘racial-biological’ examinations Federal Archives, R 165/70
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02 | Federal Archives, R 165/66
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03 | Federal Archives, R 165/67
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04 | Federal Archives, R 165/67
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05 | Federal Archives, R 165/69
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06 | Federal Archives, R 165/69
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07 | Federal Archives, R 165/69
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08 | Federal Archives, R 165/69
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09 | Federal Archives, R 165
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10 | Federal Archives, R 165
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11 | Federal Archives, R 165
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12 | Federal Archives, R 165
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13 | Federal Archives, R 165
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14 | Federal Archives, R 165
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15 | Federal Archives, R 165
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16 | Federal Archives, R 165
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17 | Federal Archives, R 165
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18 | Federal Archives, R 165
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19 | Federal Archives, R 165
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20 | Federal Archives, R 165
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21 | Federal Archives, R 165
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22 | Federal Archives, R 165
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23 | Federal Archives, R 165
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24 | Federal Archives, R 165
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25 | Federal Archives, R 165
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26 | Federal Archives, R 165
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Racial examination certificate dated March 1938 Documentation Centre Archives
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‘Expert opinion’, signed by Dr Robert Ritter. The abbreviation Evak. (for ‘evacuated’), bottom left, indicates the deportation to occupied Poland. Documentation Centre Archives
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Measurement index card for Paul Köhler from the inventory of the Racial Hygiene Research Centre, 1938 Federal Archives, photo 165/12
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Photograph of Paul Köhler from the identification records, probably 1938 Federal Archives, photo 165/10
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Dr Adolf Würth, member of staff at the ‘Racial Hygiene Research Centre’, in a lecture given at a meeting of the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft für Rassenforschung’ [‘German Society for Racial Research’], September 1937  
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