Jewish Eugenics in the 1930s

‘Do not have children if they won’t be healthy!’

  • A shocking new study reveals how key figures in the pre-state Zionist establishment proposed castrating the mentally ill, sterilizing the poor and doing everything possible to ensure reproduction only among the ‘best of people.’

By Tamara Traubmann

Last update – 02:11 11/06/2004

Castrating the mentally ill, encouraging reproduction among families “numbered among the intelligentsia” and limiting the size of “families of Eastern origin” and “preventing … lives that are lacking in purpose” — these proposals are not from some program of the Third Reich but rather were brought up by key figures in the Zionist establishment of the Land of Israel during the period of the British Mandate. It turns out there was a great deal of enthusiasm here for the improvement of the hereditary characteristics of a particular race (eugenics). This support, which has been kept under wraps for many years, is revealed in a study that examines the ideological and intellectual roots at the basis of the establishment of the health system in Israel.

In the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community) in the 1930s there were “consultation stations” operating on a Viennese model of advice centers for couples that wished to marry and become parents. In Austria, with the Nazis’ rise to power, they served for forced treatment. Here the stations were aimed at “giving advice on matters of sex and marriage, especially in the matter of preventing pregnancy in certain cases.” They distributed birth-control devices for free to the penniless and at reduced prices to those of limited means. In Tel Aviv the advice stations were opened in centers of immigrant populations: Ajami in Jaffa, the Hatikvah Quarter and Neveh Sha’anan.

These are some of the findings of a doctoral thesis written by Sachlav Stoler-Liss about the history of the health services in the 1950s, under the supervision of Prof. Shifra Shvarts, head of the department of health system management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. They were presented at the annual conference of the Israel Anthropological Association at Ben-Gurion College.